The government has just announced a series of new powers for its clean air strategy that it believes will help reduce air pollution in towns and cities around the country.
One big focus for the new powers isn’t tackling car congestion, or even industrial pollution but instead cracking down on people who use wood burning stoves.
Having seen a rise in popularity in the last decade, wood burning stoves might not seem like one of the biggest culprits when it comes to air quality in the city. Yet in 2016, a government survey found that wood burning stoves were creating over a third of all the particle pollution in London throughout the year.
So just how bad are wood burning stoves?
Put simply, any heating method that requires the burning of a fossil fuel is going to be bad for the environment and the quality of the air that you’re breathing.
After two decades of being shunned as a negligible source of pollution, the rise of wood burners and fire pits has taken many academics by surprise explains Dr Gary Fuller who runs Kings College’s London Air Quality Network.
“One thing that has crept in under the radar is wood burning,” says Fuller. “If you go back to the 1950s and 60s it was acknowledged that London had a solid fuel air pollution problem but then we thought that had gone away. However the return to home wood burning that we’ve seen since the turn of the century is really making quite an impact in London.”
According to Fuller, during a typical January in London some 10% of the particle pollution you’d be breathing will have come from wood burning.
What’s perhaps even more shocking is the way in which we’re burning wood. Open fires are considerably worse than stoves because they have no means of capturing some of the particles before they enter the air either in your home or outside through a chimney.
As a result open fires were effectively banned in some areas by the Clean Air Acts. However a study found that just four years ago almost 70% of all wood burning in London was still being done in an open fire.
Stoves are slightly better, but only because they can capture some of the particles before they leave your home. New standards like the Ecodesign regulations that will force new stoves to be significantly less polluting than ever before.
Even with those new limits in place, an Ecodesign stove still creates the same amount of particle pollution as around 18 new Euro 6 standard diesel cars.
The type of fuel you burn can also make a difference. Burning scrap wood that was used in construction can release additional chemicals into the atmosphere.
Wet or damp wood can also massively increase the amount of pollution you create through soot and smoke which is why the government imposed the ‘Ready to Burn’ standard for anyone that wants to buy wood for burning.
All of these measures reduce the amount of air pollution that wood burning stoves create, but it by no means eliminates them. So while it might seem like a pleasant way to heat your home, it’s sadly not going to be doing anything pleasant to the air in your home or the air around your home.