It’s one of the oldest fuels in use in the country.
Whole generations were employed to dig it out of the ground. The prosperity and livelihoods of many depended on it.
But as of May 1st, 2021, the sale of housecoal is being phased out in England.
Here’s what YOU need to know about the forthcoming changes, and how to prepare for them.
Q: Why is housecoal being banned?
A: Put simply, because it’s perhaps the most polluting domestic fuel available. When burnt, it gives off a dense, grey smoke which not only smells bad to some people, but soots up chimneys very quickly.
And with air quality now firmly on the agenda, the government has decided to start phasing it out in England.
Q: So is housecoal being banned completely as of May 1st, 2021?
A: No. Housecoal will not be available for sale in pre-packed bags as of this date. These are the types of bags you may see in supermarkets, DIY centres and some coal merchants. But it will still be available in open bags/loose, usually the type delivered by some coal men, until May 1st, 2023.
This two year gap is being used to get housecoal users used to making the switch to other fuels.
Q: But what about smokeless coal? Isn’t that being banned as well?
A: The vast majority of smokeless coal (the approved smokeless coal type, including anthracite, semi-anthractite and low volatile steam coal) will continue to be sold. The only ban relating to smokeless coal is for the non-approved versions, which have higher sulphur contents.
Q: What Fuel Should I Use Instead of Housecoal Then?
A: I have a few customers who burn housecoal on their open fires in non-Smoke Control Areas, and I’ve been advising them to start mixing in more and more approved smokeless fuel to get used to it.
There’s no getting away from it; smokeless fuel can be an absolute pain to light on an open grate – quite the opposite of housecoal.
But by introducing it gradually, it will become easier.
Q: Will there be any exemptions?
A: The government has granted only one exemption so far, and that’s to traditional housecoal extracted and sold from the Forest of Dean.
Q: Will I be banned from burning housecoal after May 2023?
A: Provided you are not in a smoke control area and are using an open fire, there is nothing as yet which would make it an offence to do this.
However, it will be an offence for fuel merchants to sell it after this date, regardless of the packaging.
Despite all the evidence pointing towards the need for a ban on housecoal, I must admit I do retain an affinity for it. I grew up with housecoal on the fire and the smell of it still evokes some great memories.
My own nostalgia aside, I do worry about the potential impact on fuel poverty in some areas. While it’s true that, in terms of kilowatt output, you get more heat per hour using approved smokeless fuel than housecoal, the cost difference per bag may make that a difficult jump for some.
I think the hard facts are that as housecoal usage represents a tiny amount of the overall fuels burnt, the government believes its phasing out risks minimal political backlash.
That said, a campaign has been launched to postpone the May 1, 2021, phasing out date in light of the hardship felt by some because of the pandemic.
Whether that cuts much ice with ministers remains to be seen.
But what is certain is that we are now starting a long goodbye to a fuel which helped build the country we live in today…
Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a fully qualified sweep and a member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, based in the Manchester and South Lancs area