What a difference 12 months can make! Just over a year ago, we still saw a considerable amount of negative press surrounding wood burning. However, the year just gone with events such as the energy crisis has massively changed the landscape for wood burning.
The SIA reported in September that members had seen an increase in the sales of woodburning stoves by over 40%, and it’s still increasing! The chair of the SIA, Andy Hill said:
“With the cost for heating our homes accounting for the biggest chunk of home energy bills this winter, it is little wonder consumers are looking for alternatives to supplement their gas or electric heating. Couple that with growing awareness of how stretched the grid is and the increased possibility of more power cuts this winter, the option to use a highly efficient, low carbon and low emission wood burning stove to heat your main living space makes good (common) sense.”
Following this, globally there was considerable coverage in the press about the
Following this, there was a flurry of articles throughout the press, not only in Europe, but also shortage of firewood as we saw demands saw, but supply chain reduced with restrictions on firewood coming from Russia and Belarus whilst the war in Ukraine continues. This, unsurprisingly, has caused an increase in the price of kiln dried logs, especially that imported from Latvia and Lithuania who source raw materials from Russia, as the increase in demand and spike in shipping costs. Over the past five years, imported firewood has usually been cheaper than that sourced in Britain, but the above events have turned the tables with imports now being far more expensive.
However, even with the prices rising for firewood, wood logs are currently the cheapest form of heating fuel for domestic users, costing households 21% less per kWh compared to gas, and a whopping 74% less than electric heating, according to the SIA in their press release on November 23rd.
With supplies in the UK being tightened over the past 2 months, we have seen a significant increase in raw material prices, which will likely lead to further increases in firewood prices over the next few months. Cordwood timber has already risen by over 30%, but looking at past trends this will hopefully be short lived with the end of winter on the horizons – we certainly hope that this will be the case!
The SIA are continuing their efforts in ensuring that the real truths about wood burning and the effects that is has are being communicated to the public, government & local authorities as well as to the press. It can be difficult with resistance from certain groups, but last year it became slightly easier as more people were installing their first wood burners, upgrading existing stoves to ones meeting new standards of efficiency, or as we hear regularly from busy chimney sweeps, opening up old chimneys to allow for new installations. Any negatives invariably got mentioned at the end of the report, rather than it making the headlines!
It was positive to read the 2022 Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer which gives a well balanced and also far reaching discussion on the topic of air quality and pollution levels. Professor Whitty’s report, supported by SIA Contributions, recognises that any form of domestic heating causes some level of pollution and recommends that those who still want to burn a solid fuel such as firewood, must ensure that they are using properly dry dry ‘Ready to Burn’ certified fuel in a modern Ecodesign and Defra exempted stove which will help to reduce any associated emissions by a factor of 9 compared to burning in an open fire.The report states that:
“… using modern, less polluting stoves and burning wood that is dry”. It goes on to note that: “For air pollution emissions, there is substantial difference between the different open fire and stove designs, the age of the appliance and how well maintained it is, and the moisture content of the wood, for those who want to burn wood.”
The report also recognises that the reason for burning solid fuels domestically can vary with Professor Whitty nothing that these include “aesthetic as well as practical, ecological or economic reasons”. Andy Hill (chair of the SIA) noted that:
“Burning sustainably sourced wood fuel is currently the most cost-effective low carbon heating available*. With increasing electricity and gas prices and more power outages being experienced during extreme weather events, consumers are choosing to be able to guarantee that they can heat their homes without relying on electricity or gas. The comfort that a modern wood burning stove brings to owners is significant and multi-faceted; it provides a family focal point and primarily heats the space you need it to; you have the comfort of knowing that you can stay warm in the event of a power cut, and by burning sustainably sourced wood for heat you are displacing higher carbon intensive fuels such as oil, gas and electricity thus reducing your carbon footprint.
The UK stove industry worked hard to ensure it met the European wide Ecodesign regulations way ahead of its implementation on Jan 1st 2022 and was indeed several years ahead. This gave the industry more time to drive standards even higher, setting up an independent verification scheme to allow consumers and legislators to easily identify the least emitting and most efficient stoves. The clearSkies Mark Certification Scheme was launched in 2020 and is administered by Kiwa Ltd, an accredited test laboratory, certification body and government appointed Conformity Assessment Body. Andy Hill went on to say about the scheme: “Already as an industry we have been looking at improving the emissions and efficiency performance of wood burning stoves beyond the requirements of Ecodesign. A clearSkies certified level 5 appliance offers almost a 30% reduction in emissions and higher efficiency than the minimum legal requirements set out within the Ecodesign Regulation. All clearSkies Level 3 and above appliances have also been verified as having Defra exemption for use in Smoke Control Areas."
It does appear that the government have listened and are realistic in their approach for wood burning and support the SIA key message – right appliance, right fuel, right installation and the right maintenance.
However, just as we started see the narrative start to change, with more attention on the advantages of woodburning to reduce energy costs, The Guardian published an piece on the 27th Dec 2022 by George Monbiot, an environmental campaigner and author. The title of the article was ‘My burning shame: I fitted my house with three wood burning stoves’, causing a lot of conversations within the media and letters from readers which were predominantly in frustration as to the content. With an additional response from the SIA, there was a short follow up to the article on BBC4 You and Yours on Monday 9th Jan (19 mins 40 secs into programme) reviewing all sides of the discussion. It is easy to argue that this could be attributed to lazy journalism, as not only has Mr Monbiot not raised his concerns with the SIA to acquire a more informed opinion, but he is clearly behind the times. Firstly, the three “offending” stoves were purchased in 2008 and are now fifteen years old. If he was to change these to modern Ecodesign stoves, he would experience a big jump in efficiency and he would also require 20-25% less firewood. It is also interesting to note that he explained how his first load of logs was bought from a local contractor and he started even then to be concerned “it consisted of the knotty, lichen-encrusted branches of what must have been a venerable oak” and went on to say “I later heard that, as the price of firewood had risen, some contractors employed to keep the roads clear, had been widening their definition of unsafe trees”. It would not be out of the question to assume that he was not buying from a reputable firewood supplier and definitely not logs which have been kiln dried and dried below 20% moisture content! He almost certainly bought his logs from a tree surgeon who would be selling the offcuts as ‘freshly cut firewood’ and very unlikely to be approved under the ‘Ready to Burn’ certification scheme. Since 2021, it is illegal to sell wet wood.
Having the knowledge of the full background and facts to wood burning and what the industry is doing to make sure it is part of the solution and not the problem for domestic heating, it is very frustrating that some journalists can be so one-sided. It does make you wonder about the truth of what you read in the press. I am pleased to say that the SIA, on behalf of the industry have made an effort to write to George Monbiot, in order to politely educate him of the true facts. It makes me wonder if we will see a follow up article to put the facts straight?
Even with negative press, it is heartening to read all the comments in responses to these articles that people are fed up at being told what they can and also can’t do by those who do not understand the issues enough to pass judgement.
2021 as a whole was a very positive one for the industry and there is no doubt that there are plenty of wood burning new comers who are now able to enjoy all the benefits of a log fire, being able to sit and watch the dancing flames and warm up by the wonderful glow of the fire – all whilst knowing that they are saving money on their heating bills. It will allow them to relax and forget all about the tribulations of everyday life, just as I am now about to do on this wet and soggy Sunday afternoon!