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The Bristol Cable

Opinion: Wood burning stoves are deadly, not trendy

Stuart Phelps argues that “poverty is the only excuse for burning wood in the city”.


Stuart phelps's head shot

Stuart Phelps argues that “poverty is the only excuse for burning wood in the city”.

Graphic: Breathe Clean Air

Last March we had a clean white blanket of snow, no traffic—but no fresh air because woodsmoke was way over World Health Organisation guidelines. Technically, the 24-hour average of ultrafine particles (PM2.5) exceeded the 25 micrograms per cubic metre of air that the WHO sets as the maximum—by a large margin. The finer the particles, the more damaging they are for human health, as they are able to pass from lungs into the rest of the body.

A small but growing group lit wood burning stoves and fires, adding to the pollution from the continent, and pushing us over a limit the WHO reckons we should only exceed three times a year. In March we were over for three consecutive days. But Bristol had already exceeded the three day ‘target’ by the end of January 2017.

So how many stoves caused this? No one really knows. The government estimates 7.5% of homes nationally are heated by wood; locally the number may be higher. The effects are dramatic: the Air Quality Expert Group (a Defra Committee) has shown that the best, cleanest and most modern single stove, burning the best wood in laboratory conditions, produces the same amount of PM2.5 every hour as 18 new diesel cars or six new diesel lorries.

If wood stoves were a new invention, they’d be banned

So next time someone wealthy enough to afford and install the latest and best eco-stove lights up, it’s like six HGVs driving up and down their street an hour every hour. That’s what the neighbours get. What about inside the house where everything is warm and cosy? In Copenhagen, they’ve measured their very best (least polluting) stoves: after one hour the pollution in the house is 3.5 times the most polluted street in the country.

If wood stoves were a new invention, they’d be banned. If mobile, they’d fail their MOT. And that’s the best stoves. Most homes with stoves, or burning wood in open fires, have perfectly good central heating. Look at house sale ads showing a ‘Defra’ approved stove—often there’s a radiator next to it. RADE (the campaign group of which I am a core member) suggests that if your home ‘benefits’ from a stove; paint it bright colours and grow a pot plant in it (an Aspidistra is a Victorian traditional).

Oh and by the way, burning wood in an open fire anywhere in Bristol is illegal (1993 Clean Air Act) and subject to a £1,000 fine every time you light up.

True, some of our friends and neighbours are poor and getting poorer every day, and no one (surely) expects them to freeze in winter. As RADE members Women of Smoke say, “Poverty is the only excuse for burning wood in the city”. But, seriously, everyone else can stop burning solid fuel, and immediately improve air quality. Thirty-eight percent of PM2.5 comes from domestic sources; only 13% comes from vehicles.

So why are PM2.5 particles so bad for us? They are one 30th the size of a human hair. Small enough to get from our lungs into our bodies. Hannelore Bové (University of Hasselt) has found particles in the cells of most organs of the human body, including brains. Young vulnerable children’s lungs, once damaged, stay damaged. Medical studies are linking PM2.5 to Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease as well as chronic breathing conditions like COPD. Wood smoke (PM2.5 soot) contains carcinogens also found in cigarette smoke. In the ‘smokeless’ fumes of a modern ‘eco-friendly’ wood burner, Kåre Press-Kristensen (Danish Ecological Council) found 500,000 microscopic particles per cm3. The same equipment found fewer than 1000 particles per cm3 in modern trucks’ exhaust fumes.

We mustn’t overlook the links between wealth, aspiration, and desirable items like wood burning stoves. There isn’t space here to do justice to the issues of class, race and air quality or explore their connection to gentrification in areas like Easton and Lawrence Hill. However, a few years ago you never smelt woodsmoke on the streets in winter, now you do all the time.

So, what can you do? Take RADE’s Bristol Pledge. It applies to organisations as well as peopleand should help turn the tide of fashion. Our MEP and three MPs were early adopters; many local councillors are taking the pledge, and local people and organisations are too.

So when you get home on a cold, wet miserable Friday night after a long week at work, think again before lighting up. Treating yourself to a pizza? Choose one that’s not cooked in a wood oven. Why? If a commercial pizza oven is equivalent to three of the best stoves (an underestimation), your order will set the equivalent of 18 HGVs running, probably outside the windows of a renter’s home (luxury flats tend not to have takeaways beneath them). Those 18 HGVs run for about 50 hours a week over six nights, 52 weeks a year. The neighbours are forced to sleep in the air pollution produced cooking that pizza, and once inside it takes a lot longer to disperse than outside.

To find out more about the Bristol Pledge, see radebristol.com



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  • Graham says:


    Have you got a link to the source data from the Air Quality Expert Group? I’ve been looking for data on this for a while!

  • Phil Chadwick says:

    that’s because modern diesels are astonishingly clean.

    Compare woodburners to smelly old oil. boilers.

