SPICe FAQ – Wood burning stoves and air quality

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SPICe has recently received several enquiries asking about emissions from wood burning stoves, and smoke control areas. This blog post explores the framework which governs these issues.

Are wood burning stoves regulated?

The Clean Air Act 1993 prohibits and makes it an offence to emit “dark smoke” from a domestic or commercial chimney, regardless of method of combustion (i.e. including wood burning stoves).

It also permits local authorities to declare all or part of their area as a “smoke control area”. Designation as a smoke control area makes it an offence to emit smoke from a chimney of a building, from a furnace, or from any fixed boiler unless specifically exempted.

In a “smoke control area” authorised fuel can be burnt in an open fireplace. Wood is not an authorised fuel however it can be burnt in an authorised appliance such as a wood burning stove.

The Scottish Government has the power to authorise fuels. It is an offence to acquire an ‘unauthorised’ fuel for use within a smoke control area unless it is used in an ‘exempt’ appliance. Breaching these regulations can attract a fine of up to £1000.

In Scotland, fireplaces are exempted by publication of a list by Scottish Ministers. Exempt appliances include ovens, wood burners and stoves, that have passed tests to confirm that they are capable of burning designated solid fuel without giving off smoke.  The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) approved exempt appliances Scotland list provides up to date information. A DEFRA-approved stove can burn wood in a smoke control area if wood is on that stove’s exemption list.

Authorised fuels include inherently smokeless fuels such as gas, electricity and anthracite (hard coal), together with specified brands of manufactured solid smokeless fuels. These fuels have passed tests to confirm that they are capable of being burnt in an open fireplace without producing smoke, and so can be used in smoke control areas. DEFRA has a list of authorised fuels in Scotland. Unauthorised fuels would include smoky coals and wood.
The Air Quality in Scotland website provides guidance on smoke control areas.

What is the role of local authorities?

Local authority websites provide information on relevant smoke control areas, and their boundaries.

For example, Clackmannanshire Council’s webpage on Wood Burning Stoves explains that Clackmannanshire has two designated smoke control areas. By contrast, the whole of Edinburgh is a smoke control area. This means that dark smoke can’t be emitted from the chimney of any building.

It is the responsibility of local authorities to investigate breaches within their smoke control zones, and concerns that a property is producing smoke in a smoke control zone, should be directed to the relevant local authority department.

The smoke control rules don’t apply to bonfires.

What have the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government done?

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee carried out an inquiry into air quality in Scotland. The Committee’s inquiry report was published on 28 February 2018. Amongst other issues, the Committee looked at whether wood burning stoves and commercial biomass boilers were contributing to poor air quality. The parliamentary debate on the inquiry was held on 17 April 2018.

The Committee recommended that the Scottish Government undertake research to understand the extent of pollutants from wood burning stoves and review current regulations and guidance on installation of domestic wood/multi fuel stoves. The Scottish Government’s responded that: “Jointly with the other UK administrations, these issues are under active consideration.”

The Scottish Government also committed to a full review of the Cleaner Air for Scotland strategy (CAFS) by 2020.

The Scottish Government’s 7 August 2019 update on progress towards meeting the recommendations of the inquiry said that wood burning issues would be considered in detail as part of the CAFS review, and that the findings of joint UK research on the wood burning habits of the general public would be published later in 2019.

Has any other work been done on the issue?

On 6 November 2018 the Scottish Government announced that Professor Campbell Gemmell would chair an independent review of Scotland’s air quality strategy. The report from the independent review was published on 29 August 2019. The recommendations for domestic emissions are to:

Implement a package of recommendations on domestic burning emissions in Scotland, similar to that recommended in the DEFRA Clean Air Strategy, including: the implementation of Ecodesign (ED); voluntary codes for stoves; appropriate standards for fuels (including regulation of wood for use in woodburners, house coals and arrangements for own-resource wood burning), and education to inform consumers.

Consider with local government and SEPA how best to address the current permitted development status of flues for woodburning stoves and biomass boilers and incorporate permissions into development control and monitoring.

Commission further work to clarify the level of PM [particulate matter] (and other relevant) emissions in Scotland and the percentage attributable to domestic burning. This will require re-evaluating the volume of wood burnt.”

The Government’s Programme for Scotland 2019-20 stated:

“An independent steering group has reviewed our Clean Air Strategy and we have published their recommendations. We will consult on these and the outcome will inform our revised proposals for a new air quality strategy in 2020.”

What about the UK Government?

DEFRA met fuel industry representatives in January 2017 to discuss ways to reduce emissions from wood fuel.  This led to the wood fuel industry launching the ‘Ready to Burn’ scheme in September 2017. It aims to raise consumer awareness about the importance of burning clean, dry, quality logs to help reduce air pollution.

DEFRA published a Clean Air Strategy in January 2019


Miranda Jackson, Enquiries Officer, SPICe

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