Are wood burning stoves bad for the environment? Experts explain

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  • Sustainability needs, decisions to be at the heart of many we make for our homes so it is no surprise that many people ask ‘are wood burning stoves bad for the environment?’ when considering the investment.

    There are lots of factors to take into consideration if you’re thinking about investing in a wood burning stove. A log burner can be seen as a sustainable heating method, because it uses renewable energy rather than fossil fuel. However, a number of incorrect studies and media misconceptions have portrayed the appliance in a negative light stating that they contribute far more particulate emissions than they actually do.

    Here, we speak with the experts to answer your questions when it comes to purchasing and using a log burner.

    Are wood burning stoves bad for the environment?

    blue living room with wood burning stove

    Image credit: Future plc/Simon Whitmore

    Are wood burning stoves big contributors to pollution?

    Wood burning stoves produce fewer emissions than previously thought but do still contribute to particle pollution. New data from DEFRA has cut the estimated proportion of small particle pollution produced by wood burning stoves from 38 per cent to 17 per cent.

    Manufacturers and associations do agree that burning fuel in a wood burning stove will contribute to emissions. They maintain, however, that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small percentage.

    ‘All forms of combustion producing emissions and the use of a wood burning stove is no exception,’ says Erica Malkin, communications manager at The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA). ‘However, a correctly used and maintained, modern Ecodesign wood burning stove is a very low emission option.’

    Are wood burning stoves bad for your health?

    The main pollutant emitted by burning solid fuels, like wood, is ultra-fine particulate matter. Also known as PM2.5. According to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), PM2.5 can penetrate the human respiratory system. The effects of short-term particle exposure include worsening of asthma symptoms and a general feeling of being unwell. At the other end of the scale, the acute effects of particle exposure include increases in hospital admissions. As well as premature death of the old and sick due to diseases of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

    Vicky Naylor, general manager at ACR Stoves, says: ‘An EcoDesign stove creates very little PM2.5,’ she says. ‘They actually contribute only 2.7 per cent of the domestic PM2.5 emissions from the burning of logs and only 1.1 per cent of the total UK PM2.5 emissions.’

    However, Vicky Naylor does recognise that using an old and basic wood burning stove or an open fire isn’t great for the environment. ‘If you run an old stove then your emissions leap from 1.1 per cent to 5 per cent for PM2.5 levels. If you use an open fire, these contribute to 15 per cent of the PM2.5 levels.’

    Are wood burning stoves energy efficient?

    white living room with log burner

    Image credit: Future plc/Colin Poole

    As part of DEFRA’s Clean Air Strategy 2019, all wood burning stoves manufactured and placed on the market on or after 1 January 2022 now have to comply with the Ecodesign regulation. This means they must adhere to minimum requirements related to energy efficiency. It doesn’t mean that it is illegal to have an older non-Ecodesign stove in your home. However, if your stove is dated, it might make sense to replace it with a modern stove with the accreditation.

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