    • Pauline Smith says:

      Thats all very well for you to say but if you live inthe country like me nothing available that is affordable but my oil boiler and a log burner.

  • Steven cooper says:

    I totally disagree with your campaign. I’m on carers allowance and not on much money. I have no alternative as gas is to expensive people need to keep warm stoves are the best I’ll never change and will fight you all the way.

    • Stuart Phelps says:

      Hi Steven, The RADE campaign has 3 principals
      1. Poverty is the only excuse for burning wood in the city
      2. Not to burn wood or solid fuel
      3. Not to eat food cooked in wood ovens
      We deliberately put the first principal in because we are campaigning against the burning of wood and solid fuel by those who have alternatives, but chose to burn wood as a ‘lifestyle’ choice. We agree that keeping warm is the first priority for you and everyone else.

      • Matthew Gulliver says:

        I haven’t a choice because I live in the middle of nowhere, would love gas central heating ?

    • AG says:

      Gas is expensive and few people may manage to use it, I am a research in improved stoves. Firewood stoves are no longer used in certain countries in Africa, I made a charcoal stoves that can reduce 50% consumption of charcoal, indeed I made a stove that uses briquettes and peat, if people can continue doing research then use of fire wood will stop and this will reduces diseases associated with smokes.

    • Tam Smith says:

      I have to side with you mate I will never stop using my stove, problem is there are too many soflakes these days, I live in Scotland and my stove is my chosen heat source.

  • Paul says:

    How many cars and trucks are there in the UK vs stoves? How many hours/year are the vehicles running vs stoves?

  • 1234 says:

    What a load of rubbish, £1000 fine – yes if the stove isn’t DEFRA approved. Get your facts straight before boring us with your self righteous views.

    • Stuart Phelps says:

      Hi 1234
      The data behind the comparison comes from the Air Quality Advisory Group. There is a link to this above [in the reply to Graham]. You can see the same data presented in a different way in this Bristol City Council webpage https://www.cleanairforbristol.org/woodburning-stoves/

    • CaresAboutHealth says:

      Here’s the research linking wood stove pollution to dementia – fresh1059fm.com/wood-fire-stoves-linked-to-asthma-dementia-others/

      Not understanding simple English and arguing that others should get get their facts straight might be the first sign.

      Stuart said: “Oh and by the way, burning wood in an **open fire** anywhere in Bristol is illegal (1993 Clean Air Act) and subject to a £1,000 fine every time you light up.”

      Knowing how to protect our health is far too important to be considered boring or self righteous.

      • eddy says:

        the main cause of poor air quality in cities such as bristol is population density. living in a city is a lifestyle choice and a pretty inconsiderate one, requiring all of your resources to be brought to you from outside the city from food to energy for the city produces neither.
        and gas produces other pollutants, and electricity is generally produced by burning other fuels in SOMEBODY ELSES BACKYARD unless you are lucky enough to benefit from solar/wind/nuclear.

    • CaresAboutHealth says:

      Not understanding simple English and arguing that others should get get their facts straight might be the first sign of demdementia, a condition sadly linked to wood stove use (search for Umea University, wood-fire-stoves-linked-to-asthma-dementia-others).

      Stuart said: “Oh and by the way, burning wood in an **open fire** anywhere in Bristol is illegal (1993 Clean Air Act) and subject to a £1,000 fine every time you light up.”

      Knowing how to protect our health is far too important to be considered boring or self righteous.

    • David Norton says:


  • John says:

    Complete garbage!

    • Martin Milligan says:

      Agreed , has this person ever bought under 15% dry hardwood logs ? Definitely not for the poor .

    • Martin Milligan says:

      For the poor , hahahahahahaha , it’s actually more exspensive buying under 15% dry hardwood logs in a smokeless wood burner .

  • Brian Corbett says:

    The WHO ‘limits’ are numbers plucked out of thin air: devoid of any basis in science.
    Go back 2000 years to any small Roman village.
    Go back another 5,000 years to the first post Ice Age settlements. Measure the air quality there: it would be tens, hundreds, probably THOUSANDS of times worse than these arbitrary ‘limits’.

    Now, go away and leave people to live their own lives, in their own ways, foraging for their own wood and enjoying the exercise and sights of the countryside as they do so

    And go back to your own sorry life.
    And leave us alone

    • CaresAboutHealth says:

      Average male life expectancy in 1900 – just over 100 years ago – was 47 years. Most of us now enjoy longer, healthier lives thanks to modern science, including the research showing that wood stoves cause significant health damage and increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, lung diseases and dementia. They also damage the health of unborn babies and young children.

      Brian says: “go away and leave people to live their own lives”. How do we do this if your pollution is damaging our health?

