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 one of 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 the Government’s 2019 Clean Air Strategy, domestic solid fuel, which includes burning wood and coal, is responsible for 38% of PM2.5 pollution in the UK, the largest source. The other main sources of PM2.5 air pollution are industrial combustion (16%), industrial solvents and processes (13%), and road transport (12%).
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.
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, sometimes called smokeless zones, are areas set by local councils where you can’t emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised fuel or using an exempt appliance. People who break the rules can face a fine of up to £1,000.
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. It’s also an offence to burn any waste from building works, and tradespeople should dispose of waste legally and responsibly.
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.
Public Health England and The University of Manchester have prepared a joint report on the health impacts and sources of PM2.5 pollution in Greater Manchester.