Selfish or a godsend? Readers share their views on wood


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Mar 17, 2023

Selfish or a godsend? Readers share their views on wood

Demand for wood stoves is soaring in energy crisis despite research showing

Demand for wood stoves is soaring in energy crisis despite research showing their harmful effects

Demand for wood-burning stoves, including in urban areas, has soared as households look for more affordable ways to stay warm during the energy crisis.

Campaigners have called for stricter legislation on their use because of their negative impact on air pollution and health, with wood burning in the UK gaining in popularity over the past decade.

Domestic combustion is the single biggest source of small particulate (PM2.5) air pollution in Britain, outstripping road traffic.

After a series of reports about the environmental harm caused by wood-burning stoves, hundreds of people responded to a Guardian callout to share their views. Many said they used a wood-burning stove because of affordability but were careful about the fuel they used, opting for seasoned or kiln-dried wood.

Estimated emissions from different types of fuel and appliances vary greatly, and since 2022, only stoves that meet the ecodesign standard can be legally sold in the UK.

Many readers who responded to the callout said they owned such stoves. However, despite being far better than non-exempt stoves, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the ecodesign standard is still responsible for high amounts of PM2.5.

Some readers in rural areas said they relied on their stove during power outages, while a few who lived in cities said they resented the effect solid-fuel burning was having on air quality.

Others said they had changed their mind after reports on air pollution and some had chosen other ways to heat their home, such as bioethanol fires.

Here, five people share their views on wood-burning stoves.

Thirteen years ago we installed a Defra-approved stove to replace the existing open fire. It's extremely high spec. It's the only thing that keeps us properly warm and has been a godsend this past winter since the energy crisis. We’ve cut down on gas and electricity and we are using it about 70% more than last winter. Energy costs are more than previous years but it minimises the increase. I really don't know what we would have done [otherwise].

We only burn kiln-dried wood. I don't like it when people burn waste – you can smell it. We virtually live in the room it's installed in as the rest of the house is so cold.Susan Cooper, 63, retired in Rugby

The neighbouring houses have them and the smoke pollution in the colder months is rampant. In the past year, more people in my area are doing it for longer. The otherwise good air quality is rendered thick and irritating and the serious health risks are well documented. Continuing to burn solid fuels in urban areas wilfully ignores this information and is selfish and antisocial. It is unnecessary in modern homes.

These risks and the unpleasant cloying fumes mean windows cannot be opened for fresh air. Those that have wood- and coal-burning facilities are making the rest of us pay. It should be banned wherever population density exceeds a minimum threshold.Mike, 61, builder in Devon

The warm glow of bioethanol (and self-righteousness) keeps me warm in the evenings, after a decision three years ago to go against the grain of my peers and not buy a wood-burning stove and rather go for a bioethanol fire, on air quality and carbon reduction grounds.

My wife thought I was being stubbornly pig-headed about it at the time but last week said: "Looks like you were right about wood-burning stoves", having read the recent reports regarding air quality. The fire looks the same, kicks out a decent amount of heat and is, on balance, cheaper too (no flue or cleaning required).Colin Maltby, 40, project manager in Stourbridge

Our wood burner has been essential in keeping us warm and our bills down. We live in a house built in 1890, so insulation isn't great and we have only one radiator to heat the four rooms downstairs. We would really struggle without our wood burner. We are mindful to only burn sustainable, dried logs that we buy locally.

If the government provided better funding to help homes insulate, perhaps we could consider installing alternative heating. You would feel more inclined to invest in heating systems if you’re not losing it out of windows and walls. The cost to insulate our walls is estimated at £14,000, and a further £10,000 to replace our old heat leaking windows – before we even look at alternative heating – making a more eco way of heating our home beyond our reach. Mel Young, 47, project planner in East Sussex

"We installed a stove six years ago to replace an open fireplace as it's more efficient and gives more heat in the living room. We live in a small village, which is not on the gas grid. The house is heated using oil but we use the stove to boost heat as it's cheaper. Due to the absurd ways that grid-connection charges are set up for rural Scotland, we pay higher standing charges for electricity.

"The wood is sourced from our garden by felling dead trees and those that need pruning. We only burn wood seasoned for at least a year and any emissions are spread far by the prevailing wind so unlikely to have any health impact.

"We occasionally have power cuts in winter. The worst has been 72 hours in 2021, albeit a one-off. Without electricity we are unable to run our oil boiler and have used the stove for warmth – in the last big outage the outside temperature was -5C."Angus Holmes, 41, works in the whisky industry in Moray

3 months old ‘It's been a godsend since the energy crisis’ Susan Cooper, 63, retired in Rugby ‘It should be banned in urban areas’ Mike, 61, builder in Devon ‘I’m glad we chose a bio ethanol fire’ Colin Maltby, 40, project manager in Stourbridge ‘We have poor insulation in an old home’ Mel Young, 47, project planner in East Sussex ‘ We occasionally have power cuts in winter’ Angus Holmes, 41, works in the whisky industry in Moray