  • Paul says:

    You people have nothing better to moan about get on with your own lives stop interfering with others your not going to save the planet people do wot they want theres a lot worse things polluting the planet than log burners with you people it will be something else next year to sound off about enjoy your life your not her for long get on with it your wasting your time and everybody elses

  • Rich says:

    Maybe with an open fire you have a little smoke in your house,but surely not with a woodstove with the door shut

    • Gavin says:

      Rich, Smoke escapes into the room when you light them and when you open the door to add logs. That’s still a very small percent of the total smoke you produce, but once it’s in your house it’s not going to blow away, it’s going to spread through every room and stay there for a long time for you to breathe. Whether you want this for you and your family is your choice, but it’s wrong to inflict the majority of smoke on your neighbours.

      • eddy says:

        not if you keep a clean chimney and know how to light a fire. there should be next to no smoke and the draw from the chimney constantly pulls clean air into the house and up the chimney. if smoke comes into the room at any point you have a serious problem with your setup

    • Chris says:

      I suppose barbecues are next on your list

  • geoff says:

    gas boilers have a huge huge footprint as gas is pumped hundreds of miles across the globe to get to the UK.
    I can get wood a natural resources from my area.
    your calculations are completely wrong.

  • Philip Walklin says:

    This was wrote and funded by gas and electricity companies its a form of scaremongering the big companies are getting annoyed because more ppl are turning to better CHEAPER fuel the government will step in soon and ban wood stoves and get that big back hander from the gas companies money grabbing bastards

    • Stuart Phelps says:

      Hi Philip
      I wrote it – RADE is not funded by anyone but ourselves. The most we have ever spent is £1,000 on a technical assessment of a developer’s so-called ‘Air Quality Report’ that tried to argue that putting 48 diesel generators 100 meters from a Nursery School was acceptable. The core members of RADE each put £100 in the kitty for that report.
      We are also non-political, but I’d be surprised if any of us voted Tory.

  • Tracey says:

    Have you seen the price of a tonne of logs, complete tosh

  • Philip Walklin says:


  • Peter Cassidy says:

    What an absolute load of tripe, you obviously know nothing about wood burning stoves. Anyone can make up a story purely scaremongering

  • Jon. says:

    Utter total tosh!
    Why in Copenhagen is the pollution 3.5 higher in the room than in the street? As trained and experienced chimney sweep I can tell you that unless there is a problem with the flue it just isn’t possible.

  • Nick says:

    What next? Killer list :
    Gas cookers
    . All the the future banned list.
    Next we will be making plugs for volcanoes.

  • Keith says:

    If you check again diesel cars are better than petrol. Yes there are lot of stoves out there most from abroad that have bad controls So ban them
    Wood is safe carbon neutral. What idiots do that take us for if they want to stop give us all a free car to there standard. Cheap fuel to heat our homes Put our pensions up £300 we can then live like rich MPs

  • Robert Wallace says:

    Interesting concept, it’s like everything, if is maintained correctly, pollution is a minimum, for example I have a M reg defender that is serviced and maintained, at every mot, it scores less that European emmisions . So maintenance is important, put that into law, vehicle’s have to be serviced as part of clean air act and while we are at it how about servicing stoves, yes regularly sweeping makes them cleaner and more efficient.

  • Shirley says:

    I agree, l have a new burner had a burner for years!!!! If the burners, open fires were banned? Doe’s one assume that all the queens and rest of her crew who live in the homes that belong to the state (most of them) will be banned as well. When this electric car buisness comes out, do planes, sugar factories, house’s of parliment, trains, and our stately homes
    All go electric.!!!!!

  • Donald Bruce says:

    Growing trees for fuel is carbon neutral. Money made by burning for fuel trees encourages more planting. Yes reduce fires in cities but replace this with biofuel power generators. Unfortunately the public will oppose any clean burn plant but accept the pollution from dirty home fires.

    • eddy says:

      burning coal is better than burning trees. it is still carbon nutral as the carbon in coal originally came from the atmosphere. living trees however continue to bind carbon from the atmosphere so please stop cutting them down!

  • Frank says:

    Propaganda from someone who has a vested interest. Take a look at Burnright and get the whole story.

  • Adrian says:

    What about. Wood fired Power Stations? The one’s converted over from Coal are we to ban them too I wonder, kind regards Adrian

    • Emanuel Crisp says:

      We should ban them, but instead our govt has subsidised them to the tune of £1bn/year. Not a typo.

      Why are they bad? Even if they produced 0 particulate matter pollution, the carbon footprint of cutting down trees in the US, pelletizing them, shipping them across the Atlantic (freight ships use the dirtiest diesel there is) then burning them is worse than simply burning natural gas and letting the American trees grow to maturity.

      (A mature tree captures much more CO2 than a young tree even allowing for how closely they are planted. You can see this easily if you compare the size of the tenth and hundredth tree rings when an old tree is felled. Year one hundred is much much bigger in terms of area.)

