It is the idea winter break scenario, sitting in a cosy cottage, in front of a roaring fire, burning logs harvested from the nearby woods, enjoying a glass of local cider, and setting fire to the furniture. So wood-burning stoves have their appeal and can make your cottage more attractive in the winter months.
But if you’re going to consider installing a wood-burning stove you need to consider the effects of smoke on other people and the law demands some high standards.
Back in 1956, Parliament passed a Clean Air Act to control the terrible pollution that famously made London a city of “smog” (smoke + fog) that still influences tourism to this day. In some faraway countries, the popular image of London is one of smog and gloom, no doubt as a result of watching old films.
We have made a load of progress since then in controlling emissions of smoke from chimneys and in many parts of England, you cannot, (unless you live of a canal boat) allow a column of black smoke to rise from your chimney and “smuts” to descend onto your neighbours’ washing.
The Clean Air Act 1993 is the modern law and it empowers local authorities to designate areas as smoke control areas, or “smokeless zones”. In urban areas the whole local authority area may be such a zone. In these areas it is illegal to burn fuel that emits smoke. If you want a “real fire”, you have to follow one of two routes:
- Use a smokeless fuel
- Use an approved “clean burning” stove that provides an exemption from the prohibition.
Smokeless fuels are approved by the government and you can find a list of products on the DEFRA website. These can be burned on an open fire or in a stove.
In a self-catering situation, however, you may not have effective control over what is burned by your guests who, coming from homes with gas central heating, and being too young to remember homes heated by coal fires, may not realise the consequences of gathering winter fuel in the woods.
There is also a list of models of woodburning stoves that are approved to burn wood in a smoke control area. In a smoke control area, you can only install one of these if you want to burn wood.
You don’t have to have a licence to own a stove but you do have to comply with building control requirements if you install one today.
There are two alternatives:
- Get the appliance installed by a HETAS accredited installer
- Obtain building control approval from your local authority to ensure compliance with Part J and, in some cases, Part L of the Building Regulations. Part J deals with flue heights and sizes, ventilation rates and other safety issues relating to combustion appliances and Part L is about the conservation of fuel and power in new and existing buildings where specific alterations are proposed.
HETAS stands for Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme and it is an organisation that approves competent installers of wood-burning stoves. Their website (www.hetas.co.uk) provides a facility to find an installer. If you use one of these trained installers you won’t need to get building control approval.
Wood-burning stoves don’t only pose a risk to the neighbours’ washing. In 2010 a young man died of carbon monoxide poisoning after sleeping in a building with an incorrectly installed stove. Proper maintenance of the stove is also essential.
You will also want to very carefully review and revise your fire risk assessment if you have one of these stoves, bearing in mind that guest behaviour might not always be what you’d hope for.
There are some special considerations if you are planning to burn waste wood that may contain chemical wood preservatives, paint, etc. This is not covered by this article but don’t assume you can fuel your stove with scrap window frames!
So is a wood-burning stove a good idea? Probably not, if you reside far away from the holiday home. If you are close enough to supervise and maintain the stove and are prepared to pay a competent person to do maintenance, it may be a good idea that could attract more guests when the sun isn’t shining.
Extracted from the EASCO e-newsletter: Edition 88 April 2014