Am I allowed to burn wood on my stove?

At first glance, you could be forgiven for believing that wood-burning stoves and multifuel stoves were on the verge of being banned. For some reason, those looking to improve the environment and reduce emissions have targeted stoves. While it would be wrong to suggest that stoves do not emit particles into the atmosphere, this needs to be looked at in perspective.

The short answer to the question; you can burn wood on a wood-burning or multifuel stove if you have the appropriate equipment (for your area) and the correct fuel.

The Burn Better campaign by HETAS

For years now the stove industry has been an easy target for those looking to reduce emissions into the atmosphere. Before we take a look at a recent survey, detailing thoughts and trends with regards to fires and stoves, let us take a look at how open fires and stoves compare.

Misleading comparisons

Even prior to the introduction of EU Ecodesign regulations, the comparison between wood-burning/multifuel stoves and open fireplaces was as stark as you could ever imagine. When you see the attention grabbing headlines in the mass media you will notice one thing, wood-burning/multifuel stoves and open fireplaces are often grouped together. So, surely they must be comparable when it comes to efficiency and emissions? No.

As you will see from the figures below, the comparisons could not be more different!

Even arch critics of the stove industry accept that stoves are 80% efficient, which means that just 20% of energy is lost through heat/emissions into the atmosphere. Compare this with an open fire which is between 20% and 30% efficient. This means that a phenomenal amount of energy is lost, between 70% and 80%. This then begs the question, why would anybody even look at grouping wood-burning/multifuel stoves and open fireplaces together?

The reality is that by grouping together these different products, with very different efficiency ratings, this gives a reason to clampdown on stove use in the UK. It is also worth remembering that the wood burned on a wood-burning stove, and multifuel stove, is replenished over and over again. As trees are cut down to use for fuel, new saplings are planted in a never-ending conveyor belt of eco-friendly replanting.

Recent survey

A recent UK survey (taking in 2000 people) regarding different types of heating in the UK cast a very interesting light on consumer habits:-

• 40% of those involved in the survey said they were more likely to use their open fire/stove this winter, compared to previous years. As a consequence of COVID it seems that many people expect to spend more time at home in the immediate weeks and months.
• 49% of those surveyed were unaware that failure to burn solid fuel “in the correct manner” could have a negative impact on their health. As we will come to later on in this article, there are numerous simple ways of making your stove/fireplace more efficient.
• 34% admitted to using an open fire or log burner to improve the aesthetics and ambience of their home. This is certainly one of the main attractions of the wood-burning/multifuel stove industry.
• 65% of those questioned admitted to burning fuel on their fire/stove incompatible with instruction/manufacturer’s guidelines. This is a major area of concern!
• 19% were of the belief that wood-burning stoves and coal fires were the most environmentally friendly means of heating their home. Blissfully unaware of the emissions released by open fireplaces and to a much lesser extent stoves.

Again, the fact that the survey included open fires and wood-burning/multifuel stoves as one “group” can be misleading. Some of the more challenging figures, such as the burning of material detrimental to air quality, are more associated with open fireplaces. No doubt some stove owners will do this, but compared to those with open fires it is minimal.

What are smoke control areas?

In tandem with the Clean Air Act the UK authorities have increased the number of smoke control areas, taking in many cities and large towns. As a consequence, we have seen a huge increase in the number of DEFRA approved wood-burning/multifuel stoves available in the UK. The stove industry takes its responsibilities regarding air pollution/emissions extremely seriously. So, what is DEFRA approval and how does this help?

DEFRA approved stoves

DEFRA is short for the UK government’s Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs, covering among other things air quality in the UK. If you live in a smoke control area, not all areas are deemed smoke control, you are limited to DEFRA approved wood-burning and multifuel stoves. This is simply a means of reducing emissions which will reduce air pollution, improve general health and the environment we live in.

A DEFRA approved stove is subtly different from a standard wood-burning/multifuel stove. The changes required to comply with DEFRA smoke control area laws relate to the amount of air allowed into your stove. Starving your stove of air creates a smoky combustion which increases the number of particles released into the atmosphere. Therefore, DEFRA approved stoves have a minimum level of combustion air required at all times.

As a consequence, wood fuel is burnt more efficiently, emissions are reduced and potential damage to the environment is much less. You will notice that the majority of stove manufacturers in the UK have a growing portfolio of DEFRA approved stoves. As a consequence, those living in smoke control areas will now be able to install a wood-burning/multifuel stove (obviously DEFRA approved).

It is important to note that DEFRA approved stoves are only allowed to burn wood and smokeless coal. Traditional coal is banned from use in smoke control areas because of the emissions. Thankfully, the stove industry has developed and expanded in recent years to include smokeless coal and other similar fuels. This has led to a significant reduction in air pollution.

EU Ecodesign regulations

As the regulatory noose tightens around the stove industry, the introduction of the EU Ecodesign directive has grabbed many headlines. This directive, with the regulations set to become law in 2022, dictates how efficient an array of different products need to be, to reduce damage to the environment. While much has been made of the impact on the stove industry, these regulations are not targeted at the stove industry. Although the mass media might have you believe otherwise!

