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Burning wood for heat

Surrey is England's most wooded county, with around 25% cover. It is not surprising then that open fires and, in particular, wood-burning stoves have risen in popularity over recent years and the smell of smoke can be pervasive in central Churt on many a winter’s evening.

Trees 'feed' through photosynthesis which absorbs carbon dioxide from the air to manufacture sugars which fuel their growth. So wood is an important carbon store and burning it puts that carbon back into the atmosphere, thereby raising greenhouse gas emission levels. Wood is  a renewable fuel - but it takes many, many years to complete the cycle and get that carbon back into storage again in a newly planted tree. Smoke from burning wood also causes air pollution which is harmful to health.  

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Following simple good practice guidance in use of  wood burning stoves or open fires is therefore essential to reduce environmental and health impacts, as well as benefiting you directly by:

  • Maximising efficiency, meaning you burn less fuel

  • Reducing the risk of chimney fires

  • Reducing smoke and carbon monoxide which can be harmful to you and your neighbours

Your open fire or wood burning stove will have its cleanest and hottest burn when the logs have a moisture content of 18% moisture or less. Above this level, creosote builds up in your chimney or flue and toxic particles enter into the atmosphere.


Plan ahead in sourcing your fuel to ensure your wood is ready when you need it.

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Purchase a firewood moisture meter to ensure you are getting the healthiest burn for your wellbeing, pocket and the environment. The purchase of a STIHL (or other make) wood moisture meter for firewood humidity at a cost of less than £20 is an excellent investment.

Getting the best from your moisture meter:

Take a few different test samples from your load:

  • Press metal probes very firmly into a log in three different places.

  • Split the log in half with an axe and check centre of log 3 times.

  • All readings must be below 18% moisture before using for best results.

Useful points to achieve a clean burn

  1. Check the moisture of logs coming in

  2. Split all to your preferred size which increases surface area to release more moisture.

  3. If over 18% moisture stack the cut logs outside for air to move around them. A very simple waterproof cover is worthwhile to protect the wood stack. The stack will appreciate assistance from the sun and breeze.

  4. When down to 18% it is best for logs to be undercover.

  5. Never burn treated or demolition wood as these are hazardous.

  6. If you have part burned logs left in your fire box, the wood is potentially not dry enough.

  7. Upon bringing dry logs into the house, smell, touch and see.

  • The wood will smell dry.

  • Feel dry to the back of the hand.

  • Sound dry when 2 pieces are hit together.

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DEFRA have produced a useful short guide on how to  buy, store and season wood to get the most from your wood burning stove 

Be aware of the changes implemented by the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020 which requires that wood sold for burning be certified as having a moisture content of less than 20% and bans the sale of traditional bitumous house coal after May 2021.

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