As the temperature drops and Victorians turn up the heat, Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) is encouraging households with wood heaters to take practical steps now to help reduce smoke from their heaters over winter.
Reduced air quality across parts of Melbourne and regional Victoria last month was partially attributed to wood smoke and still weather conditions.
EPA Applied Sciences Group Manager, Dr Anthony Boxshall said many of the air pollution problems associated with wood heating can be minimised by following some simple tips that make the wood heater safer, cleaner, and cheaper to run.
“We know that wood heaters and fireplaces continue to be a valued source of heating for many Victorians, particularly those living in regional Victoria,” Dr Boxshall said.
“Wood heaters that aren’t maintained or operated correctly can produce a lot of smoke. It will help your wood heater to operate correctly if you have your flue professionally checked and cleaned before winter begins.
“Ensuring it’s clean and free from obstructions will help prevent flue fires, unnecessary smoke, and ensure the heater operates efficiently.
“Checking the wood heaters’ operating manual can also be very useful - it will help people to understand how their heater operates and how to use appropriate fuel.”
Dr Boxshall said people should also ensure they use dry, seasoned, untreated wood.
“Damp wood creates more smoke as it takes more heat to evaporate the water before the wood will burn. More efficient, less smoky, fires will also warm your house better,” he said.
Dr Boxshall added that 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. This can cause problems for people with breathing difficulties and respiratory conditions, resulting in symptoms for some people.”
Dr Boxshall encouraged people to reduce their use of wood heaters and fireplaces on still days and to go outside occasionally to check their chimney for smoke.
“Overall, Victoria’s air quality is very good. This is mainly due to a range of initiatives and controls introduced over the years that have reduced emissions from industry, motor vehicles and banning backyard incineration in residential suburban areas.
“Whilst the impact of a single wood heater may be small– the cumulative impact on air quality, particularly through autumn and winter, is significant – but many of the air pollution problems associated with wood heating can be prevented or minimised by operating your heater correctly.”
Dr Boxshall said other tips for reducing smoke pollution included:
- getting a hot 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.
EPA advises that people should never burn household rubbish, driftwood, treated wood such as pine or old painted wood in their wood heaters.
Dr Boxshall encouraged people considering a new heater to think about all the heating choices available to them, including options which may produce less smoke than wood heaters.
For more information on wood burning and the environment, please visit: go to http://www.epa.vic.gov.au/your-environment/air/wood-burning-and-air-quality