We continue to receive requests from residents to allow the use of solid fuel and the possible opening up of an existing flue or old fireplace to install a wood burner or other solid fuel appliance. In the past we have sometimes permitted an installation; however, due to the dangers associated, we will no longer be permitting any installations of new wood burners in our homes.
We have made this decision due to the following considerations:
The environment and pollution
Around 85% of UK households use natural gas for home heating, making it a useful benchmark for environmental impact. Using coal and other mineral solid fuels for home heating will usually result in higher emissions of both local air pollutants (such as particles and sulphur dioxide) and carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas) than an equivalent natural gas-fired system, and therefore coal-fired heating will normally have a higher environmental impact than gas.
With wood fuel the picture is not so clear. Wood is often described as a ‘carbon neutral’ fuel, as the emissions of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere when the wood is burned are matched by the amount of carbon dioxide the wood absorbed when it was growing. There are, however, emissions of carbon dioxide associated with forestry practices, transport and the manufacture of wood fuels.
In simple terms the byproducts of solid fuel use are soot, smoke and ash. Smoke must be channelled effectively through a chimney or flue to prevent asphyxiation. Soot is composed of particles of incompletely burned carbon that often adhere to the sides of the chimney, creating black marks that require frequent cleaning. While ash can be used as a base material for composting piles, in urban areas it is harder to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way.
In addition to soot, wood also generates piles of wood chips, sawdust and other debris. Frequently, wood is a nesting place for spiders, crickets and other insects that can lodge within cracks or holes. As the wood is transported from an outdoor environment to an indoor environment, smaller pieces of bark may flake off, or insects may spring from their hiding places. Just as wood piles require frequent cleaning, fireplaces also require a daily sweeping and cleaning regimen.
Different types of wood have different densities: balsa wood has a density of seven pounds per cubic foot, while pinewood has a density of approximately 52 pounds per cubic foot. Wood used for burning frequently has a density of between 20 to 40 pounds per foot. Because of this density, wood must be cut into two- to three-foot logs in order to be transportable. The amount of wood required for a substantial fire for an evening often requires between 10 and 12 logs, necessitating several trips.
Even burning wood in a safely engineered, regularly inspected and swept chimney still poses a danger. There are also wider risks if an errant spark from the burning wood escapes the confines of the fireplace and alights on carpeting, furniture or other flammable materials. It is therefore crucial that the area in front of the appliance or fire opening is a specific size and constructed from non-flammable material. While modern appliances are often equipped with glass doors or mesh screens designed to prevent errant sparks, on some occasions accidents do happen. Solid fuel fires must be attended at all times to effectively guard against this danger.
If any existing installations are encountered these should be referred to the Contracts & Compliance team so they can check to see if they are already registered with their contractor, and if not, the installation must be inspected.
If there is a request to install a new wood burner the resident will no longer be permitted to go ahead with this installation. Anyone found to have installed a wood burner will be asked to remove it.