Why having new ‘eco’ stoves without updating Building Regs may end up with MORE emissions

Connecting modern stoves to old, open flues without a lining system should be stopped

Around 12 months ago, it felt like every single customer was asking me the same question: ‘So, when are they going to ban stoves?’

Of course the answer is that ‘they’ – the government – are not, and have never suggested that.

This all came out of the new Clean Air Strategy which suggested that from 2022, all solid fuel appliances sold from that point on must be ‘Ecodesign’. This means closed appliances will need to be at least 75% efficient.

It’s important to note here that this only applies to stoves sold AFTER this date. Those which have already been sold and installed can continue to be used as normal – it’s not retrospective.

All sounds reasonable, but there are rumblings that the new standards may actually exacerbate the situation or cause even more issues.

It’s generally believed that in order to achieve such efficiencies, most stoves will have to be heavily ‘baffled’ – i.e. the gap between the firebox and the flue pipe will be reduced in order to increase efficiency; in short pushing more heat into the room than up the chimney.

While on paper that can sound like a straightforward ‘win’, there are concerns that ‘baffling’ stoves to within inch of their lives will lead to:

  • More smoking back into the room
  • Dirtier flues, due to drops in flue temperature
  • Potentially more pollution 

There’s already concerns among stove fitters and chimney sweeps that, in order to get some appliances to work, some will need to be ‘modified’ (i.e – trimming the inner parts of the stove to allow flue gases to escape more freely, which sort of defeats the original objective).

There’s also been some strong words written by Steve Barson, the managing director of Burley stoves, who has slammed the new standards – claiming ‘the lunatics have taken over the asylum’.

He says: “We are in the frustrating position that to meet the Ecodesign regulations being introduced in 2022 we are going to have to make some of our stoves less efficient.

“The levels of particulates from our Fireball stoves are already lower than the 2022 limits, which is what the media seems to focus on, but the smaller stoves exceed the limit of carbon monoxide (CO) by a small amount. The simple way in which manufacturers lower the level of CO is to introduce more air into the top of the stove.

“The problem with introducing excessive air however is that you make the stove less efficient, you are burning more fuel and producing more greenhouse gasses, speeding up the flow through the stove so the hot gasses have less time to release their energy, and you are sucking warm air from your room at a far higher rate.

“My advice to anyone wanting a wood burner is to buy the world’s most efficient stove while you can, because in three years’ time you will have to buy a stove which uses more fuel, produces more greenhouse gasses, but may not be efficient enough to adequately warm your room.” (Read his full statement here).

I appreciate these concerns – you can’t have endless ‘efficiency’ without something, somewhere else, giving way. You’ve got to be pragmatic and look at the whole picture, and listen to the advice of people on the ground – I.e sweeps, installers and customers. What works fine on paper or in a factory test scenario can come unstuck once it hits the real world. There has to be balance.

Building Regulations The Case For Change

All that being said, I do think the Ecodesigns will happen, as the political will is there, and yes there will be some issues which may be dealt with as time goes on. A more fundamental issue for me is the current situation with Building Regulations.

Under current legislation, it is perfectly fine, unless the manufacturer specifies otherwise, to connect a new appliance to an old, open chimney. Anyone who sweeps chimneys will tell you that unlined stoves are never the best idea for a number of reasons.

Notwithstanding the fact that many old chimneys are in a poor state of repair, so leakage and risk of CO entering the property is increased, there is also the issue of them simply being not really fit for purpose.

Most open chimneys were built for open fires. They are quite large, open voids which allowed fast and hot flue gases to exit the property. Most flue gases from stoves are actually cooler and slower than those from open fires. So the net effect is that when cool flue gases go into a large void area, they tend to condense quicker, thus producing dirtier flues. 

I’ve seen this for myself; two identical stoves in the same house, used equally as much and burning the same approved fuels, but one was lined and one was unlined. The unlined stove had a dirtier flue and evidence of heavy smoke coming out of the pot. You can now start to see the issue.

In my view, it’s time to end this anachronism and state that new appliances must be connected to a new lining system. 

A modern stove will almost always work better when lined

Manufacturers can of course take than step now if they wish, but it would be much better if Approved Document J, guidance which must be followed for all solid fuel appliance installations, was updated to outlaw the practice entirely.

By doing this, and helping to ensure Ecodesign stoves function as intended, we can all have cleaner air while continuing to enjoy the warmth of a traditional staple of a British winter – the solid fuel fire.

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 0800 0541154.