The existing Environmental Protection UK Guidance on Biomass and Air Quality from 2008 has recently been updated with new guidelines on Solid Fuel and Air Quality.
The guideline is aimed at local authorities and provides updates on current trends in solid fuel use and its impacts, the Renewable Heat Incentive, and details on how local authorities can address the issue.
Solid Fuel Heating
Biomass heating has seen a resurgence recently as an environmentally friendly way of heating homes. Some rural areas lack access to a mains gas supply and have to burn solid fuels in order to heat their homes and provide hot water.
85% of UK households use natural gas for home heating as it makes less of an impact on the environment than the burning of coal. Burning solid fuels results in higher emissions of local air pollutants and carbon dioxide than gas fired systems.
Wood fuel is often referred to as ‘carbon neutral fuel’, as the amount of carbon dioxide produced through burning wood matches the amount the wood absorbed during its lifetime. This doesn’t take into account the carbon dioxide produced in forestry practices and transporting the wood, so its environmental impact is probably worse than we think.
Wood burners still produce higher local emissions than equivalent gas fired appliances. The most environmentally friendly choice will depend on where you live. Rural areas generally benefit from a wood burning system where the air is clearer. Urban areas with poor air quality will need a gas-fired system.
Smoke Control Areas
Local authorities can declare entire areas to be Smoke Free Zones under the Clean Air Act 1993. If you choose to use a fuel which has not been approved for your area, you are in fact committing an offence.
Some appliances can be tested to see that they burn solid fuels without creating smoke, or you can use approved smokeless coal.
If you are unsure as to whether your property falls under a Smoke Controlled Area, you can contact the Environmental Health Department of your local authority to see the list of approved fuels and a list of exempt appliances.