Why some fuel merchants SHOULDN’T really advise you on what to burn in your fireplace…

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a regular customer when they happened to mention that their local fuel merchant had recommended they try a new fuel.

“Yes, its a best seller apparently, and it smells lovely.”

They then produced a block of peat.

“Ah right,” I said. “You do know that peat is highly acidic and really shouldn’t be used in a lined stove?

“Also, we’re in a Smoke Control Area, so technically you’re breaking the law by burning this. The penalty is up to £1,000.”

They looked horrified. “Why did they recommend it then?”

The is a very good question, and one I’ll attempt to answer in this blog.

The truth is that most fuel merchants really shouldn’t be advising on which fuels to burn in your fireplace.

Now, on the face of it, that may seem absurd. After all, fuel is their business – surely they’re the best-placed people to advise?

The problem is quite simple – most don’t have enough information about your installation to offer such advice. As a sweep who sees installations day in, day out, even I only offer advice on fuel choice after:

– Visiting the property

– Checking with it’s located in a Smoke Control Area

– Inspecting the installation

– Sweeping the chimney

– Checking the sootfall

It’s rare that a fuel merchant does any of this. Most simply want to know what YOU’D like to burn, and then provide you with an idea of what they’ve got available. Which to their mind is fine, but do you have the necessary, impartial information to make an informed choice?

Even on some seemingly fine fuels, you need to be aware of what you are buying. Some logs out there aren’t seasoned or dry, and therefore aren’t fit for use at the time of sale. They need seasoning, and that can take anywhere up to two years, depending on the type of wood and the moisture content.

And of course it’s illegal to burn logs on an open fire or a non DEFRA-exempt appliance in a Smoke Control Area. That’s when you can get stung with a £1,000 fine.

Smokeless coal should be both dry and approved for use in Smoke Control Areas

Even if you opt for smokeless fuels, you have to be aware that some have a sulphur content of above 2%, so therefore aren’t approved for use in Smoke Control Areas. Always check before you spend.

Don’t get me wrong, fuel merchants generally aren’t doing this because they are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It’s simply because they don’t have sufficient knowledge of your installation to give you the sort of bespoke advice you need.

For that, you really need to be asking your local, professional chimney sweep. They’re the ones who knows most about how your installation works. And any good sweep should be able to give you good, impartial guidance on what you should be buying.

So the next time you visit your local fuel merchant, it’s a good idea to go armed with that impartial, evidence-based advice. It’s at that point the fuel merchant can point you towards a particular product – but only when you’ve stipulated the type you are looking for based on advice from your sweep.

Otherwise you could end up using entirely inappropriate fuels which not only damage your installation, but could land you with a fine…

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. Book Mr Soot online or call 07724 311 992.

3 thoughts on “Why some fuel merchants SHOULDN’T really advise you on what to burn in your fireplace…

  1. Best bet is just revert to the manual, in harrogate the council told one of my customers only to burn anthracite in their town, they told her never to burn wood failing to mention you can on a defra stove, so it is councils as well that need re educating as well.

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  2. Unfortunately many sweeps are equally as misinformed as coal merchants. As a consumer it can be very confusing and off putting. The safest solution is to burn only KILN dried logs and APPROVED smokeless ovoids (sometimes called smokeless coal). This will ensure you don’t get fines, don’t upset neighbours, reduce smoke emissions by up to 80% compared to coal and unseasoned wood and get best value for money.

    The Solid Fuel Association is an independent body that can advise on all fuels and has a wealth of knowledge.

    Finally, please, please ensure you have your chimney swept at least once a year. More often if you are a frequent user (4+ days a week as a guide for most of the year)

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    • Thanks Julian – just to clarify that kiln dried logs CANNOT be burnt on a non DEFRA-Exempt stove or open fire in a Smoke Control Area. In that instance, only approved smokeless fuels should be used

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