Smoke Control

How does domestic smoke affect my health?

Burning wood, coal and other solid fuels at home emits dangerous pollution known as fine particulate matter (often referred to as PM2.5). Current evidence suggest there is no safe level of PM2.5 and domestic wood burning contributes 17 per cent of London’s PM2.5 pollution. These particles are not visible to the human eye and can enter our lungs and bloodstream and affect our internal organs. Exposure to PM2.5 can cause heart disease and other respiratory illnesses and short-term exposure can trigger asthma attacks. New research has also shown an association between prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollution and developmental delay at age three, as well as psychological and behavioural problems later on, including symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression. The infographic below shows relative PM2.5 emissions from various forms of heating.

Kensington and Chelsea, along with 17 other local authorities from London, is part of the London Wood Burning Group. The overall aims of the project are: 

  • to improve scientific understanding of the air quality effects of solid-fuel burning, including from different fuel and appliance types,  
  • to improve understanding of the health impact risk from these activities and  
  • to improve and enhance public awareness and engagement, with the long-term ambition to improve air quality and reduce health damage from solid-fuel burning in London

Through this, Imperial College was appointed to undertake data collection to investigate indoor, house adjacent, outdoor and city scale wood and solid fuel burning. This showed that lighting fires and refuelling led to significant increases in indoor air pollution and short term peaks outside homes, typically up to distances of 10m from the chimney. It also showed that cooking and cigarette smoking caused an increase in air pollution indoors. The full report can be viewed on the Imperial College London website.

Smoke Control Areas

The whole of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is a Smoke Control Area (SCA).  It was designated in 2004 under Section 18 of the Clean Air Act 1993, which has since been amended by the Environment Act 2021.

This means that people and businesses must not:

  • release smoke from a chimney
  • buy or sell unauthorised fuel for use unless it is to be used within an exempt appliance, approved for use in a Smoke Control Area.

If smoke is emitted from your chimney, the Council can issue a financial penalty of up to £300. You can also be fined up to £1,000 if you buy unauthorised fuel to use in an appliance that has not been approved by Defra.

Further information can be found on the GOV.UK website.

People who emit smoke from their chimney could also be committing a ‘statutory nuisance’ under Part 3 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, if the smoke emissions are harmful to health or a nuisance. This applies everywhere in England, not just in a smoke control area.
If you wish to report a smoke nuisance, please call 020 7361 3002 or report online.

What fuel can I burn?

In a Smoke Control Area, you can only burn the following authorised smokeless fuels (unless you are using an exempt appliance)

  • Gas
  • Anthracite and semi-anthracite
  • Low volatile steam coal.

Wood, wood chips and pellets are non-authorised and can only be burned on exempted appliances.  Even then, the wood must be dry and ready to burn.

Find a list of approved solid fuels. You must only use the types of fuel that the manufacturer says can be used in the appliance.

You can only burn unauthorised fuels in Ecodesign stoves if they also appear on the list of Defra exempt appliances.

You are not permitted to burn treated waste wood (e.g. old furniture, pallets or fence panels) or household rubbish.  Treated waste wood and household rubbish can emit harmful fumes and toxic pollutants, such are arsenic, when burnt. If you have larger household items that you want disposed of such as old furniture then the Councils Too Big for the Bin Service can help. For more information visit the Bulky Household Waste Collections page.

Remember most garden waste will not be dry and can emit a lot of smoke.

What appliances can I use?

You can use Defra Exempted Stoves within an SCA, which includes some wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves - view a full list.

The infographic below demonstrates the difference in emissions from various domestic heating methods.

The infographic below demonstrates the difference in emissions from various domestic heating methods.

Exempt appliances burn fuels more efficiently than older stoves and open fireplaces but even the cleanest appliances still produce 300 times more PM2.5 pollution than gas boilers and six times more than a modern diesel lorry. Therefore, even if you are using approved smokeless fuels and exempt appliances they affect air quality outdoors and also inside your home.

The Smoke Control laws do not apply to bonfires and burning wood outside, but precautions should be taken to avoid nuisance from smoke drifting across other gardens or into open windows.

Wood Burning

Wood can only be burned on an exempt appliance and must be dry and ready to burn. If you wish to purchase wood to burn look for the Woodsure Ready to Burn logo as a guarantee of good quality dry wood. View a list of suppliers for certified wood. Dry wood should have 20% moisture or less. Do not burn treated waste wood (e.g. old furniture, pallets or fence panels).

Please be aware though that burning wood still causes pollution, inside and outside your home. Research on the impacts of wood burning on indoor air quality has found that wood stoves can increase indoor PM2.5 levels to three times those found in homes with no wood burning.

Maintaining your appliance

Please be aware that the following is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide a definitive guide. It is important to follow any instructions from your appliance manufacturer. 

For those that need to use wood burning stoves or open fires you can reduce your environmental and health impact by:

  • Ensuring your chimney is swept thoroughly - at least once a year. Soot and tar build up in the chimney will reduce efficiency and increase the risk of chimney fires. It is better to use a qualified chimney sweep who will be able to advise you on good burning practices for your open fire or stove. The National Association of Chimney Sweeps can provide a list of certified members.
  • Regularly maintain and service your stove (annually). This means it will work better and will generate more heat from what you burn. Always operate your stove in line with the manufacturer’s guidance and only burn permitted fuels.
  • Make sure you have enough ventilation to keep your fire burning efficiently.
  • Flueways at the back of any boiler should be cleaned at least once a month.
  • Throat plates at the top of any room heater should be removed and cleaned regularly.
  • If the temperature of the stove is not high enough the fuel will not burn efficiently and will produce greater amounts of particulate matter.
  • The use of large pieces of wood / logs or coal will result in lower burning temperatures, resulting in less efficient burning and the production of more particulate matter.
  • Incorrect storage of fuel can make wood / coal damp, which causes more pollution when burned. Ensure fuel is stored in a secure dry location.

Recent legislative changes on domestic fuels and wood burners

  • Sales of bagged traditional house coal and wet wood units under 2m3 have been phased out (February 2021).

  • Sales of loose coal direct to customers via approved coal merchants have been phased out (February 2023).

  • There are limitations on the sale of manufactures solid fuels for domestic combustion (since February 2021). Only fuels with a low sulphur content and emit a small amount of smoke are permitted for sale. 

  • The Government’s new Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 will only permit burners located in Smoke Control Areas to emit 3 grams of smoke per hour, previously it was 5g per hour. Anyone found in breach of the limits are liable for a fine of up to £300 and can face criminal prosecution if a repeat offender.

Community Garden Advice

  • Garden waste must be disposed of correctly in compost bins, unless advised differently. All plot-holders are responsible for the maintenance of the compost bins. 
  • If waste cannot be composted, then plot-holders must dispose of it off site. Waste must not be incinerated in the gardens and no bonfires are to be lit. 

Useful Websites

Last updated: 6 November 2023