Introducing solid fuels

Solid fuels such as coal and wood can be a cost effective way of heating your home. Renewable fuels such as wood are a resourceful alternative to fossil fuels. Wood is considered to be a carbon neutral fuel as carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere as the wood grows and is released later when the wood is burnt.

Solid fuel (mostly coal) used to be the most popular form of heating for homes in the UK, but from the 1960s natural gas central heating grew in popularity and is now used by the majority of commercial and domestic users. However, in recent years solid fuels especially wood logs and pellets are increasing in popularity.

Burning solid fuels can pollute the air and many cities used to suffer heavy, sooty smogs. In response to these problems the Government passed the first Clean Air Act in 1956, which regulated the use of household solid fuels. Many urban local authorities established Smoke Control Areas under the Clean Air Act 1968: these are areas where special provisions apply if people wish to burn solid fuels.

The simplest way to burn solid fuels is in an open fireplace. However, open fires are the least efficient mode of solid fuel combustion - most of the heat is lost up the chimney and this method can potentially be the most polluting due to the lower temperatures involved. If you live in a Smoke Control Area you are restricted in the fuels you can burn, for example you cannot legally burn high sulphur coals or any form of wood in open fireplace.

Stoves and boilers burn solid fuels far more efficiently than open fires. Stoves can provide heat for a single room, while boilers can heat several radiators and an entire home. If you live in a Smoke Control Area an ‘exempt appliance’ allows legal burn of dry fuels such as wood logs and pellets.

If the home heating choice is for solid fuels it must be ensured that both your appliance and chimney are regularly maintained to keep the household safe. It is also important to make sure you stay within the law when a stove or solid fuel appliance is fitted, and comply with any conditions of the Clean Air Act that apply where you live.

The council has published a summary information leaflet: Using Solid Fuels Safely and Legally (PDF 162KB).

Smoke Control Areas

Brighton has five Smoke Control Areas covering much of the Hanover, Lewes Road, Bevendean and the city centre areas. There are no Smoke Control Areas in Hove. A map of the Brighton areas is available below:

Open household fireplaces

In a Smoke Control Area, you can only burn smokeless approved fuels. Note that wood is not an approved fuel in any form (logs, chips and pellets). If you are not in a Smoke Control Area you can burn any fuel as long as you do not create excessive smoke or odour that may cause a nuisance to neighbours.

Stoves and boilers

In a Smoke Control Area, you must use an exempt appliances if you wish to burn wood and coal. These appliances have passed tests to ensure that they can burn fuels without emitting smoke. Note that an exempt appliance will only be exempt for particular fuels. For example, if the appliance is only exempt for burning wood you must not use it to burn coal. If your stove or boiler is not an exempt appliance you must use an approved smokeless fuel.

Bonfires, Chimineas and BBQs

Chimineas and BBQs are allowed in all areas of the city, including Smoke Control Areas, but please show consideration to your neighbours and do not create excessive smoke or odour. Bonfires are also allowed as long as you do not burn commercial or household waste. Please see our bonfire page for more guidance

Outside of Smoke Control Areas

If you are not in a Smoke Control Area, you are free to use any heating fuel or appliance, as long as you do not create excessive smoke or odour nuisance for your neighbours. However, please remember that Brighton & Hove is a densely populated city, and air quality can sometimes be poor. You may wish to observe the guidelines of Smoke Control Areas to minimise pollution, even if you do not live in or close to these areas. 

Choosing a solid fuel appliance

There are a wide variety of solid fuel appliances on the market. Some of the issues to think about before you choose an appliance are:

Will you only be heating one room or the whole house?

If you only wish to heat one room then a stove may be the best appliance for you. Stoves burn fuel in an enclosed space, which usually means they use fuel more efficiently and emit lower levels of pollution than an open fire.

Solid fuel boilers are more sophisticated, with some models able to provide heat for an entire house. Boilers may have automatic systems to add fuel and empty ash. These systems may be supported financially by the Government’s forthcoming Renewable Heat Incentive – these pages will be updated when this scheme is announced.

Open fires should be avoided unless you burn solid fuel infrequently. They burn fuel inefficiently and are expensive to run. They can also be polluting, and in Smoke Control Areas you will be limited in the types of fuels you can burn.

What kind of fuel do I want to burn?

You will need to match the type of appliance you buy to the fuel you wish to burn. Stoves can be ‘single fuel’ (only able to burn a particular type of fuel) or more flexible ‘multi fuel’ models. You should check with your installer or stove manufacture to ensure the model you have in mind is suitable for you needs.

Who should install my appliance?

It is a legal requirement for solid fuel stoves and boilers to be fitted in accordance with Part J of the Building Regulations. If your installer has been accredited as a ‘competent person’ no action is needed after the installation is complete. If they are not accredited, or you have fitted it yourself, you will need to get building regulation approval.

The most widely used competent persons scheme is run by HETAS. You can search for HETAS approved installers on their website. There are also other competent person schemes.

Ideally, when in the process of buying a home with a solid fuel appliance you should ask to see evidence that it has building regulations approval or has been installed by a member of a competent persons scheme such as HETAS.

The building regulations are there for your safety. Solid fuel appliances can be dangerous if they are not installed correctly and well maintained; badly fitted appliances can risk carbon monoxide building up in the home. 

