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Partial victory for the public in the wood stove dispute - but the battle is not yet won

With the new Boverket regulations, new fireplaces like the one on the right, with 5-12% efficiency, are free to build. The iron stove on the left with 60-70% efficiency, however, they want to scrap. Photo: Hilding Mickelsson (1919 - 2002) / Hälsingland Museum (CC BY-NC)

After the public outcry in favour of the wood stove, the government is now backtracking on the Boverket's proposal for a scrapping premium, which meant that taxpayers would pay to send fully functioning iron stoves to the scrapyard.

The government backs down the scrapping premium on old wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, while firewood pours into the Government Offices by mail in protest to Minister of Housing Peter Eriksson (MP) and the Facebook group Vedspisupproret passed 20,000 members.

The housing minister says it's all a "misunderstanding" that was also "fuelled" by unknown... woodpecker extremists? He blames the Boverket's failure to communicate.

The failure seems to be that for once an authority was far too clear in its communication. They departed from the practice of wrapping their communication in ambiguous words and vague phrases. By then, people had not understood what was going on.

Carl-Oskar Bohlin, an MP who has been involved in the wood stove issue and has written a number of articles in Dalarnas Tidning, comments on the government's retreat as follows on Facebook:

The backtracking should probably be seen as a consequence of the enormous public outcry the proposal has created. However, I would like to warn that it may also be a tactical move by the government. It may be an attempt to draw attention away from the original proposal, which makes it impossible to reinstall old stoves. This proposal remains on the table. The fact that the proposal for scrapping premiums has been withdrawn should not therefore be taken to mean that the entire headless proposal has been scrapped.

Housewife Gärda in Österlid in front of her wood stove, unknown year. Västergötland. Photo: Falbygdens museum

Expressen wants in its article (linked above) to make the issue only about new installation of old wood stoves in brand new houses, which is to seriously mislead its readers. The new rules also make the installation of an old wood stove in an existing house more difficult and expensive.

According to Boverket, the rules should certainly be "flexible" when installing an old wood stove in an existing house, and "consideration should be given to the cultural and historical values, the conditions of the building and the extent of the change", which should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In other words, you are entirely at the mercy of the local authority and the individual officer's mood of the day as to whether or not you get permission to put an old wood-burning stove in your own home - on your own land.

I can feel that in a country that already has a "host class" bureaucracy and over-privilege, where you can barely tread on your own land without having to fill out some form and humbly ask permission, you should think twice before adding to that privilege. Freedom under responsibilitywhat do you say like that?

Otherwise, we might as well take "freedom" under control all the way and also appoint a number of wood inspectors in each municipality whose full-time job is to go around to wood burners and demand to inspect the woodpile, to make sure they are not burning with too moist wood. Because the thing about wood burning is that it's not primarily in what you burn i without what you fire with, and how one fires.

Moreover, most wood-burning stoves are found in rural areas, with an emphasis on ugly. It is sparse between the houses and the chimneys. Air quality is not a problem out here, there is plenty of fresh air for us country folk.

This is what Rasmus Norling, the county representative of the Swedish Building Society in Värmland and initiator of the firewood stove uprising, says about the problems surrounding the Boverket's unclear rules to the GP:

[...] if you read what Boverket has written, it is clear that they consider a reinstallation as a new installation.

My experience as a county commissioner is that municipalities interpret the rules literally. It's no secret that many houses in the 1950s lost their fireplaces, but the way the new rules are designed, it will be impossible in many cases to reinstall an old fireplace in an older house.

The scrapping premium has been scrapped, if Peter Eriksson (MP) is a man of his word, and that is a partial victory. But it is not yet time to relax.

The supreme power has made a tactical retreat, possibly directly inspired by Gustav Vasa's tactical truce with the Smålanders during the Dackefejden 1542. With the truce, the Swedish king lulled the Smålanders into a false sense of security, while he could calmly gather his strength and carry out his original plan to completely crush the rebellion. The Boverket's original plan also stands. The Boverket's new rules are intact and will come into force on 1 July 2018, if nothing changes.

What, then, could be seen as a final victory for the wood-burning little people?

Yes, when old wood-burning stoves, just like fireplaces and old tiled stoves, are completely exempted from the new regulations. This is how the Woodstove Uprising formulates the demand:

We call for clear national protection for historic wood-burning stoves, in the form of a general type approval or a general exemption. Our stoves should be used and reinstalled for the lifetime they have, not scrapped for the sake of growth.

So open fires are exempt under the new rules, even though they burn for crows with lousy 5-12% efficiencies, because "they are part of the building and there is no method of measuring emissions."

Old tiled stoves with an efficiency of 70-85% are excluded because they according to Boverket have "acceptable emission levels and for cultural and historical reasons."

Old wood stoves with 60-70% efficiency have in my opinion and at least 20,000 others at least as strong cultural and historical reasons to be exempted. They are a beautiful and living part of our cultural heritage that deserves to be used for the rest of their functional lives.

Moreover, given that wood-burning stoves, unlike tiled stoves, are never likely to be the primary source of heat in a home, emissions are negligible overall. But wood-burning stoves could be absolutely vital if a major crisis were to hit Sweden - if war comes, if a solar storm hits, or if the north of Sweden is hit by a repeat of The Great Wave of 1867. One hell of a year it was - and in years like that, the wood stove is your best friend and saviour.

So keep sending firewood to the Government Offices.

Better that they are busy stacking firewood than that they sit and invent a lot of new ways to control the lives of citizens. Now is not the time to relax, on the contrary.

The Boverket has made a great effort to ensure that if you already have a wood-burning stove, you know that you will not be affected by their new rules. They hope that you will therefore not worry about others being affected. But wood stove owners are sticking together. So do we, regardless of which parties set their sights on our wood-burning stoves. Solidarity is the word.

By raising your voice, you show solidarity with all the poor people who don't yet own a wood stove, but who dream of also being one of those who go into the kitchen and light that fire on a cold winter's morning.

So send a log to Peter Eriksson too! Tell us why the wood stove is important to you. Make the government think again. Demand an exemption. Here is his address:

Peter Eriksson
Government Offices
Rosenbad 4
10333 Stockholm

I leave you with this beautiful piece from the Woodstove Rebellion:

The glow of the wood stove is the heart of Swedish building culture. The fireplace is not just part of the good life. It is the prerequisite for survival in the countryside, in everyday life and in crisis. Cast-iron stoves and fireplaces are living reminders of the industry that once built prosperity and development.

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