  • Charles Ellis says:

    When the imported gas gets to expensive and the Arabian oil gets too expensive and the imported coal gets too expensive and there isn’t enough sun for your overpriced panels I hope you die of hypothermia at least we won’t have to listen to your drivvel anymore sat in front of our warm fires. Fire, air, water the three elements humans need to live and have a God given right to.

  • Iain says:

    What rubbish what about busses lorries etc try giving people the ability to be carbon neutral but most of us cannot afford the changes I work for a large power company 90% of the vehicles are diesel electric is the way ahead

  • John Taylor says:

    If you are using the figures used by minister Gove then they are flawed based on average use between 3 and 12 hours a day. Many are used a couple of times a year, none are used 12 hours a day, that would be a full time job. Far greener countries than ours consider stoves to be efficient.

    • Brian Corbett says:

      Mine is used as my sole source of heat, so it’s close to 24/6 for 5+ months a year.
      And it makes great toast and roasted chestnuts too!

  • John Taylor says:

    This is rubbish the greenest countries on earth have no problem with stoves ie Scandinavia.

  • Sian Thomas says:

    But when I walk around where I live in the evening now In colder weather I get asthma problems I didn’t have before wood burning stoves became so popular around here. And on one of the new silver chimneys that is quite low down, not on the roof, but on the roof of a single story extension after only 2 months there is black sooty residue all over the area where the smoke comes out. My body knows the air quality has decreased markedly when they are lit round here. So it isn’t good for me but probably not good for everybody, their bodies just not showing it so plainly.

  • K Hudson says:

    What a load of Rubbish when at one time there were only coal open fire’s when we were little.

  • Mark says:

    Absolute tosh, the particles coming out of diesel engines are now more dangerous, but cleaner as stated, because of modern exhaust systems, the particles common it are so small that the human bodies can absorb them unlike before when the particles were bigger, the lovely know nothing government have made our air dangerous, now they tell us its diesels that are, after telling everyone to buy one lol. Stoves more pollutant than trucks and cars absolute rubbish, I suppose jet aircraft chuff out less than stoves too eh? Leave us alone ffs, oh and you forgot scented candles. Cut your dreadlocks off and burn those. Try and ban stoves, you’ve no chance.

  • Velcrobear says:

    Just get rid of the diesel cars to allow wood burning stoves to continue to exist.

  • The woodburing king says:

    Exceptionally poor journalism, brain washing mush from a political puppy licking the feet of its masters. Wood burning stoves are a necessity, in many cases not a luxury, how many aeroplanes etc can be classed as the same? Tjis author is practically begging to lick the boots of his masters! Yes sir, lets hit the poorest of society and force them to buy gas or electric. Keep the working class down sir! And give me a pat on the head please sir for my poncy writing. Utter hogwash. Get a life , stop sucking up and stop spouting utter rubbish Stuart Phelps you moron.

    • Emanuel Crisp says:

      I don’t think the wood burning stove fad of the last few years is exactly a working class uprising! It’s the bottle of red wine and a roaring fire middle classes that have been pushing it. Take a look at rightmove – the woodstoves are all going into the gentrified areas.

  • The woodburing king says:

    Utter nonsense

  • John Wood says:

    I have 2 log burners in the main room it has been on 24_7 since September and the other only when my good lady needs to dry the washing now I do agree with some off it but not all wood at under 20% moisture content is good for a stove green is very smokie,we buy our wood from the forestry commission 9tons a year but top up with dead elm and ash that are diseased now,we store our wood in 2 shelters for the whole summer months they are mostly south facing so the wind and sun get to work on them so come winter they are approx 10-12% thus burning cleaner and less smoke I’m asmatic and can not stand coal but fine with wood PS I live in the north east Scotland

  • peter moffat says:

    I live in a small village in mid Devon and burn a dual fuel stove I burn smokeless coal because I simply don’t have storage for a ton of logs,there are about three hundred homes 90% of them are heated by stoves around me in any direction there are dozens of small towns and villages once again heated by stoves, the reason why? Because of the price of electric and oil we don’t have the luxury of cheap gas heating and cooking simply we don’t have gas ,if you want too cut down on pollution then give us an alternative.

  • Samantha says:

    Some people only have wood stoves or open fire as their only source of heating. So if they ban wood stoves or open fires are the government going to give people who don’t have any other heating upgrades or new source of heating?

  • Craig says:

    There seems to be a drive to demonize wood burning right now, even though man has been burning wood for 700,000 years, througout the ages in settlements all over the planet, all of a sudden it’s deemed dangerous.
    Australian Bush fires never had an impact on the aboriginal race and neither did fires in teepee’s of native Americans.
    When we scratch beneath the surface it’s obvious that self sufficiency doesn’t spend money and keep the big conglomerate oil and gas industry happy, this is why wood burning is now being targeted.

    • Emanuel Crisp says:

      What was the life expectancy of an aboriginal Australian in 1100? Was it better or worse than ours today? Surviving long enough to procreate is a pretty low bar for “healthy” nowadays.

