Solid fuel burning and particulate matter pollution

Burning solid fuel, such as wood or coal, is very harmful to the health of you and other people living in your community because of the toxic particulate matter (PM2.5) it produces. This pollutes the air inside and outside your home.

Health impacts

These particles cause heart and lung problems. Exposure over a period of time can lead to premature death. Burning wood also produces particulates that cause respiratory conditions, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Particulate pollution has an impact on health through both long term exposure to low levels and acute impacts associated with short term peaks in pollution.

Burning solid fuels in homes produces more than a third of the directly emitted PM2.5 pollution in the UK.

15m people in the UK live in areas where the annual average level of PM2.5 exceeds World Health Organisation guidelines.

Open fires and stoves

Open fires produce even more particles than stoves.

Some stoves are cleaner than others. You can buy approved eco-designed stoves that produce lower levels of particulate pollution – but even using the cleanest of these stoves will produce in the same amount of time the equivalent of particulate pollution as six new (Euro VI) lorries travelling at 20 mph.

Types of fuel

Not using your stove properly is as bad for emissions as burning painted, varnished or treated waste wood.  Lots of timber is treated to stop it rotting in outdoor settings or has glue holding it together  which when burnt releases toxic carcinogenic emissions into our homes and outdoor air.

If you have an open fire in Bristol it is an offence to burn wood on it. You can only burn an authorised fuel.

Under the Clean Air Act of 1993, all of Bristol is covered by a smoke control order.  This means you can’t emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised fuel or using an exempt appliance. However, even authorised fuel and exempt appliances produce particulate pollution.

What you can do

We need everyone to do what they can, no more, no less.

If you burn solid fuel because it’s the only way you can keep warm, that’s a very different situation from having a fire as a lifestyle choice. We hope there are suggestions for everyone below.

Let us know what you’ve done to change, or how you think we could influence others to change.

If you’ve got a stove or fire, you can:

  • Ideally, uninstall your stove or stop using your fireplace and decommission it.
  • Failing that you could commit to uninstall your stove when you move – and make sure it isn’t sold to someone living within a village, town, city or any urban area.
  • Inform and influence friends, neighbours and colleagues. Encourage them to read these pages. If you had a stove like theirs, that gives you a great perspective to influence them.
  • If you’re still burning, ask your neighbours whether they’re affected by the smoke your fire or stove produces and try to use it less. You may be able to join a community particulate matter monitoring project.
  • If you’re going to carry on burning, commit to using your fire or stove less often.
  • Make sure you do not breach the rules of Bristol’s smoke control area and use the very best fuel you can. If you do use wood make sure it’s well seasoned, dry and good quality and do not burn it on an open fire. Look out for the Ready to Burn symbol.
  • Buy a moisture meter and when you do burn ensure the wood is 20% moisture or ideally less.
  • Make sure your stove is never on too low a low setting. Burning hot and clean might be less economical but is necessary to reduce pollution.
  • Keep your chimney well-swept.
  • Think of a creative alternative use for your stove or fireplace. Share images on social media to inspire your friends and tag Bristol City Council on Facebook or Instagram so that we can share them too.

If you haven’t got a stove or fire:

  • Don’t buy a stove or open up a fireplace.
  • Help raise awareness that burning solid fuel is bad for our health

If using your stove or fire is the only way you can afford to keep warm:

  • Try to use smokeless fuel and season any wood you use as much as possible. See the information above about the best wood to use.
  • Talk to your neighbours and be aware that burning long and slow is most polluting. You may feel you have no choice but to do this – but if you can avoid it, then do.
  • If you own your home, think about whether you can commit to removing the stove or open fire when you move.

Some of the actions in the sections above may also work for you.

We are not suggesting that you risk your health through being cold. We understand some people are dependent on their stove or fire to keep warm.

If you’re a business that burns solid fuel:

Consider the actions we’ve suggested for individuals above. Choosing not to burn solid fuels means prioritising your health and the health of your staff and customers.

If you sell or install stoves:

Make sure you keep up to date with the latest changes in legislation.

If you supply or install stoves, you should advise customers to use cleaner fuels rather than traditional solid fuels.

Builders and architects:

Avoid recommending or specifying a solid fuel burning appliance in projects you take on.

Inform people of the health risks of burning solid fuel and encourage them towards other options.