What can we do?
Recommendations for a
smoke-free Armidale (by the turn of the century?)
- The American
Lung Association (Washington, USA) advises not to
burn wood, and suggests converting wood-burning
fireplaces to use natural gas. In several places in the
U.S., it is a requirement not to rely on woodstoves as
the only source of home-heating. This allows home-owners
to use alternative heating during periods when smoke
would be likely to build-up. These recommendations make
good sense for Armidale, where very high levels of
particulates from wood-smoke occur during winter
inversions. A flued gas heater, for example, produces
less than one fifth of one percent of the particulates
emitted by a correctly operated AS4013 standard
woodheater. Off-peak electric storage heaters are also
worth considering. An off-peak storage heater in an
insulated house is likely to have lower running costs
than a woodheater in a home without insulation.
- Understand how woodheaters should be operated to minimise
smoke emissions. A great deal of information on how to do
this is now available from local councils, the EPA, and
Environment Australia, amongst others. See below.
- Home Insulation. Insulating the walls and especially the
ceiling of your house can save a great deal in lost heat.
Check with the local council for interest-free loans for
- Improve the overall energy efficiency of your house. In
addition to insulation, there are many ways in which you
can make your house more energy smart. Weatherseal leaks
around doors and windows; install draught excluders on
outside doors; install blinds on windows and add lining
to curtains, and reduce the amount of space you heat in
the house, e.g. heat only the rooms you are using. (Savings for Star-rated houses).
- Improve the solar energy capability of your house. Look
at ways to let more sunlight into the house during the
day; if you have a North facing patio area, enclose the
area with glass or similar material, to trap and store as
much of the sun's energy during the day. If you are
building a new house, investigate passive solar designs.
Check out solar water heating units ($500 rebate scheme)
and other solar heating products. More investment in this
area would mean new business opportunities in Armidale.
- Urge the local council or State government to introduce a
scheme to subsidise the change-over from wood heaters to
cleaner heating alternatives, such as electricity or gas,
backed by advice on reducing energy requirements in homes
by improved energy efficiency measures.
- Lobby local councillors and state MP's to demand better
air quality. Make them aware of the urgency of the
problem, and look for support for positive action to be
taken as soon as possible. Funding from the State
government may be needed to subsidise woodheater
change-over programs. There is also a need for tighter
regulations on using wood heaters in built-up areas. If
you are brave, suggest that all wood heaters should be
registered with Councils and pay an annual "polluter
fee", used to fund education programs and other
measures to reduce pollution.
- To demonstrate what can be achieved by more efficient
house design, the Council/University should set up a
project to renovate an older style house in town,
uninsulated and dependent on a woodheater. The project
could monitor temperature and energy usage in the house
before and after renovation with wall, floor and roof
insulation, installation of solar water heating, improved
glazing and window furnishing, and replacement of the
woodheater by gas or electricty. Funding for the project
could be obtained from many organisations promoting
energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.
Correct operation of wood heaters
According to Environment Australia, testing has
shown that the same heater with the same firewood will produce up
to four times as much smoke if operated poorly, compared to good
The photo shows a typical amount of smoke emitted for many
hours every night by a heater satisfying the latest Australian
Standard - AS4013 - when turned down for the night. A single
incorrectly operated AS4013 wood heater can produce as much
particulate pollution as heating the entire town of Armidale with
- Most important of all, always run the heater on high (all
air controls fully open) for at least 20 minutes after
re-loading. The longer a high or medium fire is
maintained before moving to a slow burn, the less smoke
- Check your chimney!!! If your heater is producing visible
smoke more than 15-20 minutes after lighting, or a few
minutes after re-loading, you are doing something wrong.
Learn how far the air control can be turned down without
producing visible smoke, and never turn down below this!
- Do not over-fill the heater. There must be space over the
top of the fuel to allow flames to develop and burn off
the gases released.
- Do not use wood which is too long. There must be enough
space for the air to move down the glass and into the
base of the fire. This means at least 5 to 10 cm between
the front of the logs and the door. Also place logs in
the firebox so that there is at least 2 cm between each
- Always buy seasoned wood and store it in a covered,
- If your heater has a "chinaman's cap", consider
replacing it with a concentric rain excluder.
For more info, check out Dept
Env Protection, Perth (The whole document is interesting, or
if in a hurry use your browser's FIND command to locate
The local council and EPA should also have information
leaflets, and be able to offer advice.
info on woodsmoke by Environment Australia
on woodsmoke/heater operation by Environment Australia (use
FIND to locate the section on Operating a Woodheater)
How are other communities managing
the problem of woodsmoke pollution?
Links to Further Information