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Increase in wood and pellet stoves raises concerns over air quality

A wood burner in operation (Pixabay/Helen Lord/free licence)
05:58 23/05/2022

The high energy prices are causing an increase in stove sales in Brussels, Bruzz reports, despite wood and pellet burners being particularly bad for air quality. The government has no concrete plans for a ban.

Sales for stoves have roughly doubled at Smulders in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, while stove dealer Red Pellet in Anderlecht has also seen increases.

"We get more and more requests for wood stoves in the store,” a salesperson said. “It's clear that this is due to the current energy crisis. Last year, from March to August we sold almost nothing. People only start thinking about heating when winter is almost upon us, now it's definitely different."

"99 out of 100 of our buyers who first heated with gas or fuel oil indicate that they are looking for wood or pellet stoves because they are cheaper."

Jurgen Buggenhoudt from Kachels Van Den Berge in Buizingen, south of Brussels, sees a similar trend. "I notice that there are more enquiries in an otherwise relatively quiet season,” he said. “More people are looking for a heating alternative."

The doubts about the gas supply to our country also play a role. "I think the war in Ukraine and the uncertainty that comes with it play an important role," said a spokesperson for Smulders.

A wood or pellet stove may be good for the wallet of the private individual, but for the air quality the appliances are a disaster. Four hours of burning a wood stove emits as much particulate matter as a car ride from Brussels to the Mediterranean Sea. Or to put it another way: while wood burning currently only accounts for 1% of the heating appliances in the region, these wood stoves already emit 10% of the particulate matter.

Filip Meysman, professor of biology, geology and chemistry at the University of Antwerp, warns that more wood stoves could negate recent efforts to improve air quality. "The gains that have been made by improving cars and introducing low-emission zones then disappear because you create extra air pollution by heating your house."

While not all wood and pellet stoves can be considered the same, however, older appliances such as open fires, built-in fireplaces, closed fireplaces and wood stoves from before 2006 are especially harmful. But even modern pellet stoves still produce much more particulate matter than gas boilers. They are therefore not recommended in an urban environment.

The Brussels government recently announced that it's gradually banning fuel oil boilers because of air pollution. But there are no such plans at the moment for a ban on much more polluting wood stoves.

"It is still too early to make a statement about this," said a spokesperson for environment and energy minister Alain Maron. "The next climate plan has yet to be submitted to the government, but in terms of health, air quality is certainly a priority."

In the meantime, Brussels Environment does not recommend installing a wood stove. "Certainly, with the efforts made by the Brussels-Capital Region to improve air quality, the installation and use of a wood stove is not encouraged," it stated.

Written by Nick Amies