Coal & Smokeless Fuel Q & A

Q: How was coal formed?

A: Coal was formed around 300 million years ago through dead plants and trees that grew in swampy forests. The decayed remains got trapped beneath the swamps, then further layers of dirt and rock formed a material called peat. With further layers burying the peat further underground, the pressure and high temperatures over the next millions of years formed the fossil fuel we call bituminous house coal.

Q: Why is house coal being banned in England?

A: House coal is being banned by the government in order to combat air pollution. Even before the ban, the fuel industry had already focused massively on producing fuels which are a lot less harmful to the environment.

Q: When will house coal be banned?

A: The sale of house coal will be phased out as of 1st May 2021, then will be banned completely by 1st May 2023.

Q: Can I still purchase house coal between 1st May 2021 and 1st May 2023?

A: Yes, but you won't be able to purchase from outlets such as supermarkets, garages or garden centres. Only from Approved Coal Merchants like us, and they will have to be in split 25kg bags or in open 50kg sacks tipped out into your shed or bunker. Our 25kg bags won't be sealed properly in order to comply with the government phasing out regulations.

Q: Why do Approved Coal Merchants get a two-year extension?

A: This gives coal merchants the chance to clear their stocks and to give regular house coal users the chance to gradually switch to approved smokeless fuels.

Q: Will it be against the law to burn house coal after 1st May 2023?

A: There has been no legislation placed on burning house coal after 1st May 2023 as long as you are not in a smoke control area.

Q: How do I know if I am in a Smoke Control Area?

A: You can view a list which shows the status of local authorities with respect to smoke control areasBreckland, South Norfolk and Mid Suffolk have not declared any smoke control areas.

Q: What is smokeless fuel?

A: Smokeless fuel became popular after the 1956 Clean Air Act which was brought in as a result of the 1952 Great Smog of London. They are a solid fuel which emits less than five grams of smoke an hour when burnt, which is 80% less smoke and 25% less carbon dioxide compared to traditional house coal. They burn with a longer fire life and are adaptable for use with various appliances.

Q: How are smokeless fuels made?

A: When bitumonious coal is fossilised for even longer, bitumonious coal forms into a natural smokeless coal called anthracite. Anthracite contains high carbon contents with low sulphur. As carbon isn't a volatile material, the anthracite fuel will burn efficiently without much smoke.

Anthracite is used as a base for most manufactured smokeless fuels. Anthracite is broken down into a fine dust, the dust is then moulded into briquettes using smokeless binding materials.

Q: Which smokeless coal should I switch to on an open fire?

A: Maxiflame Plus, Newburn, Homefire Ovals and Ecoal 50 are all suitable for open fires.

Q: Is it better to order coal from a local coal merchant or a national coal company?

A: We will naturally say it is better to order off local coal merchants like us for guaranteed friendly service. Loose 50kg sacks we will always tip into your bunker or shed and pre-packed 25kg bags we will stack where required.

You will likely find cheaper prices if you order a tonne (40 x 25kg bags) from a national coal company, but they will almost certainly be left on a pallet near the entrance of your driveway for you to sort out yourself!

Q: How much coal/smokeless fuel will I need to order?

A. This varies greatly. It depends on a number of factors such as size of your property, house insulation, stove efficiency, fuel efficiency, usage and the weather. You will use consiberably less in a well insulated home with an Ecodesign stove than you would in a poorly insulated home with an inefficient appliance. We've drawn up a guideline -

For occasional use (1-2 fires a month) - 250kg worth will see you through the year.
For one fire a week - a plastic bunker quantity (7 open sacks) or 15 pre-packed bags will likely be a sufficient supply to see you through the year.
For 2-3 fires a week - a tonne worth (1000kg) will definitely see you through the year.
For regular use (a fire every night from October to April) - you will likely use up to two tonnes (2000kg) worth.

Q: When is the best time to order coal?

A: The best time to order coal/smokeless is in the summer months, when you will get a better deal before the winter prices kick in.

Q: Which smokeless fuel should I burn in a closed appliance?

A: It depends on the type of appliance you own, and your own preference. You should always use solid fuels recommeneded by the stove manufacturer but if you're not sure, we have an Appliance & Fuel Guide which describes each appliance and lists the ideal fuels to use.

Q: Does the size of smokeless fuel matter?

A: It depends on visual appeal. Larger sized briquettes such as Newburn and Homefire Ovals give a more authentic look for an open fire or a stove with glass on the door, there are larger gaps for better air flow. A smaller sized briquette of similar quality however, will last longer because of smaller air gaps.

Q: Which smokeless fuel is best for overnight slumber?

A: Homefire Ovals, Ecoal 50 and Phurnacite will still have a red glow in the morning and will recover with ease once you reapply. Taybrite also won't be out in the morning, and is a more affordable option if overnight slumber is your main objective. Anthracite also has a long burn time, and will definitely slumber overnight in a cooker. Newburn, Maxiflame Plus and Maxibrite will slumber overnight in a modern Ecodesign appliance. If your appliance is over ten years old we recommend applying some ash or coal dust before bed time if you're looking for a prolonged overnight slumber with these fuels.

Q: How should I store my coal? 

A: If you order it loose then ideally in a bunker or in a dry corner of your shed. If you order in pre-packed bags store them either in a garage/shed or under tarpaulin. Store away from prolonged spells of direct sunlight as this will cause the bags to become brittle. If you open a bag at least a day or two before use this should give your coal/smokeless fuel sufficient enough time to get the air to be dry enough for your fire.

Q: Could I mix different types of coal/smokeless fuel?

A: If they are suitable for your appliance then yes, absolutely.

Q: Wet coal? Can I still burn it?

A: We advise you not to burn coal when it is wet but don't worry, it soon dries out and its quality won't be affected - airflow is the key! If you require your coal to be bone dry then you could use a couple of buckets in a rotation system to help give them the air to dry. Alternatively, you could open a pre-packed bag a few days before use to air it. You could also open the lid of your bunker ajar for air. They dry out quite quickly in the sun too!

Q: Can coal go bad/expire?

A: The appearance of coal can give a brighter colour on the edges if left exposed to the outdoor elements for years, but their quality shouldn't be badly affected. If stored indoors, undercover or in a bunker then this is something you won't need to worry about.

Q: Do you offer discounts?

A: Yes, we do quantity discounts for 250kg worth of coal/smokeless fuel. We offer a further reduction for half a tonne (500kg) and an even further reduction for a tonne (1000kg) worth. You'll save a considerable amount of money in the long run if you order as much as what you can store off us compared to making multiple trips to a garden centre or supermarket for an expensive bag!

Unfortunately, it's not good news regarding pricing. We won't be able to offer our traditional summer quantity discounts on the sale of our coal & smokeless fuels from 1st June to 30th September due to these volatile times showing no signs of stabilizing.

Our suppliers anticipate another increase in prices before winter time. Our advice? If you have the storage space, stock up now!

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