Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Installing a wood burning stove has become something of a trend, with almost 200,000 installed each year in the UK alone. It is fair to say that they are a fairly eco-friendly way of heating the home, but there are some extra steps you can take to ensure that you are using your wood burning stove in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
Use the Correct Wood
There is a misconception that you can simply burn any words you can find. It is actually important that you use word that has been kiln dried as this is a fuel source that has the cleanest burn, which in turn produces less smoke, and also keeps your chimney cleaner an prevents a build-up of soot. Simply going into the woods and collecting fallen twigs and branches isn't the way to go. Kiln dried wood takes a year to reach its maximum usefulness and this means that it will have a moisture content less than 20%, (usually between 11% and 20%). You can dry wood out at home, but kiln dried wood requires the specialist kilns and you are best off finding a reliable supplier for this.
On top of that, the type of wood you burn changes the amount of heat and output you get. Kiln dried hardwood is by far the most superior fuel you can burn on your fire. Softwoods will burn quicker and be less effective when compared to the heat generated by hardwood. The sorts of trees that give hardwood are hawthorn, ash, beech, yew and rowan. Waste wood is not generally an option because more often than not things like pallets or broken up boxes etc will have been treated in order to make them fit for their purpose. This means they cannot be burnt on a wood burner as you will be in danger of giving off noxious gases and polluting your local area. Of course, it will also damage your chimney and be at a potential risk for chimney fires.
When it comes to comparing wood and fossil fuels, it is fair to say that wood is actually carbon neutral. Wood is sustainable, and easy to grow it simply requires light and water. Plus, the fact that trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen as a waste product. During the life cycle of a tree the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs counteracts the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. When you compare this to fossil fuels of which both gas and electric are examples, the amount of CO2 generated when they are used is much higher. Fossil fuels are also much more expensive to produce and therefore add to the carbon footprint whereas wood remains carbon neutral.
Another important factor to consider when having a wood burner installed is where you get the wood from. The more local your wood supplier the better for the environment as it has not been transported around the country, which of course adds to the amount of fuel burned and let out into the atmosphere. There are lots of sustainable wood suppliers across the country, and you should aim to find someone who is replanting trees to replace everything they cut down on a regular basis.
The Woodland Trust, which is the main woodland conservation charity in the UK actually promotes planting trees to be used for wood fuel. They say ‘using wood full fuel to produce heat can be an excellent low carbon alternative to coal, oil and gas, but it depends on having a local, sustainable supply. The carbon released when wood is burned Is effectively recaptured by growing replacement trees. This is much better than using fossil fuels, which add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere: using wood fuel avoids those extra emissions. A well-managed wood provides a diverse habitat for wildlife and even a pile of wood left the season creates a home for insects which can then attract a variety of birds.’
if you are having a wood burner installed in the near future you want to make sure you have something that meets the Defra approved standards. From 2022 there will be no choice, and every wood burner installed must meet the new eco-design regulations. One of the things that can potentially stop a wood burner being environmentally friendly is if they are poor quality. This does mean that if you have an older style burner already installed in your property you may well be looking at having it replaced over the next couple of years to ensure that you meet the standards. It is a government initiative that has been backed and supported by some of the most important stove manufacturers.
There were some concerns about the types of fuel people were burning, and the amount of emissions being pumped out into urban areas. For example, in London up to 31% of particulate pollution can be directly attributed to wood burning stoves in the area. Burning the wrong things can also give rise to emissions that are actually toxic and can cause breathing and heart issues for people in the area who may end up breathing in the smoke. It is known as PM2.5 and can be massively dangerous to human health. It was felt that this issue could not be overlooked, so the Defra regulations for new stoves are designed to ensure that the fires are fit for purpose, and with education people will only be burning low emission hardwood that has been kiln dried. The new regulations form part of the Clean Air Act which has actually been in force since 1956. There have been several amendments and the latest one has introduced smoke-controlled areas. This means you cannot burn anything that emits smoke from the chimneys and less the appliance is Defra approved and the fuel is authorised (kiln dried hardwood). These areas tend to be highly urbanised areas including much of London.