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Banning wood burning stoves in Scotland: the real burn

There has been a lot mentioned and much confusion on social media recently about the Scottish Government “ban” on wood burning stoves in all new properties and conversions after 1 April 2024.

The announcement has been met with some concern by those living in rural communities, where wood-burning stoves are often an essential heating source, especially when faced with interruptions to the power supply. Unfortunately, it is part and parcel of living in a rural area that power cuts occur, often for extended periods of time. A survey from Consumer Scotland reported that “87% of consumers in accessible rural parts of Scotland, and 96% of consumers in remote rural areas reported having experienced a power cut in the past two years, compared to 67% of respondents in Scotland and 64% of respondents in the UK”.

Storm Gerrit caused power outages to around 27,000 homes in the North of Scotland in December 2023, with power being restored to 8,500 properties within a day. This is only one of many examples of adverse weather conditions experienced by rural areas in Scotland historically.

Patrick Harvie, MSP for the Green Party has pushed back, stating that there is no ban on wood burning stoves, but any new-build housing or major conversions requiring building warrants will no longer be allowed to install “direct emission heating systems”. We assume this will include biomass, peat-burning, wood burning stoves and gas fires.

New homes will be allowed to install these “direct emission heating systems” as an emergency source of power, however the building standards handbook states “emergency heating systems will not be allowed in smaller dwellings as independent, portable heaters can be used as an alternative, and for larger buildings, the emergency combustion heating source should be linked in with the heat distribution network of the building.”

Consideration needs to be given to the majority of rural Scotland not on the gas grid, currently standing at approximately 18% of dwellings in Scotland. This equates to around 65% of rural housing not being within coverage of the gas grid.

Alternative sources of heating, for example, electric central heating is very expensive to run. Without an economical secondary source of heating, such as a wood-burning stove, rural families may struggle to keep warm during the colder months of the year. We do accept that new build houses have much improved insulation and retain more heat energy than traditional, older housing stock. We fear this will be negated with prolonged harsh winters and the frequent power outages experienced by our rural residents.

The building standards handbook does refer to cases when ‘emergency heating’ will be considered: “There will be situations where some form of fixed ‘emergency heating’ are sought in new buildings and this is recognised. This may be relevant to those in remote and rural areas where there are concerns about the historic resilience of the energy supply”.

It remains to be seen whether households with “direct emission heating systems” will require to switch over to zero direct emission heating (ZDEH) systems in the future, at some considerable cost to the householder. But in the meantime, for anyone who has already switched over to a ZDEH system on a pre-April 2024 built property, they will not be able to install a fossil-fuel burning secondary heat source in their home.

We do not dispute that something needs to be done for Scotland to reach their net zero targets by 2045, but the Heat in Buildings framework needs further careful consideration to be able to help deliver these targets. There has been a failure to consider all the unintended consequences of this new legislation. Further clarification is sought from the Scottish Government.

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