Does your home need a hearth?

We have passed the shortest day, but every Londoner knows that the coldest and gloomiest of winter days are yet to come. Lots of us will be looking at ways to make our homes look and feel warmer, and to provide post-Christmas cheer. The holiday media has fed us a constant diet of red and green decorating, all backed up with the warming glow of a roaring fire. Fire is such an entrenched part of winter that some of our favourite TV cooks have even shared their Yule log, or Bûche de Noël recipes with us.

These thoughts, images, and memories may be enough to get you thinking about reopening a fireplace or taking a leap into the world of wood burning stoves, but there are things to consider first when you start to wonder if your home needs a new hearth.

  • Cost – there are claims that wood burning is cheaper than other forms of heating, but this may only be true if you are burning free firewood. The Nottingham Energy Partnership publish a table every month that shows that, per kWh, wood is nearly always more expensive than gas central heating. Global Action Plan have published a detailed cost study that also shows that wood burning is not a cost-saving heat source.
  • Pollution – open fires and wood burning stoves emit pollution both outdoors through the chimney, and indoors. Some of this pollution is released as oxides of carbon or nitrogen, but the majority is as small particles. This is usually referred to as particulate matter and the smaller these particles are the more harm they can do when breathed in. Burning foraged or waste wood may release additional toxic chemicals including arsenic into the air.
  • Health Costs – It is estimated that the small particle pollution from domestic wood burning costs us about 3,400 life years lost each year in London and costs every Londoner about £24 per year.
  • Climate – you may see messages about wood burning being carbon neutral or a climate-friendly source of heating.  In England there are few, if any, circumstances where this is the case, please read our earlier article on the climate impacts of domestic wood burning for the full story.
  • Smoke Control Rules – if you live in a smoke control area, and nearly all of London is a smoke control area, you are not allowed to burn wood, or any unauthorised fuel in an open fireplace or a non-exempt wood burning stove. If you have an exempt wood burning stove, you are only allowed to use the fuel specified by the manufacturer and you are not allowed to emit smoke from the chimney.

But what do you do if you already have a fireplace or wood burning stove? It can be expensive to get them removed so why not make the most of them as a decorative feature. Consider getting a chimney balloon to stop drafts and let your imagination flow with some beautiful decorations like the following:

If you want a comforting flame effect without the smoke, smell, and hassle, there are digital ways of bringing a flickering flame into the house. Adding a flame background to your TV or streaming a fire burning video are popular and comforting alternatives.

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