Open fires and wood-burning stoves

There is an increasing concern amongst air quality and health experts about the impact that wood-burning stoves and open fireplaces can have on indoor and outdoor air pollution and your health. The Government’s National Statistics data on particulate matter states that:

‘domestic combustion was a major source of PM emissions in 2020, accounting for 15 per cent and 25 per cent of PM10 and PM2.5, respectively. Most emissions from this source come from burning wood in closed stoves and open fires. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, coal use in domestic combustion was the largest source of particulate matter emissions; coal now accounts for a very small proportion of emissions from this source (14 per cent in 2020). The use of wood as a fuel accounted for 70 per cent of PM2.5 emissions from domestic combustion in 2020. Emissions of PM2.5 from domestic wood burning increased by 35 per cent between 2010 and 2020, to represent 17 per cent of total PM2.5. emissions in 2020.’

(National Statistics Emissions of air pollutants in the UK – Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5)).

As a result, the Government has introduced new restrictions on fuel sales, and greater enforcement powers under the Environment Act 2021 and is proposing a revision of the Clean Air Act.

  • Wood-burning stoves and open fireplaces reduce the quality of indoor and outdoor air due to the emissions they produce.  
  • Wood-burning stoves and open fires can be hazardous to your health especially if not used correctly, for example by burning the incorrect fuel (such as painted or treated wood) or using damp/wet wood that has not been properly dried. While it may be cheaper to use waste or incorrect fuels, they can cause long-term damage to your wood burner as well as your health. The harmful emissions that these fuels can produce include very small particles known as PM2.5 that can damage your lungs and increase the risk of health problems like cancer, heart disease and low birth weight. 
  • The fumes from wood burners are especially dangerous if you have a respiratory condition (such as asthma or COPD) or a chronic illness such as cancer or heart failure. The fumes can also particularly affect children as their small body size and developing lungs make them more vulnerable.

Not only is there a serious health concern, but you may also be committing an offence under the Clean Air Act 1993 if smoke is emitted from your chimney (see below). Following the checklist above and ensuring that the correct fuel is used will reduce the smoke and toxins emitted by the wood burner and reduce the risk to health.

Smoke Control Areas have been designated to cover all of Coventry under Part III of the Clean Air Act 1993.

Under this legislation, it is an offence to allow a fireplace including any installed burner/appliance to generate significant amounts of smoke. The penalty for this offence upon successful prosecution is a fine of up to £1000.

Winter warmth: wood burners checklist


  • Follow the advice on the Burnright website
  • Have the appliance installed by a professional registered on a competent person scheme certified by one of the following organisations: HETAS, APHC, BESCA, Certsure, NAPIT or OFTEC.- if you do it yourself then be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions
  • Have the chimney checked and swept before installation, installing a liner if necessary (otherwise the fumes won't go up the chimney properly). Find a chimney sweep through The Federation of British Chimney SweepsThe HETAS 'Book a Sweep' webpage and Sweep SafeSome properties may need Building Regulations approval, depending on the appliances and if work needs to be done to the chimney.
  • Make sure the wood burner is certified for use in the UK. When buying an appliance make sure it is an approved or exempted appliance.
  • Make sure you burn the manufacturer's recommended fuel. This could include wood pellets or well-seasoned, clean, dry fuel. Damp or unseasoned wood will smoke excessively.
  • Use a fuel supplier approved under the Woodsure Certification Scheme
  • Go outside regularly and check what is coming out of the chimney. After 10 minutes the smoke should be clear. A fire that is burning brightly without visible smoke is a sign of good combustion. Smouldering fires are the worst polluters because they burn at a temperature too low for efficient combustion.
  • Regularly clean out the ash, check for cracks in firebricks, clean stove glass, check stove door seal, and clean the outside of the stove or open fire. 


  • Install without checking the chimney first, many chimneys are capped or blocked off if they haven't been used for years.
  • Buy off the internet without checking that the appliance is suitable for use in the UK - what may work in the forests of Scandinavia may not be suited to a terraced house in Coventry!
  • Burn pallets, and wet or contaminated wood (anything that might have paint or varnish on it could damage the burner and cause dark smoke; this is an offence and could lead to a £1,000 fine).

Fumes and smoke from wood burners can affect people's health and breathing - those, especially at risk, are children, pregnant women and the elderly. People with asthma or existing respiratory or chest conditions may be affected as very fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs.

It is important to know where fuel, logs and wood pellets are being sourced from when considering the eco-credentials of the wood burner. Imported fuels will have a significant environmental impact.

If you are worried about being able to keep your home warm this winter, the Keeping Coventry Warm Scheme is here to provide you with support. Keeping Coventry Warm provides Coventry residents with free energy-saving advice and information. Support can include; energy bill support, support with tariff switching, grants for vulnerable and low-income residents for boiler repairs/replacements, energy-saving advice and more. Act on Energy can also check your eligibility for other grants including the Home Upgrade Grant which can support low-income, energy-efficient, off-gas properties with grants for free energy efficiency measures such as wall/roof insulation, low carbon heating and solar panels. Contact Act on Energy for free on 0800 988 2881, Monday to Friday, 9 am-5 pm or email at’

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