Ready to Burn: Defra’s New Firewood Scheme

by Northern Life

Don’t you just love new regulations? Well, neither do we, but sometimes they’re necessary. Especially when we talk about pollution and the environment.

If you’re heating your home with firewood, then you’ve no doubt heard that the government has recently introduced new standards relating to where you can burn wood, what appliances you can use to burn it in, and what woods can be burned to begin with.

The latter regulation is of most interest as it will affect anyone who relies on wood fuels for their winter heat, regardless of whether they burn premium kiln-dried logs, season their own firewood, or use sawdust briquettes.

So let’s take a look at Defra’s new Ready to Burn initiative, the reasons it was introduced, and how it will impact you, your stove, and the environment.

Why Is Defra Regulating Firewood?

Following the recent uproar over poor air quality due to the use of wood-burning stoves, the UK government started questioning whether wood fuel sold to consumers is of suitable quality.

Moisture content is the most important determiner of wood fuel quality. When freshly cut or poorly-dried wood fuel is burned, it not only does so in an exceptionally inefficient manner, but it also smoulders and releases a lot of harmful smoke. 

This smoke is what leads to the buildup of creosote, a toxic tar-like substance that can cause anything from skin and eye irritation to respiratory problems and even cancer. And if that wasn’t enough, creosote is also a burning hazard and can cause the premature failure of your wood-burning appliance. If you burn high-quality firewood and have your chiminea swept at least once a year, you have nothing to fear. But if you burn wet wood or think that hiring a chiminea sweep is a pointless waste of money, then you might start encountering problems in the near future.

Alongside creosote, smoke from wet wood releases countless pollutants that are damaging to both human health and the health of the environment. The exact amount of particulate emissions released will differ greatly based on the type of wood fuel burned and the design of the appliance it is burned. However, if all other variables are constant, the more moisture a piece of firewood contains, the more particulate emissions it will produce.

Conversely, the drier the wood is, the fewer emissions it produces. Combine dry wood and a modern, eco-design-certified stove and you’ll get an incredibly clean source of energy. This is exactly what the government is trying to achieve with its new regulations.

What Does the Ready to Burn Standard Regulate?

The standard regulates the moisture content of firewood, briquettes, and wood kindling. To be certified Ready to Burn, wood fuel needs to contain no more than 20% moisture. This figure was calculated as being optimal for home use. Products bearing the Ready to Burn mark can be burned right away, without necessitating any further drying.

Wood fuel moisture is calculated by dividing the mass of moisture contained in a log by the amount of its dry wood mass. So in order to achieve the 20% figure set by the standard, the log needs to contain no more than 200 grammes of moisture per kilo of dry wood mass.

Isn’t the Wood I Burn Now Already Dry Enough?

If you’ve been burning kiln-dried wood or high-quality sawdust briquettes, then chances are, the answer to this question is yes. But if you’ve been seasoning your own firewood or buying it on the cheap from a local supplier, then the answer could be no.

Some wood species can contain upwards of 90% or even 120% moisture when cut, so the 20% figure can be quite difficult to achieve. For example, willow logs can take upwards of 24 months to properly season in the climate of northern England, whereas white oak can take as much as three years.

Because seasoning takes so much time, many people and companies only season their firewood until they deem it “seems dry enough” and not until it is actually dry. Which is where the wet wood problem originates in the first place.

Will I Still Be Able to Buy Non-Certified Firewood in 2022?

No. In fact, if you’re purchasing your firewood from a large supplier like Lekto Woodfuels, we can virtually guarantee that the firewood in your stove right now is already Ready to Burn certified.

This is because large producers were required to certify all of their products in the spring of this year. Small-scale suppliers were given a little bit of extra time to get ready, but this extension is set to expire on 1 May 2022.

Starting from that date, it will be illegal to sell uncertified wood in the UK.

Can I Still Buy Unseasoned Wood and Dry It Myself?

Yes, wet wood can still be sold and bought in the UK. But there will be certain restrictions. 

Starting 1 May 2022, you will only be able to purchase wet wood in quantities over two cubic metres. If you lack storage space and want to purchase firewood in lower quantities, you will need to buy Ready to Burn options.

Also, when buying wet wood, make sure that the supplier includes clear, easy-to-follow instructions on how to season it properly. They are required to do so by the new regulations.

How to Know if the Fuel You’re Buying Is Ready to Burn?

Certification information must be clearly visible on the product packaging (or the product page if you’re shopping online). Look for the Ready to Burn logo. If you see it, chances are the supplier is selling a quality product.

If you’re unsure about the seller or if the deal seems too good to be true, one way of protecting yourself from a low-quality product is by checking the supplier’s certificate number. If the certificate matches the one found in Woodsure’s registry, you can rest assured that the product will be genuine.

Can’t see a certificate number? Then don’t be shy to contact the seller’s customer support team. They are obligated to provide this information to you. If the company representatives are unwilling to give you this basic information, then it’s best to steer clear of the company.

If you see a supplier selling wood without certification, you can contact Defra and report the violation. Doing so will help shield other unsuspecting buyers from the low-quality product.