New rules on logs and coal - what can you use?

Written by Neil Goodwin on .

Banned?  No, not if stored, seasoned and allowed to dry before burning in the stoveBanned? No, not if stored, seasoned and allowed to dry before burning in the stove'Coal and wood to be banned' was the sensational message from Government that appeared to hit at the end of last week.  Will we all have to get rid of our open fires and wood stoves, as the announcement appears to imply?  Answer - no, but what we can buy will be more limited and more environmentally friendly.

Here we attempt to clarify what this announcement actually means.  Many Marlborough and surrounding village residents rely solely, mainly or just partially on coal and or wood.  Either way, solid fuel is a far more important source of energy to this rural area than it would be to an urban environment.

Many residents don't have access to gas - particularly in the villages surrounding Marlborough - oil can be prohibitively expensive (fluctuates with the international oil price, so OPEC dependent) and electricity is even more so for heating, so a possible ban on solid fuel use would have major repercussions on everyday life.

We went to ask those in the know, who's business is based on supplying all forms of solid fuel to many residents in the area - Smiths of Axford.  A long standing family business, Nick Smith and Simon Neale were pretty clear as to what would be affected by the new rules but recognised that many customers were confused and concerned about this sudden announcement.

Regarding coal, only house coal and 'unapproved' smokeless fuel will be affected, but not for a while.  House coal will not be available in 'sealed' plastic bags beyond February next year, but will be available in the traditional 'unsealed' or open coal sacks for a further two years.  Then - in 2023, house coal will disappear from sale.

Similar restrictions apply to the 'unregulated' smokeless fuels such as 'Glow', but the manufacturers of this fuel - Oxbow Coal - may decide to reformulate this in the interim period to get approval for it's further use, but as the rules currently stand sales of fuels such as 'Glow' will cease in February 2021.

Logs:  the new regulations are targeting wet and unseasoned wood for reasons of pollution and health.  A typical example of this would be the bag of logs on sale in either a supermarket or garage forecourt.  Small bags of relatively unseasoned logs, frequently still quite wet (not long since being cut) and likely a softwood rather than hardwood will be banned.

If logs are properly seasoned and with a moisture content below 20%, then sales can continue.  Seasoned or kiln dried wood will be fine for use so long as the moisture content is kept below this level.  Ironically, kiln drying logs - a fast track route to producing dry wood - requires energy with wood (normally from other off-cut wood) being burned to heat the kiln, which inevitably creates a second level of pollutant output.

Regarding seasoned and kiln dried logs, the quantity purchased at any one time affects what can be bought.  If buying less than two cubic metres of wood at a time, it is incumbent on the supplier to ensure that the moisture content level is less than the 20% limit, ideally between 15-20%.

But if buying a greater amount, two cubic metres or more, the moisture content limit doesn't apply and the supplier must then advise the customer regarding the stacking, storage and seasoning of the wood.

Why?  Because a buyer of larger volumes of wood are likely to keep it stored for some while before use, and the longer the storage, the better the seasoning process and (supposedly) the lower the resulting moisture content.

There is good science behind all of this proposed legislation as wood smoke is recognised as being a key source of pollutants, and damp unseasoned wood creates far more dangerous particulates than that which is dry and seasoned.

Government research indicates that coal and unseasoned damp/wet wood is responsible for significantly more than one-third of all tiny and harmful PM2.5 particulates in the atmosphere (maybe around three times that of all road transport), and these particulates can create severe respiratory and cardiac problems.  These are more likely to penetrate deep into the lungs and then on into the bloodstream, causing potential health issues.

No, coal and wood won't be banned, not for some while anyway, and we won't have to rip out the wood burner or open hearth and replace with either an oil burning boiler or some form of electrical heating.  But we will have to be more careful about what we burn and prepare wood properly so that it burns most efficiently with least damaging output.


Click here to visit the Smiths of Axford website for further advice on what solid fuel can be used in different types of fires or stoves.