Wet wood: Why we need education, not legislation

Sourcing your own free wood tips

Stoves are in the news again, and this time the focus is on ‘wet’ wood. It comes hot on the heels of an official consultation from DEFRA on ‘cleaner domestic burning of solid fuels and wood’.

The headlines seem to suggest that there will be a ‘ban’ on small nets of wet logs – the type you pick up at garage forecourts, garden centres etc. The reason is that these small nets are usually purchased to be used straight away.

Anyone who has tried to burn ‘wet’ or unseasoned wood will tell you that not only are they difficult to light, but you get very little heat out of them and the only thing they emit is large amounts of smoke. This in turn creates tar and creosote deposits which can spark chimney fires.

It’s the smoke emissions bit which worries the government, so they are looking at possibly restricting the sale of unseasoned wood below a certain volume, possibly below two cubic metres… so much more than your average net of logs.

Personally, I’m very wary of banning things which, if used correctly, are perfectly fine. Wet wood can be seasoned by simply leaving it outside in a log store for 18 months to two years. Once it is seasoned, provided the stove is brought up to temperature, that previously wet wood is now a useable source of heating.

It’s worth also pointing out that even the best quality seasoned log can be heavily polluting if it isn’t burned in the correct way. In my experience, it’s this which is the main cause of dirty flues, rather than wet wood… usually because, as mentioned above, people can rarely even light them due to them being so wet!

As a sweep, I helped launch a national campaign called Burnright, which helps people who use solid fuel to help get the best out of their appliance. If everyone followed the steps on the Burnright website, there would be no need to ‘ban’ wet wood.

Education has been at the heart of government policy for years. We don’t ban smoking, even though it kills people. We simply make people aware of the dangers and they can make an informed choice. We don’t ban bonfire night (even in Smoke Control Zones) even though the smog lingers for a while afterwards.

Banning wet wood would, I suggest, be an unnecessary step. First and foremost, it would be almost unenforceable. How could you stop a local farmer, or even your neighbour on a residential street, selling a few bags of logs which they’ve accumulated through a morning’s work in the garden?

Secondly, it would harm local businesses and organisations. I know one customer who gets logs from his local sports club. The logs are a by-product from tree felling around their field, and the small amounts of monies raised from the sale of the logs go back into the club’s coffers. He keeps the log for a year and then uses them. I can tell you that his flue is virtually spotless every time I sweep it.

And thirdly, it would actually be damaging to the environment. A lot of seasoned wood in the UK market is actually kiln-dried wood. Essentially, the means putting wet logs into a massive oven to get the moisture out. These massive kilns are usually found on the continent – so there’s not only the emissions during the drying process, but also the vehicle emissions in transporting them back to the UK!

Every well-meaning law has unintended consequences, and these are just three of them. Education, not legislation, is the most sensible step forward,

I’d urge anyone who uses solid fuel to read the consultation document and have their say. I’m working with Burnright to produce an official response as well. Because if we don’t, changes could be thrust upon us which not only are unenforceable, but wouldn’t actually help contribute to the Government’s main aim… to reduce emissions from household burning.

Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service in Wigan, Stockport, West Lancashire, Chorley and surrounding areas. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.

One thought on “Wet wood: Why we need education, not legislation

  1. Its really good to at last find some sensible comments on this quite appalling DEFRA proposal – I write as a firewood merchant helping to look after traditionally coppiced ancient woodland in the Midlands for the last 30 years. I supply whatever type or quantity of wood my customers require – mainly well-seasoned hardwood but quite a few want slightly cheaper less-seasoned wood so that they can store it themselves – what right has the Government or anyone else got to prevent them buying this if that is what its advertised as?! Why should I be forced to subscribe to the ridiculously expensive and bureaucratic Woodsure scheme, when all my repeat customers know my reputation for selling the quality seasoned wood they require? Lots more to say on this – feel like it should be taken to the top of government before this disasterous idea leads to a massive increase in the price of firewood (kiln-dried only?) and subsequent decline of stove use, and collapse of any woodland management revival. No benefit to anyone (air pollution actually being caused by burning of green waste on bonfires in urban areas?)

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