Wood-burning and air quality: Are you using your wood heater correctly?

Mayor of Maroondah Cr Mike Symon is urging households with wood heaters to check they are using them correctly and take practical steps to help reduce smoke.

“Solid fuel heaters, such as wood heaters and fireplaces, continue to be a valued source of heating for many residents. However, wood heaters that aren’t maintained or operated correctly can cause unnecessary air pollution, create an environmental nuisance for neighbours, and waste money through unburnt fuel if used inefficiently,” he said.

Cr Symon said reducing wood fire smoke also helped to minimise any health impacts.

“When wood is burned, very small particles and gases are released into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution.

“Excessive smoke generated by wood heaters can affect indoor and outdoor air quality and potentially impact people’s health. This is particularly concerning for people with respiratory illnesses, vascular conditions, the elderly and children,” Cr Symon explained.

Some wood heaters are a winter lifeline to those on tight budgets who scavenge free wood, while bush properties can benefit from wood heaters as a means of reducing fuel-load.

Cr Symon said people should always ensure they use dry, seasoned, untreated wood.

“The more efficient, less smoky, fires will also warm your house better.

“Damp wood creates more smoke as it takes more heat to evaporate the water before the wood will burn. Burning wet wood can also cause a build-up of creosote in the chimney and flue, which if not cleaned regularly can clog the flue, making it less effective and a potential fire hazard,” Cr Symon said.

The EPA advises households with wood heaters to minimise risks through regular cleaning and maintenance; burning dry wood with a bright flame; not allowing the fire to smoulder overnight; and never burning rubbish or painted wood.

“Ensuring your heater is clean and free from obstructions will help prevent flue fires, unnecessary smoke, and ensure the heater operates efficiently,” Cr Symon said.

Tips to reduce smoke pollution

Other tips for reducing smoke pollution include:

  • Wood heaters will smoke when first started and re-loaded, but there should be no visible smoke after 30 minutes.
  • Getting a fire going quickly with plenty of paper and small kindling.
  • Keeping the air controls set high enough to keep the fire burning brightly.
  • Never overloading a wood heater with too much wood.
  • Not leaving wood heaters to smoulder overnight as this starves the fire of oxygen, producing more smoke and air pollution.

Wood heater concerns and complaints

If you’re concerned about smoke from your neighbour’s wood heater, Council suggests first talking to your neighbour as they may not be aware there’s a problem. If this issue continues, or you don’t feel comfortable speaking directly with your neighbour, you can report your concern to Council.

Complaints of this nature can be investigated under the nuisance provisions of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. As part of the investigation, you will be asked to complete two weeks of odour logs to document the severity, frequency and impact of the alleged emissions.

Where Council’s investigations find that the wood heater is not being used appropriately, or if it is directly impacting or affecting the health of neighbours, Council may consider taking enforcement action to rectify the matter, if deemed appropriate.

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