Air pollution affects the health of everyone in Nottingham. Along with emissions from transport and construction, burning wood and other solid fuels can contribute to this air pollution problem.

The Clean Air Acts and Smoke Control Areas

The Clean Air Acts and Smoke Control programmes that were introduced following the Great Smog of London in 1952 have been instrumental in reducing levels of sulphur dioxide, smoke and particles, and improving air quality. The Clean Air Act 1993 consolidates the Clean Air Acts 1956 and 1968 and certain related enactments.

The whole of the Nottingham City Council area is subject to Smoke Control Orders under the Clean Air Act 1993.  

However, a significant limitation of the Clean Air Acts and Smoke Control Areas is that their focus is only on visible smoke and not harmful invisible emissions.

Why is burning wood and other solid fuels a problem?

The main pollutant emitted by burning solid fuels like wood is ultra-fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. It is not visible to the naked eye, so even 'smokeless' fuels and appliances may be causing air pollution. PM2.5 is widely acknowledged as being the air pollutant which has the greatest impact on human health. Both short and long-term exposure to PM2.5 increase the risk of early deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as increased hospital admissions.

Children growing up exposed to PM2.5 are more likely to have reduced lung function and can develop asthma. Current evidence suggests there is no safe level of PM2.5. Recent studies have also highlighted concerns about indoor air quality particularly where solid fuel stoves are used.  

How much of this PM2.5 is due to wood burning?

A recent study by Kings College London and the National Physical Laboratories found wood burning accounts for between 23 and 31 per cent of urban derived PM2.5 in London and Birmingham – the report states that similar proportions would be expected in other urban areas.  This is why controlling wood burning is an important urban issue.

What should I do about it?

Choosing what you burn and how you burn it can make a big difference to the pollution it creates. Reducing the personal pollution, you and your household are exposed to from domestic burning, is crucial to maintaining long term health and reducing the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Stoves and fireplaces

Open fireplaces are the most polluting way to burn solid fuels. Using a well-designed, properly installed stove or appliance can make a big difference.

In the Nottingham City Council area, the absolute legal minimum is that your stove (also known as an ‘appliance’) is Defra approved for the type of solid fuel you intend to use.  There are some domestic and commercial appliances which have been tested and approved by the Government to burn specific non-authorised fuels such as clean wood, wood pellets etc. These appliances are known as ‘exempt appliances’ and a current list may be found on the Defra website. When used correctly, these appliances should not emit visible smoke, but even Defra exempt appliances can emit high levels of PM2.5 pollution.  

From January 2022 all new wood burning appliances will have to meet new EcoDesign standards.

The clearSkies stove accreditation scheme (launched in September 2020) is an emissions and efficiency accreditation scheme that goes even further than EcoDesign requirements. If you are planning to replace your wood burning stove or open fireplace we recommend purchasing a clearSkies level 4 or level 5 product.

Any appliance or fireplace should also be properly maintained and your chimney should be swept regularly.

Fuels

Only smokeless fuel (known as ‘authorised fuel’) can be burnt on an open fire in a domestic property in Nottingham e.g. natural gas, anthracite etc.  Wood of any description and garden waste are not classed as an authorised fuel & so cannot be burnt on an open fire inside a domestic premises because it will cause smoke to be emitted from the associated chimney. 

Currently, not all fuels sold in Nottingham are smokeless; if you are in any doubt ask your supplier. A list of authorised fuels can be found on the Defra website.

If you have an exempt appliance you can usually use normal wood as well as smokeless fuels. Usually wood that has been kiln dried or seasoned to have a lower moisture content will be much less polluting, as much as 50 per cent less than the pollution emitted from burning fresh logs. Drier wood is also more efficient, producing more heat per log and less likely to cause a chimney fire.

Wood that has the Woodsure Ready to Burn label is certified to have a low moisture content, for a full list of suppliers see the list on the Woodsure website.

You should not burn old pallets, furniture or scrap wood as it may contain contaminants that can be harmful to your health and the environment.

It is important to store your fuels correctly to make sure your wood and briquettes do not get damp from the rain or damp in the ground.

Coal and briquettes

Although we don’t have direct evidence of the impact of coal and briquette burning on air quality, there is no reason to believe the impact would be less than that of wood burning. Burning coal and briquettes also contributed to human-induced climate change.

What does the law say?

The Clean Air Act places restrictions on the emission of smoke from any chimney in any Smoke Control Area declared under the Act.  The whole of the Nottingham City Council area is covered by a number of Smoke Control Areas which were declared under the Clean Air Act 1956 in stages between the 1960s and 1992. 

The key offences arising from the Clean Air Act 1993 are that in a Smoke Control Area:

  1. It is an offence to emit smoke from a chimney of a building (including domestic buildings), from a furnace or from any fixed boiler if located in a designated Smoke Control Area.

  2. It is an offence to acquire an ‘unauthorised fuel’ for use within a Smoke Control Area unless it is used in an ‘exempt appliance’ (ie an appliance exempted from the controls which generally apply in the Smoke Control Area for that particular solid fuel) lit and operated in accordance with the manufacturers instructions (using firelighters).

The current maximum level of fine is £1,000 for each offence.