Solid Fuel Safety Guide

What is a solid fuel?

The definition of a solid fuel is any form of solid material that can be used to create energy and heating. Usually, these results are achieved through burning said solid fuel, with the most common types including coal, wood, charcoal, and wood pellets. It is of vital importance that you use the correct forms of solid fuel for your particular appliance.

House coal can be used in natural and underfloor open draught fires, but not in smoke controlled areas. Anthracite is a good solid fuel to use in room heaters, multi-fuel stoves, gravity feed boilers, and solid fuel cookers. Smokeless ovoids can be used in any open draught fire, room heaters, multi-fuel stoves, and solid fuel cookers, as well as in smoke controlled areas.

Economy ovoids cannot be used in smoke controlled areas, but work in other locations with regards to open draught fires, as well as room heaters, multi-fuel stoves, and non-heat-storage cookers. Imported boiler fuel should only be used in non-heat-storage solid fuel cookers. Welsh dry steam should also only be used in non-heat-storage solid fuel cookers, room heaters, and multi-fuel stoves.

Finally, wood/logs can be used in all open draught fires, but not in smoke controlled areas. Wood can also be used in non-heat-storage solid fuel cookers, room heaters, and multi-fuel stoves, but only if they are suitable wood-burning appliances. For the full breakdown, check out the Fuels Guide Page.


Solid Fuel Appliance Safety

Solid fuel appliances will operate reliably, efficiently and, most importantly, safely, if they are installed and serviced correctly. Ensure to enlist the help of a professional if you are unsure as to how to do the above. Appliances can include anything from cookers, to stoves, wood burners, and more.


Keeping the Air Ways Clear

It is imperative that solid fuel appliances are allowed to ‘breathe-in’ in order to operate efficiently. Good airflow in the chosen room is important to achieve this. If you have double glazing in the room in question, then you may need to invest in having an air brick fitted.

This will bring extra air into the room, but needs to be maintained in order to avoid blockages. However, solid fuel appliances also need to be able to ‘breathe-out’ efficiently, so you must ensure that the flue ways are regularly cleaned and unblocked, as well as the throat plate on enclosed appliances.


Sweeping the Chimney

As we explained above, it is important to ensure that your solid fuel appliances can ‘breath-out’ efficiently, so keeping the chimney swept is a must. If you are burning a smokeless fuel, then you need only have the chimney swept once every year.

If you are burning house coal, or any other non-smokeless fuel, you should have the chimney swept twice a year. Failing to keep the air ways clear in your home and your solid fuel appliance in tip top condition could result in carbon monoxide seeping back into your property.


Carbon Monoxide

As many of you will know, Carbon Monoxide is a deadly gas which can cause illness, permanent health damage and quite often, death. The emission of carbon monoxide comes from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, include some solid fuels such as coal and wood. It is therefore of imperative importance that you follow strict guidelines when dealing with both solid fuels and the relevant appliances.

If your chimney is blocked, or leaking, or if your appliance airways or throat plate are not clear, the gases will not escape into the atmosphere, but flow back into your house, or on occasion into your neighbour’s house, through a common chimney. It is also important to note that in extreme weather conditions, fumes can be forced back down the chimney.


Carbon Monoxide Detectors

You may not see any smoke and the gas is odourless, so invest in a carbon monoxide detector, it may just save your life! However, these alarms cannot be used in place of regular cleaning and maintenance, they should merely be a warning should the worst ever happen.

The Solid Fuel Association does not recommend ‘Black Spot’ detectors as they have been found to be unreliable and inaccurate. Instead, they recommend any product that complies with the BS EN 50291:2001. The detectors should be placed in the same room as the appliance, so more than one can be purchased if needed.


What to do to keep your family safe!

To ensure your appliance can breathe efficiently:

  • Empty the ash can regularly – every day if possible
  • Clean the flue ways at the back of the boiler once a week – let the fire go out and ashes cool first
  • Remove and clean the room heater throatplates once a month
  • Have your chimney swept once or twice a year – as stated above

If your appliance begins to burn slowly, goes out frequently or if you smell or suspect fumes:

  • Open all doors and windows
  • Either carefully put out the fire, or allow it to burn itself out
  • Do not stay in the room for any longer than you have to
  • Wait for a professional to check the appliance before re-lighting it
  • Contact your local HETAS heating engineer or the Solid Fuel Advice on 01773 835400

Fire Guards

Never leave an open fire without a fireguard in place, and if there are children in the home, the fireguard must be securely fitted to avoid accidents.

Safety Summary

  • Use the correct fuels in the correct appliances in the correct locations
  • Clean the appliances regularly
  • Keep the air ways clear and ventilated
  • Never leave a fire unattended without the use of a fireguard
  • Secure fireguards if children are present
  • Invest in a carbon monoxide detector
  • Have a professional check appliances after any issues
  • Ensure appliances are fitted correctly before use