Keeping the home fires burning set to get harder

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As I write, the weather forecast is not good. In fact it’s awful. Maybe terrible.

By the time this appears in print I might be buried in snow though that’s less likely since I moved house 14 months ago.

Comment'Sandra Says by Sandra Chapman

Comment'Sandra Says by Sandra Chapman

My previous rural idyll was beautiful with stunning wintry scenes every year, and, at times, snow, the like of which can be found in Alpine regions only.

In those days getting to the shops was an ordeal, walking the dog often impossible and our heating bills were a bad memory – that is until we installed a wood burner. I no longer had to sit watching TV with a rug around my legs.

That little stove provided heat in places it had never been in that house even with central heating. Every autumn that primeval urge to find winter fuel for our stove would see us handing over money to the local forestry office or to friends in the know, long experienced in sourcing suitable firewood. It had to be dry (aged) otherwise you faced a stove with blackened glass which hid the flames which are part of the joy of running a stove. I was able to brew my nightly cuppa on top of that little metal box.

Then we upped sticks and moved to a house by the sea. Seaside cold is different. It feels damp and mists really do roll in from the sea just as described in Paul McCartney’s famous ditty Mull of Kintyre.

It’s what I call sheepskin-wearing-weather. Forget your cotton and linen, seaside cold demands the real thing and that’s wool and fur. Within five days of moving into our seaside home we had a stove installed, a bigger one than we had in the previous house. It was the dead of winter after all and I needed to keep the grandchildren cosy otherwise they might not want return to spend another cold Christmas in granny’s freezing house.

But all is not secure in toasty stove-land. The government, yes the one in such a pickle over Brexit, thinks wood burning stoves are not a good idea as they ‘pollute’ the atmosphere.

Government plans indicate that within three years the ‘most polluting log burners’ will be banned. It wants only the ‘cleanest stoves’ to be sold by 2022.

Stoves have become so popular that even the most posh, all glass ultra-modern houses are having them fitted. But the government says stoves are the ‘single biggest source of particulate matter remissions’ and no longer fit into its new air pollution strategy. Open fires too could be banned along with traditional house coal. The government also plans to restrict the sale of wet wood for domestic stoves (or open fires) and ‘apply sulphur and smoke emission limits to all solid fuels to improve air quality’. It stresses that we have to reduce our exposure to ‘particulate matter considered the most damaging pollutant’.

I do understand all this because I nursed my youngest son through childhood asthma which, in those days, was being blamed on ‘pollutants in the atmosphere’. It has taken another three decades to fully understand and calculate the damage coal and wet wood, amongst other pollutants, can do to health. Yet successive governments haven’t always got it right. Gordon Brown’s Labour Government believed that diesel fuelled cars were ‘cleaner’ than petrol and the price of running a petrol driven car rose sharply.

Now we know that neither diesel nor petrol are good for the atmosphere, hence the frantic efforts to develop electric vehicles.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove promises that the government ‘will provide information about the cleanest ways to burn domestic solid fuels’. Given its past record can we trust them to get it right this time?

I couldn’t imagine life in the home without my stove. Nor could my dog or the cats, who vie for space every night in front of it. In my childhood every home had a polluting Modern Mistress stove.

It was my job to polish ours every Saturday. I hated the smell of that polish when the stove was heated up again. Now that was a real pollutant.