Is your wood burner or real fire breaking the law?

Love using your wood burner or open fire but no idea if you're complying with the new regulations? Find out what you need to know here

traditional wood burner in living room from purevision
(Image credit: Purevision)

If you use a wood burner or open fire in the autumn and winter, it's probably not crossed your mind to think about whether you're complying with regulations, right? But way back in January this year, the government announced its Clean Air Strategy, which places new restrictions on open fire fuels and the types of wood burners that can be used – and it may affect you. 

Now that the heating season is about to begin, how do these new rules impact you? These are the main things you need to know if you're planning on burning wood this winter, and want to do so legally and safely:

1. Do you live in a Smoke Control Area? 

As a rule of thumb, if you live in a town or city, you probably do live in a Smoke Control Area, but if you're not sure, contact the environmental health department of your local council. If you live in a Smoke Control Area, you are allowed:

  • To use authorised smokeless fuels: authorised fuels, anthracite, semi-anthracite, low volatility coal, gas, if yours is an open fire;
  • To burn wood in an exempt appliance. Exempt appliances vary in different parts of the UK, but DEFRA have a list of exempt appliances on their website. This information is up to date, and 'provides legal certainty' that you are allowed to purchase and use these appliances. 

2. Do I need to worry about my wood burner being banned?

In a word, no. If you your appliance (or the appliance you're intending to buy) is currently on the DEFRA list of exempt appliances, you're good to go. What might change – and this is clearly worded in the Clean Air Strategy policy document – is that  'only the cleanest stoves are available for sale by 2022'. This doesn't mean that your existing appliance will be banned – only that it might not be available to buy after 2022. 

3. What wood am I allowed to burn?

There is no legislation that stipulates the use of any particular wood, so long as you're using a permitted appliance to burn it. However, there are a number of reasons why you should abide by the good practice guide developed by Burnright – a grassroots campaign for correct wood burning that has influenced the Clean Air Strategy. 

Burning the correct type of wood in the right way will: 1) help you reduce environmental pollution from wood burning; 2) save you money on fuel; 3) reduce the harmful health effects of wood burning. 

This is what Burnright recommend:

  • Use only dry wood: dry wood is wood that has 20 per cent moisture or less. Ideally, the wood you buy should be pre-treated to ensure its moisture content is low, but if you're preparing your own wood, you must let it dry out (this will take years rather than months). If in doubt, always buy wood with a Ready to Burn sign on it;
  • Never burn green matter or garden waste;
  • Don't burn old furniture in your old burner; it's made from wood that's been coated and will release harmful substances into the air;
  • Clean and de-ash your wood burner regularly, every couple of weeks if necessary. Read our guide on how to clean and maintain a wood burning stove to find out how.

Burning wood correctly can be an energy efficient and environmentally friendly way to heat your home. Think you'd like a wood burner? Check out our selection of the best stoves: wood burning and multi-fuel