Domestic wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have become more popular in recent years. But many people aren’t aware of the harmful impact they have on our health through poor indoor and outdoor air quality. Rules may also apply to their use – including smoke control areas – depending on where you live. Find out if you live in a smoke control area at the bottom of this page.
Stove and fire smoke contains tiny particles known as particulate matter (PM2.5). This pollutant has been identified by the World Health Organization as the most harmful to human health.
PM2.5 can cause breathing difficulties, such as asthma attacks, and contributes to other health conditions including heart disease and stroke. People already suffering from lung and heart problems are more likely to be affected, along with older people, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and very young children.
According to Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) official statistics, domestic burning of solid fuel, which includes wood and coal, is responsible for around 25% of all PM2.5 pollution in the UK. The other main sources are industrial combustion and processes, including solvent use, and road transport.
The graphic shows the main sources of PM2.5 pollution emitted in the UK in 2020.
For more information on the types, sources and health effects of poor air quality, visit the Air pollution and you page.
Many things affect emissions from burning wood or coal, including the type of fireplace or stove, the fuel used, and appliance and chimney maintenance.
The sale of traditional house coal and bags of ‘wet’ wood is now banned in the UK. Look out for the government-approved ‘Ready to Burn’ logo when buying small bags of firewood and solid fuel briquettes. This means it has a low moisture content so it burns more efficiently, with less harmful smoke and air pollution. It’s also better for stoves, fireplaces and chimneys, and reduces fuel and maintenance costs.
All manufactured solid fuels must also now have a low sulphur content and only emit a small amount of smoke. In addition, from 2022 only ecodesign stoves can be legally sold in the UK.
See the further information at the end of this page for simple tips to reduce the environmental and health impacts of your stove and fireplace, and how to save money.
Smoke control areas (SCAs), sometimes called smokeless zones, are areas set by local councils where you can’t emit substantial smoke from a chimney. It's also an offence to 'acquire for use' solid fuel that's not authorised in a SCA unless it's for an exempt appliance. People who break these rules can face financial penalties.
You can find out if you live in a smoke control area by visiting the relevant Greater Manchester local authority website at the bottom of this webpage. Some of these council webpages contain the information and others have contact details to find out.
You should avoid having a bonfire to burn waste, even if it’s garden or allotment waste. Bonfires contribute to local air pollution and can cause a nuisance to neighbours. Items such as painted wood, plastics and rubber should never be burnt as these can release toxic pollutants. Any waste must be disposed of legally and responsibly – it is an offence to dispose of household, industrial and commercial waste in a manner that is likely to cause environmental pollution.
You should dispose of household or garden waste in your council bin or take it to your local recycling centre. Your local council can collect bulky items. Garden or allotment waste should ideally be composted on site.
Most neighbours will be considerate if you explain that a bonfire is causing a problem. But where bonfires continue to cause a nuisance, your local council can take enforcement action. You can contact your local Greater Manchester council using the weblinks below.
Bonfire Night celebrations are also a significant source of air pollution, so please consider attending an organised display rather than holding your own event.
Public Health England (now the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities) and The University of Manchester have prepared a joint report on the health impacts and sources of PM2.5 pollution in Greater Manchester.