  • Sam says:

    Think you are fighting a losing battle Mr Phelps. Even in the old days we would build campfires to cook our food. Now stoves are up to 90% efficient. Let’s all just work harder to not burn treated and wet wood if we can.

  • Lowmoisture certificated. says:

    Hooray for log burners and kiln dried logs ( Get yourself a good moisture reader) My supplier delivers kiln dried logs and stacks them for me …….moisture contents are consistently below 15%.

    Also, Look out for the HETAS Approved (not for profit organisation) Appliance Scheme : And approved smokeless fuels. The Woodsure “Ready To Burn” logo is something to help folk in their search for the best fuels to burn on log and multifuel burners also on domestic open fires.

  • Albert Eley says:

    I have been using a Defra approved wood burning stove (Stockton 5) firstly with kin Dried logs some measureing as low as 2% moisture content, which burns very efficiantly the stove has now been converted to a multi fuel to burn smokeless fuel, which arrives prebagged and often appears to have more moisture than the bagged logs .
    All of this hue and cry about wood burning and stoves in general would appear to made without a real investigation into the true facts .
    I would also add when purchasing the Stockton 5 the Defra approved model was considerably more expensive than the standard Stockton 5

    • eddy says:

      i wonder how much energy it takes to kiln dry the logs. why do people not have forethought and patience to buy wood 4 years in advance and keep it correctly stacked to dry naturally?

  • Wood is carbon neutral says:

    But wood is carbon neutral. The wood grows and filters our air. Nice to see you DIDNT DO A SINGLE BIT OF RESEARCH ON THIS. TYPICAL PROPAGANDA PIECE. SHAME.

    • Emanuel Crisp says:

      Wood is a carbon store. While it is in wood form only. Burning it releases that carbon as does letting it rot. That isn’t a carbon neutral activity, it’s converting locked up carbon to co2.

      Even if the volume of wood burned in stoves was replaced by tree growth at the same rate (it isn’t) you’d still be better off leaving the trees growing because as you point out they would be capturing more carbon. Older trees add more wood per year so there’s even a compounding effect.

  • Kenneth Willingham says:

    But doesn’t burning wood clean admit the same carbon as letting it become decomposed and if you are planting trees and forest’s isn’t that carbon neutral.

  • BoilingFrog says:

    I’m afraid the government have been forced to find a scapegoat for their lamentable record on air pollution. Was it likely they would address the real issue of wood pellet burning power stations or confront the powerful motor vehicle lobby? Nope. Much easier to point the finger at the middle class ‘luxury’ users of wood burners. In inner city areas there is possibly a case to be made, but it’s way behind converting buses/taxis to lpg for example (if Thailand can do it can’t we?). I’ll stop using my stove if all motor sport is banned. That seems entirely superfluous and wasteful use of fossil fuel to me. Super bike meeting? 100,000 attendees from all over the country. Necessary? Hardly. If I fancy a nice glow for an hour or two once a month from my stove I won’t trouble myself at my contribution to air quality. It’s a thimble in an already dirty ocean of air. My electric car is my offset anyway.

  • Lee says:

    When you give up your car, I’ll give up my wood burning stove. When I cycle to work I suck down 3,500 litres of polluted air from cars and lorries. I’m so sick of people trying to get stuff that I enjoy banned.

  • Mr M McPhillimey says:

    What you all forget,,, Nearly all people living in Rural locations, have No Option but to use Wood or Oil or both because they have nothing else to heat their house or to cook their food. Also diesel cars or 4×4 are the only type of vehicle that will help them get out during Winter especially with the changing climate, like the last few winters freezing cold and deep snow. No Electric Car would survive it this weather. Just look at the news. What’s the only vehicle that help stranded people… “A Diesel 4×4”

    • eddy says:

      can we ban suvs/4×4 unless the owner has a valid reason to own one?
      as clarkson once said, it should have some mud on it. they used to be exclusively used by farmers or the military/emergency services but now they are mainly driven by smal nervous women who swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid a puddle.

  • Robert Charlton says:

    I work as a vehicle technician and can tell you there are tens of thousands of people driving their diesel cars and vans with their diesel particulate filters removed till mot day!
    Clearly you don’t understand the DPF was fitted to catch the microscopic particles of soot created since the invention of modern day diesels. Earlier diesel technology didn’t create these microscopic particles and was less likely to enter the lungs! Since DPF was introduced nitros oxides became the next issue creating the need for ad blue. Further more log burners compared to diesel vehicles are tiny in comparison. Diesel cars trains etc run 24/7 log burners tend to be used when it’s cold. What next a ban on bbq’s and bonfires!!
    Ban diesel that’s should be your focus rather than fixate on a source of heat that is primarily used by poorer people. Seems to me this is just an attack on those posh folk with grand design houses that quite frankly only get used to impress their posh mates.
    One more thing technology is available to catch soot from log burners.
    Get a grip and focus on something that really is going to make a difference.
    PS I don’t drive a diesel I have an electric car, I charge it from energy stored in 2nd hand lithium and lead acid battery’s charges by solar and a wind turbine! What are you doing??? Oh and wood is renewable.

