Are woodburning stoves really a major cause of air pollution?

The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) has a great video to help consumers understand the facts about woodburning stoves.

Modern woodburning stoves and fireplaces ensure low emission and low carbon heating for our homes using truly sustainable and renewable fuel. However, over the last two years, through a number of media reported misconceptions and a lack of awareness, these appliances have often been portrayed as negative and responsible for contributing far more particulate emissions than they actually do.

This new SIA video has been produced to dispel these reported myths around woodburning stoves by addressing three of the major misconceptions that have so often been mis-quoted by the media.

The first misconception is the idea that woodburning stoves are the biggest contributor in the UK of small particulate matter. At the root of this myth is a statement from Defra’s Clean Air Strategy claiming that domestic combustion accounts for 38% of fine particulate matter. This number was based on a survey carried out by the government in 2015 (1) which wrongly over-estimated the amount of wood being burnt in the UK on stoves and fireplaces.

A much bigger survey carried out in 2019 by the SIA (2) showed the actual figure was less than a third of what the government quoted, making the percentage of PM.2.5 that could be attributed to domestic combustion closer to 13% and NOT 38%.

Also, the 38% figure stated by Defra is based on emissions from older stoves and open fires and it is known that modern Ecodesign compliant woodburning stoves produce 66% less emissions than these outdated appliances. Defra also includes other sources of PM2.5 in its overall estimation, including wildfires, bonfires, and incinerators which are not insignificant and certainly unregulated sources of particulate matter.

One of the most striking myths claimed about woodburning stoves is that they “create the same emissions as 18 diesel cars”. This comes from test results interpreted by the Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) but their comparison is extremely misleading and, as the video points out, is like comparing apples with oranges.

Firstly the comparison is between the appliances running at significantly different efficiency levels, by measuring a car exhaust emissions at an efficient run rate of 21mph and comparing them to all of the emissions at a full run rate for a stove. This completely ignores all the small particle emissions from the car’s brakes and tyres, when frequently the emissions from a car’s brakes and tyres are actually greater than the emissions from the exhaust pipe! Finally the difference in the dispersal point of particulate matter from woodburning stoves to cars is ignored completely. A car outputs its emissions at face level for a child and therefore there is very little dispersal before it is breathed in, whereas a woodburning stove sends its emissions out of the top of the chimney and there is considerable dispersal of emissions before they even reach human height.

The last myth shown by the SIA’s video is the concept that all woodburning stoves and fireplaces are harmful. Chair of the Stove Industry Alliance, Morley Sage, explains why this is one of the more concerning misconceptions: “This view fails to take into account the huge advances that have been made by the woodburning stove industry in recent years. Many critics of woodburning stoves base their assumptions on data linked to open fires, older stoves and poor-quality wood fuel. The SIA would be one of the first organisations to point out that burning wet wood on an open fire, a practice that is still very common today, is one of the least efficient and most highly polluting ways to heat your home. By stark contrast, a modern woodburning stoves emits up to 90% less emissions than an open fire and up to 80% less than a stove that is 10 or more years old.”

Members of the SIA were among the first manufacturers to develop the technology within their appliances to achieve the forthcoming Ecodesign Regulations (SIA Ecodesign Ready), and more recently the SIA has supported and initiated the launch of clearSkies, an independent emissions and energy performance certification scheme for solid fuel stoves and fireplaces. Appliances that are certified under clearSkies will not only meet the performance levels set out under Ecodesign, but also many go a significant way beyond. We would therefore encourage you to look for the clearSkies certification mark when looking to buy a new stove or indeed move from an open fire to a modern stove.

The true facts about modern woodburning stoves are they are a highly efficient, future proof, and very low carbon and sustainable way of heating your home and keeping our families warm, and that is something to be proud of.

For further information on owning, using and maintaining a wood burning stove visit

1) The BEIS Domestic Wood Survey using a sample size of 1,206

2) SIA independently verified research carried out in 2019 using sample size of 10,620 using same questions as BEIS survey