Families in England risk fines of up to £300 and even a criminal record if they breach new rules on log burners.
A tightening of emissions regulations has reduced the amount of smoke new stoves can emit per hour from 5g to 3g.
It applies to homes in ‘smoke control areas’ which cover most English cities and towns. Anyone found to be in breach of the new measures could face an immediate fine.
The rules are part of the government’s new 25-year environmental plan.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the new measures were part of his government’s drive to leave “the environment in a better state than we found it”.
In recent years, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has cracked down on log burners and coal fires as, according to the government, they are the biggest source of fine particulate matter (PM2.5 ) – small particles of air pollution that find their way into the body’s lungs and blood.
Around 1.5 million homes use wood as fuel across the UK, however the burning of wood and coal in open fireplaces and stoves makes up 38% of UK PM2.5 emissions.
In comparison, 16% comes from industrial combustion, 12% from road transport and 13% from the use of solvents and industrial processes.
This means that a wood stove emits more particles per hour than a diesel truck.
As well as reducing the amount of PM2.5 that woodburners can emit, Defra said it will allow local authorities to “better enforce” smoke control areas.
They will be allowed to issue fines of up to £300 for households whose chimneys emit too much smoke and even prosecute if they fail to comply.
Under the 25-year plan, the government said it was tightening rules rather than implementing a blanket ban on burning fuels as some households use them to provide heating and for cooking.
But avoiding a ban are barbecues, braziers or bonfires, as doing so would be “disproportionate”, the government said.
In a bid to reduce particulate matter, the government last year banned the purchase of domestic coal and damp wood in England, two of the most polluting fuels, and urged the public to move towards ‘cleaner alternatives’.
As is already the case, families can be fined up to £1,000 if they are found to be burning unauthorized fuel. A list of fuels authorized in each of the four UK countries is available on the government website.
Client Earth, an NGO that has won pollution cases against the government, has bashed the 25-year-old plan, writing on Twitter that it was full of “vague pledges” and that environmental laws already in place are at risk because of Brexit.