Wood Burning in London

Like other cities in western Europe London is experiencing a return to home heating with solid fuels. Home burning of coal was a major factor in the smog that prevailed in the city until the 1960s but with the advent of natural gas largely displaced solid fuel.

For two decades the UK’s official energy statistics said that home wood burning was too small to be quantified, but under the radar it has been making a return. A 2016 government survey found that 7.5% of London’s homes burned wood but this could make up between 25 and 31 % particle emissions.

How wood is burnt is important. In London in 2014, 69% of people who burn wood were doing so in open fires, a practice banned in the capital by smoke control areas created under the Clean Air Acts These cover almost all of the built-up area of London . Stoves emit less particle pollution compared with fire places. The best stoves will carry Defra approval for use with specified fuel in smoke control areas. New Ecodesign stoves will be even lower polluting but the limits for Ecodesign wood burners allow six times more particle pollution than the exhaust of a modern (Euro VI) heavy goods vehicle, equivalent to 18 new Euro 6 diesel cars.

What you burn matters, too. Construction wood contains harmful metals to prevent rot and woodworm. Old painted wood can contain lead. These are emitted in the smoke. Wet wood is more polluting than dry wood, prompting the Defra-backed Ready to Burn labelling scheme.

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