Is my chimney in good condition?

If your chimney has not been used for some time it is essential to have it inspected and swept before using solid fuels. Defective chimneys can leak dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide that risk concentrating in the home.

Using solid fuel appliances

Solid fuel appliances are very different to the gas and electric heating systems that most of us are familiar with. You will need to familiarise yourself with the maintenance requirements of your system, and ensure that you burn good quality fuel.

Maintenance and chimney sweeping

Solid fuel appliances may appear simple, but they require regular maintenance to order to stay safe, clean and efficient.  You should ensure that ash is removed at least once a day, the fluways and throat plates are cleaned at least once a month and that grates and firebricks are in good condition. Your installer will be able to provide an appropriate maintenance schedule. You can also read a HETAS information leaflet.

If other people are occupying your home (for example if you rent out the property or you have a carer) you must provide them with guidance on using and maintaining your solid fuel appliance. Most people are not familiar with solid fuel appliances and their maintenance requirements.

It is essential to keep your chimney clean by sweeping it at least once a year. You can find a chimney sweep through the National Association of Chimney Sweeps or HETAS.

Buying fuel

Image of a wood pile

The picture shows how logs should be stored in a well ventilated stack in a sunny position before being taken indoors. 

Good quality fuels ensure that your appliance operates cleanly and efficiently. Poor quality fuels may burn inefficiently, create pollution and even damage your appliance.

If you are using coal then you can look for the ‘Approved Coal Merchant’ accreditation. This is a scheme run by the Solid Fuel Association and means the supplier has agreed to work to the Coal Trade Code.

The most common wood fuel is logs, although the various types of wood available burn in different ways. A good wood fuel supplier will be able to provide advice. You should also be aware that wood needs to be seasoned (dried) before it can be burnt, which can take up to two years. Most fuel suppliers can provide wood that it already seasoned.

Other wood fuels include wood chips and pellets. These are commonly used in more complex appliances such as wood fuel boilers, and your appliance manufacture or installer should be able to provide you with advice on appropriate fuel quality standards.

Finally before burning solid fuels should be kept dry, by keeping them indoors or under a secure cover. Wet fuels burn at inefficiently and can create smoke emissions.

Discarded wood

There are many sources of discarded wood, for example, fallen branches, carpentry off-cuts, damaged fence panels, old furniture and wood from skips. Saving this wood from going to landfill can be resourceful and save methane release to atmosphere. However, not all wood is suitable for burning and you should take great care before using it. Common issues can be:

Wood needs to be left to dry (seasoned) before it can be burnt. Burning wet or freshly felled wood can produce large amounts of smoke

Wood can be coated with preservatives such as varnish, creosote or paint. If this is burned toxic fumes including metals and organics can be released to the air.

Smoke Control Areas and legal background

The council has statutory powers to control smoke from domestic and commercial sources. The Clean Air Act allows local authorities to designate Smoke Control Areas (SCA's) which place legal restrictions on combustion and the use of certain appliances and fuels. The restriction also apply to the sale of  fuels in or adjacent to a Smoke Control Area.

The original Clean Air Act (1956) was set up to tackle particulate and sulphurous smog problems. The urban "Pea Soupers", of the past were a mixture of fog and pollution arising from common coal burning which had very detrimental respiratory heath effects on those living in urban areas. For some time road traffic has been the dominant contributor to local airborne pollution. That said since the last update to the Clean Act (1993), alternatives to gas fired central heating such as wood and coal burning have become more popular. The SCA is in place to minimise contributions from domestic and  commercial fireplaces to ambient air pollution. 

Smoke Control Areas in Brighton

There are five Smoke Control Areas in Brighton. They were all declared under The Clean Air Acts, 1956 and 1968. The declarations were made between 1974 and 1981. The map below shows the five areas:

Smoke Control Areas

The following describes the five areas (one through to five) as they were declared:

The Brighton No. 1 (Lower Bevendean) Smoke Control Order 1974 approved by the Brighton Borough Council on the 9 May 1974, and confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment on the 5 August 1974 and operative from 1 October 1975.

The Brighton No. 2  Smoke Control Order 1974 approved by the Brighton Borough Council on 8 October 1975.  Confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, with modification on the 5 February 1976. Operative from 1 October 1976.

The Brighton No. 3 Smoke Control Order 1974 approved by the Brighton Borough Council on 18 May 1978. Confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, with modification, on the 1 September 1978. Operative from 1 May 1979.

The Brighton No. 4 Smoke Control Order 1974 approved by the Brighton Borough Council on 2 February 1979. Confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, with modification on the 23 April 1979.  Operative from 1 November 1979

The Brighton No. 5 Smoke Control Order 1979 approved by the Brighton Borough Council on 13 December 1979.  Confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, with modification, on the 6 February 1981. Operative from 1 October 1981.

Clean Air Act Compliance and legal requirements for Smoke Control Areas

Suppliers must show manufacture certification that the appliances they are selling are on this list for lawful use in the SCA. Operators need to have clear instruction that the fuel can be used with their solid fuel appliance without creating excess pollution and is authorised for use in an SCA. Manufactures selling uncertified fuels for use in the SCA for example petroleum coke or sulphurous coals risk prosecution under the Clean Air Act.