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Air quality

Woodburning stoves and open fires

Air pollution can come from a number of sources however a less well known source 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.

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 woodburning stove can be reduced by an amazing 80%!

Often you won’t even know there is a problem until your chimney 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 coming out of your chimney, or lots of unburned wood or charcoal left after the stove goes out.

Basic advice

  • Use plenty of small kindling / sticks or suitable firelighter so that the fire is quickly established. Slightly larger logs should go on top. Use wood with a moisture content of 20% or less. Look for the Ready to Burn logo when purchasing bags of fuel.
  • Set all air controls to fully open, light the fire and close the door.
  • Allow a reasonable burn for 10 to 15 minutes. The flames should fill the box without being sucked up the chimney.
  • Re-fuel now with slightly larger logs and allow a few minutes to establish. It is only when these small logs are burning that full size logs should be added
  • If your stove has more than one air control then this is the time to close the one which allows air directly in from the room. This is often called the primary control. See the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Once the “primary” air control has been closed the temperature will continue to rise. Using a “flue pipe thermometer” will help you know when you have reached the best temperature. If you are using a thermometer then aim for the middle of the “best operation” range.
  • Remember to check whether you live within a smoke control area and follow the advise about the correct appliance and fuel:

Advice from industry professionals has been developed to give the best advice for using stoves and open fires. By following this advice you can help reduce pollution, protect the environment and save money. Advice is available via