  • Gareth S says:

    If you want some hard evidence look at the article below – as you will see an old style inefficient wood burner only produces 41-43 micrograms of PM2.5 (moderate) compared to burning your toast that produces 10000 micrograms of PM2.5 that took an hour to reduce to 300. Below 35 is average according to Government and above 75 is high so best they start policing and issuing fines to toast burners in Bristol and cities then.


  • Aer Guru says:

    Nearly every comment is infected with Magic Stove Syndrome – The belief that wood stoves are ECO because of the ridiculous fairy tale that is the Carbon Neutral lie. Stove Industry lies and propaganda. The belief that you can clean burn, or burn wisely – both Oxymorons. There is no such thing as clean burning and anyone who is on grid and burning, is not wise. Woodstoves are the most polluting devices in our society. They should not be used in residential and highly populated areas because wood burning folk who do this are poisoning and polluting their neighbours air against their will. The right to burn does not take priority over your neighbours human right to breathe clean air. If someone was poisoning your water supply you would be appalled. Why is poisoning the air we share any different. The science is in. One 90% efficient, properly operated, wood stove emits the same PM2.5 pollution as 18 diesel cars. Families who are using wood stoves have a black carbon footprint equivalent to a taxi company. Wood stoves will be banned on grid, they have to be banned, to protect human health and the planet.

  • William says:

    Can’t ignore the effect on morale. The science of emissions is sobering and sure let’s take it seriously.
    But a winter evening with a wood stove is really cosy and cheerful. SW England can be pretty massively depressing when days are short and weather is miserable in an old stone West Country house. Central heating works, but it doesn’t have the same cheering effect.

    • Aer Guru says:

      William, I understand your love of fire, I was bought up with woodstoves, but this is an inhuman argument. Even though you have central heating, you are suggesting it’s more important to be cosy and cheerful even if it’s at the expense of someone else’s ability to breathe ? You are not taking the science seriously if you think being cosy is a good reason to pollute.

  • Till Bruckner says:

    It’s refreshing to read a Cable piece that doesn’t automatically blame the Tories for everything that’s bad, haha. Maybe that’s what explains the heated controversy in this comments section? A bit out of the comfort zone?
    Can we have a Cable piece next about the hippiecrits who blame “Big Oil” (and the Tories) for climate change while flying off to yoga retreats in Thailand? Prance around at the Extinction Rebellion today, head off to Goa tomorrow.
    Look in the mirror, fluffy people. Often it’s YOU who are the change you don’t want to see.

  • Alan says:

    I would all the doubters of this article to google “wood burning stoves and their effect on the environment in Canada.” Try the same for Norway. A study in Bergen found 61% of air pollution in the city was caused by wood burning stoves whilst 39% was caused by traffic.

  • Janet mills says:

    I remember the smog in London as a young girl, the cause as far as I could see at that time in my life, was the rivers, the cold air, water rising causing the wood burning smoke to turn into smog. I to, am on benefits, and I to , if given the chance, would prefer to use a Rayburn , but at the same time using wood does cause concern, wood , tree’s also help to in rich our air conditions. SAVE THIS PLANET, SAVE OURSELFS, before we use all this Planet’s resources, till this Planet has no more to give to retain any life.

  • Janet mills says:

    As a child in London we had smog, I remember it was being caused by the cold rivers, making cold water air rise ,the wood smoke, being heavier then water, to force the smoke down. Once the sun had warmed the planet up. The smog would disburse. Twice a day the smog would acute. I would use a Rayburn, if I wasn’t being forced by where I live. But wood, tin coal gas electric, soon this Planet won’t be able to give us what we steal from this Planet, and then we will all be burning wood. To keep our self’s alive. Till one day we will have caused Genocides to this Planet, to mankind.

  • Paul says:

    Well since no one else has looked in detail consider this a rebuttal. Firstly your misrepresenting figures – your actually quoting Table 5 from the associated Defra article – which is not a comparison but PROPOSED STANDARDS, you selected the newest most eco friendly car standard (in MOTION at a flat 33km/h) vs a estimated real world stove producing HEAT at full burn) the authors never meant this as a clean air comparison simple it was considering STANDARDS.

    So this MOTION vs HEAT generation is already comparing apples to oranges there’s a reason your kettle needs to be plugged in but an RC car can run on batteries. The article really gets stupid though when you start to call for a ban on wood burning pizza ovens, like if we got rid of all of them in cities the air pollution improve in any remotely significant degree, that is simply stupid. This is more of an an issue of population density not of which fuel someone uses to burn for heat, but if your going to compare properly read the below and at least make an informed decision. But in summary if your population density is 1/40 of in this case Bristol (up to around 15,000 / km2) then everyone can be happy in the knowledge that even if they all burned the most poluting fuel on the most polluting stove they would be creating less PM2.5 particles per km2 than the equivalent km2 of the population using gas burners in Bristol. A heat to heat comparison.

