Wood burning stoves and air quality

Air pollution in Camden exceeds the World Health Organization’s guideline levels. Burning wood or coal at home emits dangerous pollution known as fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), which is a carcinogen and can cause asthma, heart disease and other serious illnesses affecting our lungs, hearts and brains. Exposure to particulate air pollution can also trigger the symptoms of existing health conditions.

Current evidence suggests there is no safe level of, and both short-term and long-term exposure to PM 2.5 increase the risk of early deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

How much air pollution does wood burning produce?

Camden is leading the London Wood Burning Project (LWBP) in partnership with the London Borough of Islington to raise public awareness about the health risks associated with air pollution from home wood and solid fuel burning. Camden and Islington received funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for the Project and are leading it on behalf of a consortium of London boroughs that collectively represents more than half of London’s population.

The LWBP was launched to learn more about how wood and solid fuel burning can affect air quality and how this may impact upon public health. Through the Project we have commissioned research which has found that wood and solid fuel burning is responsible for almost one-tenth of the PM 2.5 pollution in the air in London. 

Government data suggests that domestic wood burning is responsible for 21% of total PM 2.5 emitted across the UK, with emissions from this source increasing by 124% between 2011 and 2021.

This is despite less than 10% of the UK population using wood or solid fuels for home heating. The impact of domestic wood burning is concentrated during the autumn and winter when it is colder so the immediate risk for health is higher during this period.

What is the health impact of wood burning in London?

PM 2.5 from wood and solid fuel burning affects public health throughout Camden and also leads to indoor air pollution, posing a risk to the health of those burning these fuels indoors. It has been estimated that around 3,500 premature deaths occur each year in London due to long-term exposure to fine particulates.

A health impact evaluation commissioned by the LWBP has determined that 284 deaths each year are attributable to wood and solid fuel burning. Additionally, the study concluded that wood and solid fuel burning in London is responsible for a three-week reduction in life expectancy, and £187 million each year in healthcare costs which equates to £24 per year for every Londoner, regardless of whether or not we use wood or solid fuels ourselves.

Camden is very well connected to the mains gas and electricity networks, and there is no reason for any resident or business in the borough to have to rely on wood or coal fuels for heating.

Visit the London Wood Burning Project website to read these studies and to learn more.

How can I reduce pollution from my wood burning stove or fireplace?

The most effective way of reducing pollution and protecting everyone’s health is simply to avoid burning any wood, coal, or other solid fuels if you have an alternative source of heating.

Even the most efficient wood-fuelled heating systems emit approximately 300 times more PM 2.5 than gas boilers, so if you are able to use gas or electricity for heating instead of wood or coal you will be helping to improve air quality.

Advice on saving energy and keeping warm at home

If you struggle to keep your home warm and comfortable, you can contact the Green Camden Helpline on 0800 801 738 (Mon-Fri, 9am to 5pm) for advice and tips, including checking eligibility for grants and other services.

You can also visit our Energy efficiency services webpage or our Energy efficiency grants for private residents webpage for further information and support.

Wood burning stoves – the law

If you do choose to burn wood or other solid fuels at home or in your business premises you must comply with the Clean Air Act and smoke control regulations.

The whole of Camden is a ‘smoke control area’ and only authorised fuels and exempt appliances can legally be used. It is an offence to use an unauthorised fuel in a non-exempt appliance, or to purchase an unauthorised fuel for this purpose. You could be fined up to £1,000 if you do not comply with the law.

It is also an offence to produce smoke from any chimney, appliance or fixed boiler even if you are using an authorised fuel or an exempt appliance, and if you do this you may be fined £300.

PM 2.5 pollution is not visible to the naked eye, so fuels labelled as ‘smokeless’ and more energy-efficient appliances may still produce a significant amount of air pollution.

What can I burn in my fireplace or wood burning stove?

In open fireplaces and other non-exempt appliances you can only burn ‘authorised’ fuels. For a list of these fuels please visit smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/fuels

Wood, wood chips and wood pellets are not authorised fuels and can only be burned in appliances approved by the Secretary of State, which are known as ‘exempt appliances’. A list of exempt appliances is available at smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/appliances

Even if you are using approved fuels and exempt appliances for heating, this still have a negative impact on air quality and public health and will produce indoor air pollution.

Regardless of whether you are complying with the Clean Air Act, if you burn wood or solid fuels and cause a nuisance we may issue an abatement notice. Non-compliance with abatement notices can lead to fines and prosecution.

Installing a wood burning stove

If you plan to install a new wood burning stove or other indoor wood or solid fuel burning appliance you must comply with the relevant Building Regulations and ensure the stove can be legally used in a smoke control area. We recommend you also contact the Council’s Air Quality team to register your appliance by emailing AirQuality@camden.gov.uk.

You should include the following information:

  • the address of where the appliance is located
  • the appliance make and model
  • evidence the appliance is certified as ‘exempt’
  • a description of fuel used including moisture content
  • name and address of fuel supplier
  • a plan showing the location of the appliance exhaust flue and nearest building

If you are a Camden Council leaseholder you must contact the Camden Leaseholder Services team before installing or reinstating a wood or solid fuel burning appliance.

Contact Camden Leaseholder Services

Remember, even if your new appliance can legally be used in a smoke control area it will still produce dangerous air pollution and you can be fined if you release smoke from your chimney or cause a nuisance to neighbours.

Note: The smoke control area rules apply to all buildings in Camden including homes, businesses and other commercial premises.