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We all breathe the same air

September 19, 2018

There is a health problem in the UK which affects us all. Air pollution can come from a number of sources such as vehicle engines, construction, agriculture and roads (dust from passing traffic) etc. Less well known is the pollution that comes from heating appliances including woodburning stoves and open fires.

Air quality is a national problem and affects rural communities as well as towns and cities.

These sources of pollution create tiny particles in the air. Some are so small that they can pass easily in to our homes and workplaces. They enter our lungs and can cause health problems.

If you use a woodburning stove or open fire there are some simple steps you can take to make a big difference, but only if you understand the problems and what to do about them.

Please help to share the following information with anyone who has a fire or stove.


  • Is easy!
  • Will save you money
  • Will reduce the risk of chimney fire and,
  • Will help to reduce air pollution


Many of us enjoy the appeal and comfort of a woodburning stove or open fire and for some people it has once again become an important part of home heating.

In the UK there is a problem with air pollution which can cause health issues for us all. Even if you live in a rural area there can be times of poor air quality.

Wood burning stoves and open fires are responsible for a part of this problem and if we understand why, we can make a big difference to local air quality. For example, with correct use the impact of a wood-burning stove can be reduced by a whopping 80%!

At the same time we can also save fuel (money) and reduce the risk of a chimney fire.

Your local professional chimney sweep can really help you get it right. They know your fire and chimney and understand your fuel. They can answer your questions about how to operate your fire or stove and how it is used. They can look at what comes down your chimney and tell you if there is a problem and, most importantly, they can show you how to get it right.


The main thing we can do to reduce air pollution is to burn our wood at a high enough temperature.

If the temperature inside the stove is not high enough then the wood cannot burn efficiently. If the wood is not burning hot and efficiently then more of the damaging particles will pass up the chimney and out in-to the air we breathe.

The burning temperature (efficiency) of your stove is affected by four main factors.

  • The design of your stove
  • The design and construction of your chimney
  • The moisture content of the wood (needs to be 20% or less)
  • The way you control the stove

The single most important factor affecting the burn temperature is the way you use and control the stove.

If the air controls are shut down too much, the burning temperature drops and lots of pollution is produced. You may be completely unaware of this. You can have a good stove attached to a good chimney and use nice dry wood but if you close the air controls too much, then lots of damaging pollution is produced. This process also wastes your fuel and soots up the chimney.

Never try to “slumber” your stove for long periods / overnight with the air controls closed off too much.Loading up the average stove to slumber for a long period can easily produce more than a kilo of tiny damaging particles which then pass out the top of your chimney and in to the air we all breathe.

Using dry wood is very important. It should contain 20% moisture or less. But, even if your wood is very dry, you will still create a real problem if the air controls to your stove are closed too much. See section on “useful tools” for information on using a moisture meter.

Logs should not be too large – 5 inches wide (125mm) will give the best result. Using large logs to make the fire last longer will usually result in a lower burning temperature, more wasted fuel and more pollution.

Logs should not be too large – 5 inches wide ( 125mm) will give the best result. Using large logs to make the fire last longer will usually result in a lower burning temperature, more wasted fuel and more pollution.

Look out for the ‘Ready to Burn’ logo for reassurance that the logs you are purchasing are dry enough to be ready to burn and carry the scheme’s stamp of approval.


Often you won’t even know there is a problem until the sweep comes and finds large amounts of unburned soot or tar in your chimney. Most stove users are not shown the best way to use their stove and often do not know how to get it right. Even if they are shown, it’s easy to slip into poor burning habits and just do what seems to work.

Symptoms of very poor burning habits which cause lots of pollution include:

  • Blackened glass
  • Constant smoke from the chimney – the chimney will smoke when first lit and perhaps when refuelling but otherwise there should be no smoke – smoke is simply unburned fuel, loaded with damaging particles
  • Unburned wood or charcoal left after the stove goes out
  • Your chimney sweep may say there’s a lot of “tar / creosote” in your chimney. Please follow their advice on how to address this


Open fires burn fuel at a much lower temperature than a well operated stove. They therefore create more air pollution. Again, most of this pollution you will not see.

If burning wood, open fire users will get the best results from using dry logs which are not too large and burning them on a properly fitted open fire (not just a recess in the wall).

There is a specific problem with the types of fuels burned on open fires in Smoke Control Areas – (smokeless zones). This means that wood or normal “house coal” must not be burned on an open fire. They may only be burned on a stove that has been exempted for use in a Smoke Control Area. Please see the section on Smoke Control Areas if you live in a town or city.


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