    This is something I’ve looked into both in terms of family health, CO2 production and PM (2.5 in particular) production. Its super complex, but the above article ignores gas boiler PM2.5 production completely even though its the biggest polluting producers in home heat production overall – but partly since there are so many users, yet equally its one of the cleanest fuels too. To me this is more a problem of population density than fuel choice, but all of it is complex. The above article really only discusses one article and makes the assumption stoves are the only problem and if we got rid of them all our problems would be solved. If only it were that easy…
    PM2.5 in very recent years has found to be some of the most harmful (set of) gases even though you can’t see them, they de-solve into your bloodstream and cause all sorts of problems, not just stay in your lungs. In fact if your living in an area with regular levels above recommend doses you are 50% more likely to have a heart attack.
    I have a wood burning stove so I can’t be classed as unbiased, but we’re not on the gas mains so its not an option. We do have some of the cleanest air in the country though since we’re so sparsely populated.
    Overall The most ECO (marked) stoves are worse than gas – 40/1 by unit of energy production, but this ignores that most people are primary creating a lot more heat in their homes from gas than wood/coal. Also wet wood is 3x more PM2.5 polluting than dry wood. – wood however it is CO2 neutral (since it was grown and locks up CO2 as it does) so your not melting the ice caps when you burn it. Old stoves can be 4x more polluting than the newest ECO stoves.
    Regular coal is hard to buy in this country but its 5x more PM2.5 polluting than smokeless coal. There’s a 4/1 difference in PM10 production as well.
    Also using a stove is also actually super complex and to burn fuel most ECO friendly you have to monitor the temp of your stove constantly and adjust the intake and out-take of air and actively adjust each constantly never mind adding the right amount of fuel. (your gas boiler will do this for you).
    Wood pellets in a special modern boiler (which is a super new thing) is one of the least polluting methods of heat generation at home, with similar levels of PM10 and PM2.5 production to gas boilers, but also being CO2 neutral – but is twice the price of gas – which is still 50% more expensive than wood and coal. Electric is the most expensive for of heat generation. So price is an issue too.
    ALL Home heat production overall accounts for about 17% of pollution sources in the UK, the only worse polluter is ROAD TRANSPORT at 19%, then power stations at 11% (so can’t just switch to electric heating or this will go up).
    That said though the majority of the pollution from home heat is from gas boilers – even if they are the most ECO friendly – since they are just so many more people. Government official assessments for London put far more of an emphasis on more ECO friendly gas boilers and stated wood stoves weren’t primary sources of heat for most homes and there lacked enough stats to put money into reducing this in their clean air plan.
    This again though ignores than actually over the last 10-20 years all pollution in Europe have been gradually decreasing! The reasons we hear more is because we actually know how damaging these PM2.5 are – we thought if it was invisible there wasn’t a problem and all the data is collected and posted now on-line in real-time – you can look at your city and see the levels of pollution which are invisible to the eye. The only European type of increasing pollution was from from CAR and Non-Car TRAVEL!
    Overall though part of the reason I moved to the country-side was after being in China and literally seeing the pollution as bad as it was. I saw the soot (essentially PM10) from coal fired power stations and it inspired me to look much more into this kind of thing.
    I learned about how bad PM2.5 was for health, even if you can’t see it. Then I was shocked to learn how often UK cities we were exceeding the safe levels – London at times is worse than Beijing! Overall there’s a lot that I think we need to change – Overall simply having a much more ECO home PARTICULARLY – looking at insulation does far more for the environment than your type of boiler.
    Also as much as we humans love the big cities – to immediately reduce the problem we can move to areas less populated – I live in an area with 6 people per km2, Islington (the most populated part of London) has over 21,500 people per km2! That said I don’t want any more people here lol!
    OK maybe where we live shows we made it or they have the best shops/museums/schools, but we live in a world digitally connected now – perhaps it can help us see the best of everything from home? Maybe can we reduce travel by living closer to work? Or maybe even working from home…I wish.
    So yeah that’s a summary made up of multiple government environmental papers to polish comparisons of different types of boilers and fuels. And you having a wood stove is likely to make little difference overall, unless everyone in your area has one and there’s lots of people close together. Then you could still monitor your local air pollution and just turn off your stove at high pollution times…if every one did it it might make a difference, but honestly the weather overall – the wind and air pressure – would have been what set the scales to tip…like I said at the start its complex. And that was a much longer comment than I planned!

    • Emanuel Crisp says:

      Not often there’s a comment longer than the article.

