Ban on the sale of wet wood and house coal affects 2.5 m of houses while the government is fighting air pollution
Starting next year, homeowners will be stopped buying coal and wet logs as part of a government restriction on toxic air pollution.
An estimated 2.5 million homes in the UK have fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
But from 2021, traditional coal and wet wood, which is used by thousands throughout Britain, will gradually be phased out, amid concerns that small polluting particles released during incineration can lead to serious health problems.
Wet logs are not intentionally dried out to reduce their moisture content after they have been chopped or collected.
The move could force dozens of households to switch to more expensive alternatives – with critics warning last night that some would not be able to heat their homes.
The new rules only apply to the sale, distribution and marketing of wet wood – and it is not illegal to own or burn wet wood after the closing date, either from your garden or a store.
An estimated 2.5 million homes in the UK have fireplaces or wood-burning stoves
Burning wet wood and coal in homes emits huge amounts of minuscule pollutants, known as PM2.5, that can penetrate deep into the lungs and blood.
When they get out, they release 38 percent of the total PM2.5 pollution in the UK – more than road transport and industry combined, according to government figures.
The particles – each 28 times smaller than the width of a human hair – can cause or worsen asthma, strokes, lung cancer and heart disease.
Bags with wet logs are currently for sale in DIY stores, garden centers, and gas stations. Wood is considered dry when the moisture content is less than 20 percent.
Instead of using wet wood and coal, homeowners are instructed to burn dry wood or smokeless fuel instead – both are much more expensive.
Annually, around 2.5 million tonnes of wood are sold in the UK, of which 90 percent are wet. Approximately 350,000 tonnes of domestic coal is burned annually.
Smoke from a chimney in the Yorkshire Dales (file photo)
Last night critics of the new rules warned that the change could mean that some Britons would have to spend much more to heat their homes.
How 25% moisture content means that logs are considered wet
Logs are considered wet when the moisture content exceeds 25 percent.
A rough guide to see if your logs are too wet to burn is to hit two pieces together – if they make a dull thud there is too much water for a fireplace.
Wet wood will also cause too much smoke and a build-up of creosote in the fireplace and flue. If you need to dry wet wood, it is best to split it into smaller pieces and then air dry for spring and summer.
It is recommended to dry wet wood for a maximum of 18 months before it reaches the ideal moisture content.
Those who want a more accurate measurement can also use a digital moisture meter (below) that can be purchased for around £ 20.
The instruments generally have two pins that can be pushed into a piece of firewood to give a reading, and different calibration scales for different types of wood for more precise figures.
There is also what is called the “soap test,” where people rub detergent at one end of the wood before they blow through the wood at the other end. If air bubbles are visible, the firewood is dry.
Ian Gregory, an independent fuel industry lobbyist, said: “This is terrible news for the poor in rural areas.
“Almost four million people are outside the UK gas network. Many of them keep their house warm with coal because they cannot afford briquettes that cost twice as much.
“Because they are unable to pay for briquettes, they will use easily accessible wet wood that is much more polluting than coal. People will freeze in their homes and there will be no reduction in harmful emissions. “
Wet wood is not only more polluting, it can lead to chimneys being swept more often.
The government’s Clean Air strategy is aimed at reducing particulate matter emissions by 30 percent by 2020.
A recent report from King’s College London that measures local concentrations showed that wood burning accounts for up to 31 percent of the urban PM2.5 in London.
Environmental Secretary George Eustice said: “Cozy fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are the core of many homes up and down in the country, but the use of certain fuels means that they are also the largest source of the most harmful pollutant people in the UK.
‘By working towards the use of cleaner fuels, such as dry wood, we can all play a role in improving the health of millions of people.
“This is the last step to meet the challenge we have set ourselves in our industry-leading Clean Air strategy.
“We will remain ambitious and innovative in tackling air pollution from all sources while working towards our goal of halving damage to human health from air pollution by 2030.”
Bags of traditional home coal are phased out in February 2021 and the sale of loose coal directly to customers through approved coal traders in February 2023.
This gives industry, suppliers and households time to adapt to the new rules, the government said.
Environment Minister George Eustice (pictured outside of Downing Street on February 13) said it was important for everyone to “play a role in improving the health of millions of people”
Wet wood in units of less than 70 cubic feet (2 cubic meters) will no longer be available for purchase from February 2021 and as a result existing stocks can be used up.
Professor Stephen Holgate, special adviser to the Royal College of Physicians on air quality, said: “We know that air pollution during the life course causes significant health problems.
“It is crucial that the government do everything it can to improve the air that we all breathe. Today’s announcement about household use is a welcome step forward and will eventually play a role in reducing the pollution associated with PM2.5.
“Breathing combustion particles from any source is harmful, but more than ever when it is directly in your home.
“The burning of coal for heat and power must stop and strong guidance is required to insist that if wood is burned in approved stoves, it is not contaminated and dry.”
John Maingay, policy and influencing director of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Wood and coal burning is responsible for 40 percent of the harmful levels of PM2.5 background in the UK, and our research has shown that toxic PM2.5 can invade the bloodstream and damage our heart and circulatory system.
“The gradual cessation of the sale of coal and wet wood is an important first step in protecting the health of the country against toxic air. This is a welcome move from a government that demonstrates its ambition and dedication to tackle air pollution.
“But we should not stop there. Air pollution is a major public health challenge and requires an urgent and powerful response. ”