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Scientific review casts doubt on the impact of domestic burning

Chimneys on the roof of town houses

The findings of a new independent scientific review commissioned by HETAS and supported by the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) have drawn attention to the uncertainty around how much domestic burning contributes to UK air pollution.

The Clean Air Strategy 2019 currently attributes 38 per cent of UK particulate matter emissions to the domestic burning of solid fuel. However, scientists now believe this is highly likely to have been overestimated and is misleading since it does not distinguish between different burning sources.

HETAS commissioned a critical review to better understand current particulate matter emissions estimates and highlight the need for more accurate evidence-based information to be gathered. This will help the industry and Government to prioritise resources and take action to reduce emissions from the highest emitting sources.

The review reveals uncertainties of the existing data and evidence used to estimate the figure reported in the Clean Air Strategy, suggesting it is highly likely to be inaccurate. It also highlights that without accurately defining the highest contributing sources and taking targeted action, the 2030 emissions reductions obligations of the NEC Directive are unlikely to be met.

A review of the impact of domestic combustion on UK air quality

Key findings:

  • Previous studies may not have considered the wide and varied sources of biomass burning i.e. unregulated domestic burning (chimineas/fire pits, garden waste bonfires, outdoor cooking) and prescribed burning (agriculture and land management)
  • Current estimates are based on findings using old equipment and indicators that are unable to distinguish between different biomass burning sources
  • The weight of wood fuel used in the UK and the application of an estimated emissions factor for this weight have likely been overstated
  • Open fires and old wood burning stoves may be responsible for up to half of the attributable PM emissions and need to be replaced with modern Ecodesign Compliant clean-burning stoves

Bruce Allen, CEO of HETAS and Woodsure, explains:

“This review strongly suggests the need for more accurate research. This will enable HETAS and the broader industry to support the Government in driving consumer awareness in the right areas to minimise the impact of domestic burning in the home.”

In the meantime, there are practical steps that can be taken immediately to reduce carbon and particulate emissions in the home by up to 80 per cent, compared to burning coal in an open fire. It’s important that we continue to work with installers and chimney sweeps to get this message across and raise the awareness of the need for safe, efficient and environmentally responsible burning.

HETAS guide to responsible burning:

  1. Choose a modern, HETAS and Defra approved Ecodesign Compliant stove which burns safely and efficiently.
  2. Burn properly seasoned or kiln dried wood marked Woodsure Ready to Burn. It won’t smoke as much as other fuels and will give you a long-lasting, warm burn.
  3. Keep the appliance and chimney clean and well maintained with regular checks from trusted HETAS Approved Chimney Sweeps and servicing technicians.
  4. Always use an appliance in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.