While sceptics of the stove industry were quick to highlight the challenges for the sector, the industry is fighting back. While these Ecodesign regulations do not come into place until 2022, even if the UK no longer has a trade agreement with the European Union, the majority of new stoves are already Ecodesign compliant. Yes, the industry, which many would have you believe is inefficient and damaging to the environment, is already ahead of the regulations. How many mass media publications highlight this?

Burning the right type of fuel

Regulators, governments and stove manufacturers have been extremely detailed in their advice to those using wood-burning and multifuel stoves. However, there are still some issues with regards to burning the “right type of fuel”.

• Wood seasoning

It is important, indeed vital, but only seasoned wood is burned on a wood-burning/multifuel stove. The moisture content of this fuel should be no more than 20%. Moisture content greater than 20% will not only lead to increased emissions but also reduced efficiency. In this scenario, a significant element of heat energy will be used to dry the wood, with no direct benefit to the user.

• Solid fuels

While it is legal to burn traditional coal out with a smoke control area, there are now smokeless options and more efficient fuels available. More and more people are now becoming aware of the environment, emissions and the opportunity to reduce the damage by using smokeless fuel.

• Burning rubbish

Even though the environment has been front and centre of the political arena for years, many people still burn rubbish on their wood-burning/multifuel stoves (and even open fireplaces). Products such as plastic will create potentially harmful local emissions, not to mention releasing toxic pollution into the atmosphere. Stick to the fuels advised by the stove manufacturer!

When you read the advice regarding fuel, the correct fuel for the environment, it looks straightforward. Unfortunately, many people are constantly breaking the law and burning rubbish, plastics and other materials.

Servicing your stove

Akin to servicing your car, many people see the cost of servicing their stove as an added expenditure with no real benefits. How wrong they are!

There are numerous issues to take into consideration regarding the regular servicing of your stove which include:-

• Blockages

You may find that various areas of your stove have built up waste materials which can sometimes cause blockages, or reduced airflow. Anything which reduces the controlled airflow around your stove will reduce the efficiency of the machine. If your stove is creating less heat then it will require more fuel to make up the shortfall. Obviously, the more fuel you burn the greater the potential impact on the environment.

• Cracks and leaks

The traditional design of a wood-burning/multifuel stove has to all intense and purposes remained unchanged for decades. They may look bulky, cumbersome and inefficient from the outside looking in, but this impression is wrong. All stoves depend upon an ability to retain heat within the body of the machine and release this in a controlled manner. This ensures that fuel efficiency is as high as possible; fuel is burnt, with emissions burnt and re-burnt before being released. Therefore, if there are cracks and leaks from your stove this will impact the efficiency, leading to an increased fuel requirement.

• Flue liner

The majority of stove installations will a require flue liner, whether up through the chimney or an alternative exit route. It is important to ensure that the flue liner is cleaned on a regular basis to reduce blockages. Not only can these significantly impact the efficiency of your stove but they can prove dangerous – fires caused by the thick tar residue. A relatively large blockage could push emissions back down into your room with a potentially fatal impact on health.

• Chimney sweep

This is more relevant for open fires where there is no flue liner, although something to bear in mind for stove owners. In the year to March 2020 there were 3,130 homes in England which experienced chimney fires as a consequence of a buildup of flammable tar. This is the material created when burning fuel, where the emissions are released via the chimney. A simple, and very quick, sweep of your chimney can avoid any potential disasters.

Follow the guidance for an unbelievable experience

There are approaching 2 million stoves in the UK and even the introduction of tighter regulations has done little to dampen demand. We know that stove manufacturers are more aware than ever of their environmental responsibilities and the efficiency of their machines. As a consequence, the majority of new stoves offered to the market are already Ecodesign friendly, despite the fact these regulations don’t come in until 2022. You will also notice the huge increase in DEFRA approved stoves and the detailed guidance on which fuels can be used.

Stick to the guidelines, burn the correct fuel, service your stove on a regular basis and ensure that your flue liner/chimney is clear. These simple acts will minimise any emissions into the atmosphere and highlight the huge difference between open fireplaces and their stove counterparts.


The mass media have been targeting the stove industry for some time now. Many people are of the impression that they are not able to burn wood in smoke control areas – or elsewhere! This is wrong. The DEFRA approved machines used in smoke control areas ensure a minimum level of combustion air. As a consequence the wood/smokeless fuel is burnt efficiently, reducing emissions.

You will also find that many stoves of today have a triple combustion process. The fuel is initially burnt, emissions burnt and then re-burnt before being released. This not only maximises heat output and efficiency, but it can significantly reduce ultimate emissions. Many would argue that the UK stove industry has gone above and beyond with regards to reducing emissions and helping the environment. However, when you see the industry grouped with open fires, you do need to appreciate the huge difference in efficiency and emissions.