      I think amongst all that you said that even the cleanest wood burning stoves produce much more pm2.5 pollution than average gas boilers for a given amount of heat production. In the real world lots of people use suboptimal stoves and wood making woodburning even less favourable.

      From that point on the argument for burning wood in a house with gas central heating is a trade off between how much you prefer the feel of a real fire vs. how clean you think the air your neighbours breathe should be.

      Test for yourself. One wood burning stove ~30m from my house, lit each evening, produces about 50% of the pm2.5 content of all other sources combined (i.e. the urban background level). Quite a significant amount. Some of that background may even be from other wood burning.

  • Tim says:

    Thanks for an interesting article. Now feel quite guilty about our stove and will certainly use it much less. Funny how upset a lot of people seem to be from reading the article -the evidence quoted is out there – it’s not made up to wind you up.

  • Philip Davies says:

    Good insulation, windows and modern boilers allow many people to heat their homes for a fraction of typical costs. £50 a year heating bills means very low emissions. If mor people lived in houses that were properly designed and constructed we wouldn’t need this debate.

  • Alan Smith says:

    From the International data available wood burning in Britain costs 28,000 lives each and every year. The contempt shown for other’s lives by wood burners is sickening.

  • Heather says:

    In Bristol, we are allowed to have bonfires on our allotments between November and March – a small factual amendment to your 5th (or 6th) paragraph.

  • harvey says:

    what about the European forest fires. Natures renewal or Natures Suicide?

  • Right2CleanAir says:

    Thankfully the Creator of the universe and true God has promised to bring to ruin those ruining the earth. Rev 11:18

    Burning solid fuel i.e coal and wood is the dirtiest material used and full of nasty byproducts and carcinogens ( amounts to passive smoking like cigarettes but on a much grander scale).

    The stench permeating the environment from coal and wood burning is extremely nauseating with the acrid sulphuric stench and extremely poisonous.All those smarmily trying to excuse their wilful and deadly pollution and haughtily stating they will not stop, clearly have no morals and no care for innocent life on this planet and remain fully accountable.

    Julie C

    Photo attached of neighbours toxic coal burning 365 days a year, which is indefensible; and the council wilfully refuse to implement clean air laws and repeatedly protect toxic polluters.

  • Mare says:

    Very interested in your information, Stuart, I live next to a housing estate, properties were built without chimneys however the resident living in the bungalow next to our house put in a wood burner with a small metal chimney on his roof. It concerns me very much as we smell smoke in our bedrooms and sometimes I wake in the night coughing due to the strong smell of smoke in my window. The lining of my curtains is black from the smoke from his chimney. I am also very concerned as my neighbour burns all the old wood he retrieves from work, old floorboards, fences etc. sometimes I can smell burning plastic. A member of my family has COPD which I am sure is exacerbated by the smoke. I don’t want to upset the person living next door however I am very concerned about the effect the smoke from his wood burner is having on our health. Have you any advice on what I could do to minimize the effect of the smoke.


  • Paul says:

    We live out in the sticks,and have a lovely wood burner,it’s used as our main source of heating and it’s used from the end of September to April.I was born with asthma and I can honestly say it doesn’t affect my asthma.I gather that the government is also banning gas in new build homes for heating and cooking,that combined with the fact we are all supposed to drive electric cars,run electric heating (by the way we don’t generate enough electricity to do all this) What’s going to happen next? Ban cremation of bodies or dry them first then burn them on your log burners because the gas will be banned at the crematorium…Really well though out!!

  • G Horne says:

    Thank you for this article. When we moved into our present house (rural village) we converted the open fire into a wood burning stove, a first for us. We update the warm air central heating system to gas, our main form of energy. Regular fitness tests (was commercial diver and still fitness fanatic) I was told I had one of the healthiest, powerful, set of lungs the doc had tested.

    After a few years of using the wood burner (mid winter) the invisible fumes/particulates (door shut, dry wood) started to noticeably irritate my lungs. We stopped using the wood burner 5 years ago – before being aware of their harmful effects to the lungs, which I read about a few years ago. Our small village is in open countryside, miles from industry or traffic pollution neither am I a smoker, freelance for the past 20 years (another profession) I work from home, not subjected to the pollution from large towns and cities.

    I no longer exercise in our village (winter months) as the local air stinks (acrid not sweet smell) from neighbour’s wood burners. I could smell the smoke trapped in my hair and clothes on my return. I only have to go out to the bins and the smell of several neighbour’s (opposite) wood burners is immediately evident. I have stopped exercising in our village during the winter months due to the pollution. I visit cleaner spaces four miles away to exercise when COVID rules allow.

    I am glad we stopped burning wood for our sake, and for those residents either side of us that have wood burners but no longer use them. We made our mistake. With regard to the environmental impact of gas v wood burners is another matter entirely.

    There is no justification for burning wood if it’s a luxury and not essential when it compromises people’s lung health, even worse for those with COPD, asthma and other lung diseases of which there are ever increasing numbers of.

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