If you choose to use a wood-fired heater you should buy the correct type and operate and maintain it according to the instructions. If incorrectly operated, they can contribute to reduced air quality.
The burning of wood (including bushfires) creates fine particles and gas compounds, which can be breathed deep into the lungs and be harmful to health, particularly for the very young or old, or those with pre-existing medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic lung disease, or heart problems.
If organic material isn’t completely burned, it can generate toxic substances, some of which cause cancer.
Using your wood heater
Wood heaters should meet the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 4013:2014).
An experienced professional tradesperson must install your heater and it should have a compliance plate or documentation from the manufacturer indicating that the heater meets this standard.
Choose a heater that is the right size for your house and one designed to produce the lowest level of emissions. It will be more efficient and cost-effective.
Once installed, maintain the heater according to instructions, and only burn the correct fuel; that is dry, seasoned, untreated wood. Damp, unseasoned wood does not burn well, and creates less heat and more smoke. Buy pre-conditioned wood, or store it correctly in a dry ventilated area.
Heaters should not be used to burn household rubbish, coke, coal or any form of treated wood (such as painted wood or wood treated with copper chrome arsenate) as these can release toxic chemicals during combustion.
How well is it working?
If you use your wood heater correctly, you will reduce smoke and particle pollution. Watching smoke from the flue or chimney gives a good indication of how well your heater is functioning and whether any maintenance is needed. A modern heater that complies with the Australian Standard should not produce any visible smoke when a good fire is established.
Watching the smoke is also a good indicator of whether it could be a nuisance to your neighbours. This is particularly important in cold, still conditions (inversions) that reduce smoke dispersal.
If you are leaving the heater burning overnight, make sure that enough air is available to keep smoke levels low and to allow the fuel to burn down slowly. An insufficient air supply can result in more smoke.
Smoke from inefficient wood heaters is the source of many complaints from those impacted, such as neighbours. If you are affected, the first course is to have a friendly talk to the owners of the wood heater, as they may not be aware of the problem—or how to solve it.