IIf you’re looking to perfect your rural idyll, you can’t go wrong with a wood stove. A mainstay of glamorous “cottagecore” Instagram accounts and Airbnb listings with a cachet somewhere between an Aga and a yurt, they produce an atmosphere of peace and warmth that glows as softly as its embers.
But lately, some of its owners have turned the temperature scale up from cozy to warm and annoying, as have their neighbors.
With the sale of smoking wet wood and bags of household charcoal banned since May 1, two government reports this week painted a damning picture of the contribution of household wood burning to small particle air pollution. They suggested that in 2019, closed and open fires were now responsible for 38% of pollution particles less than 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5) and, in a separate survey, found that only 8% of the population was responsable. Dry wood and solid fuels are much less polluting.
The research painted the picture of a group that in some cases was indifferent to the risks associated with small particle contamination, which is linked to a variety of serious heart and lung problems. Only a third of the indoor burners expressed any concern about the health impact on themselves or their neighbors.
It found that 46% of those who used interior burners did so for “tradition” or “aesthetic” reasons, the same proportion belonging to the highest AB social grades. Only 24% said they were burning to save money and 8% out of necessity. One devotee explained to the researchers: “People are drawn to water; people are drawn to fires … The beauty of nature, really. “
But while burners aren’t always convinced there’s a problem, a growing number have found themselves in disputes with others in their neighborhoods, and the resulting atmosphere is decidedly cold, both parties suggest.
Robert Bishop, a director of the Billingshurst company, is one of those whose frustrations at the growing number of chimneys around him has led him to confront the problem, with a series of letters to the local newspaper.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m back in London, growing up in the 1950s, when the smog was so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.” wrote to the West Sussex County Times recently. “And if you think I’m exaggerating, come some night.”
“They have proliferated around where we live recently,” he told The Guardian on Friday. “These reports underscore what I’ve been saying: it’s disgusting. You can’t open the window afterwards, excuse the expression, you’ve been in the bathroom because the house fills with smoke. “
The problem has grown during the confinement, he said, with more people at home. “There is not a house in the area without gas central heating,” he said. “There’s no need.”
Dr Gary Fuller of Imperial College London underscored that case when discussing the new research this week. “The burning of firewood in the houses has gone unnoticed as we all turn our attention to the diesel traffic,” he said.
“We can count cars and trucks on our roads to understand the pollution that comes from traffic. But we have very little idea of what people do in their own homes. “
Morley Sage of the industry body Stove Industry Alliance challenged the government’s research, claiming that it assumes that too low a proportion of wood burners are modern, eco-friendly models. He said the 38% figure “groups wood-burning stoves together with unregulated outdoor combustion (bonfires, pizza ovens, campfires), all open-burning and highly inefficient.”
There were no signs that sales fell last year, Sage said. One factor is the phenomenon called cottagecore, something of an Anglo-Saxon successor to Hygge and now a staple of aspirational Instagram sessions.
Cottagecore “exploded during the first crash,” Rebecca Lovatt, owner of website My english country househe told PA Media this week. “An Aga, a wood stove, blankets and cushions … All of this sums up life in a rural cabin.”
One fan of that approach is Sarah, a boutique owner in Norfolk. She asked to use a pseudonym to avoid further antagonism with a neighbor who sees things slightly differently, and left a voicemail accusing her of “an environmental crime” on the day of the report.
“He has mentioned the ban more than once, but we don’t burn wet wood and we never have,” he said. “Everyone in the area is fine with it, except for this very nasty guy who thinks he knows everything.”
The controversy is also evident on forums from Mumsnet to Nextdoor, which are ablaze with posts on both sides of the debate.
On the Problem Neighbors website, some woodburner owners he felt persecuted by those who opposed the chosen heat source. “I don’t know about you, but back in my day, we weren’t little lily paddles that took our neighbors to court for the crime of keeping warm,” wrote a user named Fred last year. “As things are going, we will have to ask permission to smile.”
Class is also often a factor. “Wood stoves are really very antisocial,” he said. a Mumsnet user. “But they are also middle class, so I hope that everyone who wants one installed will find some special reason why their contamination is superior and necessary.”
As if responding to that call, a columnist for the Daily Telegraph responded to this week’s reports with a headed piece “Call me a middle-class hypocrite if you want, but I’m not getting rid of my wood stove.” Sarah Rodrigues argued that her fire gave her “a similar feeling to that first sip of hot red wine,” noting that she drives a hybrid and recently upgraded her Nespresso machine to one that allows for better composting. He did not say what his neighbors think.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism