Warning to Oxfordshire Residents With Wood Burning Stoves

Homeowners who own a log burner or wood-burning stove are facing fines and even a criminal record if they flout clean air laws being pushed by the Governments major 25 year environmental plan.

New regulations have come into force by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have made it a criminal offence to release emissions exceeding 3g per hour. The old law allowed 5g per hour, but a recent change has lowered that level, affecting some of the estimated 1.5 million households in the UK that use wood burning or coal fires.

What does the law state?

  • In 2021 the focus was on the sale of manufactured solid fuels for domestic use which had to be certified, including for use in Smoke Control Areas. Selling unauthorised MSFs to customers and fuel with no ‘Ready to Burn’ logo carries a £300 fine.
  • Use in a smoke control area is a legally defined area where you cannot emit a substantial amount of smoke from a chimney. You can be issued a financial penalty of between £175 to £300 if you break this rule. This recent change brings the amount of smoke new stoves can emit per hour from 5g to 3g.
  • You must not buy an unauthorised fuel for use in a smoke control area unless it is to be used in an exempt appliance. You can be fined up to £1,000 if you break this rule.
  • The Clean Air Act says that you must not emit smoke from your chimney if you live in a smoke control area and applies to all properties, including canal boats and house boats.

The DEFRA has provided this guidance:

How Much Smoke Does A Wood Burning Stove Emit?

The smoke is not the issue but the particulate matter (PM2.5) that is counted when talking about emissions, and a wood-burner can emit more particulate matter per hour than a diesel lorry. If you are burning dry wood or buying approved manufactured solid fuel (MSF) you should not worry.

This has been an issue in climate change discussions for some years. Along with treaties recently signed by the UK government, it has now come to the point that we have to reduce our daily output of harmful material into the environment. 

For reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced changes to their guideline air quality limits in September 2021. The annual PM2.5 limit has reduced from 10ug/m3 to 5ug/m3.

How Will It Be Enforced?

A Gabble and set of scales
Fines and criminal records can be placed upon repeat offenders

The government is implementing a 25-year plan to enable local authorities to expand and enforce the existing Smoke Control Areas. Your local council will monitor these after consultation with DEFRA. Households can obtain information if they own a wood burner or coal-powered fire, but this is dependent on local councils at this moment in time. But the penalty is a £300 Fine and a criminal record for repeated use.

Councils and local authorities have previously complained that smoke control areas can be hard to enforce. But it’s clear Oxfordshire Residents who have a wood-burning stove as their only heat source need clarification on how this will affect them. A spokesperson at DEFRA advised that they, too, need clarification on how this will impact those homeowners.

However, they recommended that people buy DEFRA-approved stoves and have them installed properly and regularly maintained, even if not in a smoke controlled area. It also recommended that households get their chimney swept up to twice a year.

smoke controlled areas
Smoke controlled areas in Oxfordshire

Is my House In A Smoke Control Area?

If you have a wood-burning stove or log burner or are just thinking about installing one to reduce your energy bills, you will need to know whether this new law change affects you.

The easiest way to check if you come under these guidelines is through the Defra website Smoke Control Area Interactive Map (defra.gov.uk) where you can enter your postcode to see if the smoke control area affects your home, although be warned it takes a long time to process and show you the information.

The key information currently is parts of Oxfordshire are within a domestic smoke control area (see maps) in Oxford and Didcot at the time of writing. More information can be found on the Oxford City Council site including a list of streets. And it would be prudent to expect this area to expand at some point.

Smoke Control Area in Oxford
Smoke Control Area in Oxford as defined 02/02/23

Can You Still Buy A Wood Burning Stove?

Yes is the simple answer to that, although the new rule change prohibits the sale of some fuels and fires that don’t meet regulations. If you are contemplating buying a log burner or wood-burning stove, then there is a number that DEFRA has recommended and are exempt.

Your supplier will be able to advise you which of the Ecodesign wood-burning stoves have been approved and which ones have the lowest emission rates, and for this reason we would advice using a reputable retailer like Robert Dyas or DEFRA approved stoves .

How Do We Reduce Harmful Emissions From A Wood Burner?

One of the easiest ways to make your stove burn cleaner is to use dry wood. Since May 1, 2021, firewood suppliers have been banned from selling logs with more than 20% moisture content. Dry wood will have lower carbon monoxide levels and less particulate emissions.

When starting the fire, you should avoid newspaper and try to use bark, woodchips and kindling as a preference to reduce emissions and, ultimately, pollution.

Are Wood-Burning Stoves Cheaper Than Gas?

A wood-burning stove can cost around a third of the price of electric central heating. At the same time, it’s about 13% cheaper than gas central heating, under the current energy price cap, according to the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA).

With the average cost of buying and installing a wood-burning stove between £1000-£3500, they have become prevalent since the energy prices have gone through the roof, and it is cost-effective to have one. Still, with new regulations and potential fines in place, it may discourage homeowners from seeking different options to heat their houses.

Is My Barbecue Safe?

A wood-burning barbecue
Wood burning outside is exempt from smoke control area rules

There are currently no plans to include barbecues, fire pits and open fires in this new legislation, but the existing rules for using these still apply.

The confusion is that each local authority can have different rules regarding wood burning outside your home.

Help With Energy Bills

If you are having increasing difficulty in covering the rising cost of energy, then there are a number of places to seek help and advice including the council website.