Which? Trusted Traders is working with the Sunday Times to help answer reader questions about their homes. 

Question of the month: What's the best way to deal with a smelly wood-burning stove?

'We live in a semi-rural location within a smoke control area. A new neighbour has moved into a fairly run-down property nearby with an overgrown garden. They have installed a wood-burning stove and are steadily chopping down trees and burning them in the stove.

As the wood is damp and not seasoned, the fumes (and smells) are very unpleasant, especially when the wind is blowing in a certain direction. These fumes get into our house every time we open a door or window. We don’t want to fall out with this neighbour, but are finding the situation unbearable at times. What can we do?'

RA, Lancashire

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Our expert says

'I am sorry to hear about your problem — I know how unpleasant the smoke and fumes from unseasoned wood can be.

'As a rule of thumb, I would always recommend talking to your neighbour in the first instance. Explain the problem, set out the impact it is having on you and try to resolve the issue amicably. It is entirely possible that they are unaware of the effect their cosy fires are having on you.

'If the problem continues, you have other options. In a smoke control area there is a limit on how much smoke you can release from a chimney, and you can only burn authorised fuel unless you use an “exempt appliance”. But even having an “exempt appliance” does not allow you to burn absolutely anything.

'The local authority is responsible for prosecuting such offences, and in England a person could be fined between £175 and £300 if smoke has been emitted from a chimney in a smoke control area. Furthermore, a person could be fined up to £1,000 for burning unauthorised fuel without an exempt appliance (under the Clean Air Act 1993).

In a smoke control area there is a limit on how much smoke you can release from a chimney, and you can only burn authorised fuel unless you use an “exempt appliance”

'Authorised fuels consist primarily of smokeless fuels, such as certain types of coal and gas. A full list of all authorised fuels in England can be found on the website of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Wood is an unauthorised fuel and can only be burnt within an exempt appliance. Again, further details can be found on the Defra website, along with the types of fuel permitted and any additional restrictions, including moisture levels. There are similar lists for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

'While it is safe to assume your neighbour is burning unseasoned wood, additional important information about the type of stove, its installation and use and the actual moisture content of the wood remains unknown. Because of this, I think the local authority, and specifically the department that deals with environmental services, is probably best placed to investigate the situation.

'The local authority could also investigate whether the smoke from your neighbour’s home constitutes a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This applies if the smoke unreasonably and substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of your home, or if the smoke has caused injury to a person’s health or is likely to cause injury to a person’s health. If your neighbour is found to be in breach of the act, they can be prosecuted and served an abatement notice requiring them to stop or to limit the smoke.'

James Attew, Solicitor, Which? Legal

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