23 March 2023

Ban all new wood heater installations and replace the rest to improve Canberra air quality: report

| Claire Fenwicke
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wood heater smoke above Tuggeranong

A report has recommended banning wood heaters in the ACT to protect people and the environment. Photo: Clean Air Canberra.

An independent report into the ACT’s wood heater policy has recommended the removal of old heaters and banning the installation of new ones.

Sustainability and Environments Commissioner Sophie Lewis said her recommendations reflected an “urgent need” to build on the Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy to protect Canberrans from poor air quality caused by wood heater smoke.

“While some estimates suggest that less than 5 per cent of Canberra households rely on wood as their primary source of heating, wood heaters account for a large fraction of Canberra’s fine particle air pollution in winter months,” she wrote in the report’s foreword.

Commissioner Lewis noted wood heater smoke was associated with adverse respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes, with Canberrans largely unable to protect themselves from the impacts.

A 2019 report also highlighted the environmental burden of wood heater smoke wasn’t geographically evenly distributed, with pollution far greater in the Tuggeranong Valley.

“This situation is particularly concerning given current understandings that there is no safe concentration of particles for sensitive people,” Commissioner Lewis said.

While Canberra does have a Wood Heater Replacement Program, only 36 were removed in 2021-21.

“Of greater concern, it remains legal to install and operate a new wood heater in a home in suburban Canberra,” Commissioner Lewis noted.

“For wood heater smoke, there has been little demonstrable reduction in pollution and associated impacts over time.”

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It’s estimated about 11 per cent of Canberrans have a wood heater in their home, but there’s no register to accurately confirm this.

Policy issues identified include inadequate emissions and efficiency standards, difficulty enforcing these standards, failure of education campaigns to improve air quality to safe levels in winter and ineffective wood heater replacement programs.

“While the ACT Government is committed to strengthening wood heater emissions standards and phasing out older wood heaters that do not meet standards, this investigation demonstrates that current policies, plans and strategies for managing wood heaters in the ACT are insufficient to protect human health and the environment of the Territory from issues arising from wood heaters,” the report stated.

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Commissioner Lewis recommended the government create targets to phase out wood heaters in all ACT suburbs and replace them with electric alternatives (except in rural areas), as has been done for fossil-fuel gas.

Other recommendations include:

  • banning the installation of new wood heaters in all ACT suburbs (excluding rural areas) for new and existing builds
  • establishing a register of wood heaters in the ACT to determine the number and their age
  • mandating the removal of wood heaters before a property can be sold
  • introducing mandatory labelling explaining the health risks associated with wood heater usage at point of sale for both wood heaters and firewood in the ACT
  • developing and applying empirical criteria for determining environmental harm or nuisance from wood heater smoke, such as an assessment of smoke composition and air quality monitoring at the affected sites, as part of EPA investigations
  • including explicit messaging about the health risks associated with wood heater usage in ACT Government education and communication activities, such as the Burn Right Tonight program.

Commissioner Lewis also wanted to see an increase in the number of Ambient Air Quality compliance monitoring stations in the ACT and an urgent assessment of air pollutant emissions to update the 1999 National Pollutant Inventory data.

The installation of wood heaters has already been restricted in some Canberra suburbs, including Dunlop, East O’Malley and the Molonglo Valley (excluding Wright), where planning studies showed they would have an adverse impact on air quality.

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When presenting this report to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (23 March), Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said while the government would formally respond to the recommendations later this year, it provided “compelling evidence” that the current approach to managing the air quality impacts from wood heaters was “insufficient” to protect human health and the environment.

“This report – on top of the numerous letters I receive regularly from impacted Canberrans – demonstrates that we do need to do more to ensure our policy and regulation of wood heaters properly address their negative impacts, and is contemporary with recommended human health standards for air quality,” she said.

“All Canberrans should be able to breathe freely, and we must ensure we protect the most vulnerable in our community.”

The Commissioner’s report will help inform the second action plan for 2023-2025 under the Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy, which is expected to be released later this year following public consultation.

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Westley Schneider10:40 pm 29 Aug 23

Perhaps governments should stay the hell out of people’s personal choices, unless it’s an actual crime – which burning wood definitely isn’t. Perhaps if you want to live in a place where the government dictates everything and people have no autonomy or choice you’d find China, Russia or Korea more to your liking. Communist Canberra is becoming more of a reality every day…Kim Jong Barr…a skid mark on the underpants of society!

Let’s be clear, burning wood isn’t safe no matter the wood just like standing next to a smoker which is why smoking is banned in most places. I’m breathing in smoke all year around believe it or not in which I can’t keep out of my own home coming from a Woodfire Heater.

I’ve contacted my local council who referred me to the EPA who are just as useless as the council. It seems to be not their problem but it will be I assure you

Firefighters are compensated for breathing in smoke when when putting out fires getting sick very sick , the only difference is I don’t put out fire but breathe the same smoke. My lungs state that I have smoked all my life but haven’t smoked a single cigarette in my life.

No compensation claim will pay for your health and quality of life.

If you dont like it then maybe move, you’ll find nowhere else in the country this is banned. Why should my freedom of enjoying
(warmth and cooking) one of life’s simple primal pleasures in a cold and mostly borning grind of a place in winter be taken away. Cars, planes and plenty of other things are worse, pollen poses more an issue to Asthma sufferers.

Bob the impala7:54 am 09 May 23

Dan White, do I really need to spell out how you have made a perfect argument to move yourself, and nobody else?

Who is accountable for each others health including your health while to keep warm and at the same time pollute the atmosphere and lungs , the Tax payer or the government. Firefights are suing for compensation for breathing in toxic smoke people aren’t fighting fire but breathing in toxic smoke, in fact can’t keep it out of my home. So far Council and EPA are not responsible. I have evidence that my lungs appear to be from a smoker where as I have never been a smoker. Class action is coming to the state and federal governments as they need to be accountable.

Westley Schneider10:52 pm 29 Aug 23

No he’s made an argument that socialist lunatics shouldn’t be making decisions and belong in North Korea. I will literally pay for the trip of anyone who wants government to make all their choices for them.

Instead of this constant meddling with our life choices supposedly to improve public health, how about the ACT government fix that death trap of a hospital!

cleanaircanberra7:20 pm 30 Apr 23

Perhaps the ACT Government would fix our hospital system if we were not paying for the additional health costs wood heaters impose on us every year. As Dr Lewis pointed out in her report, each wood heater in Canberra adds $3,800.00 to our annual health bill. That is from people who are being treated and hospitalised because of the wood heater pollution in their neighbourhoods. It is a cost you and I and every other taxpayer in the ACT are forking out every year. If we phase out wood heaters as Dr Lewis has suggested we would save ourselves alot of money which could be spent fixing our health system as you suggest.

Westley Schneider10:53 pm 29 Aug 23

Baseless nonsense

Will these bureaucratic microbes stop banning and taxing our behaviour. I have a wood heater which burns clean dry wood and I dont let it smoulder over night. It warms our house, dries the washing and makes the energy bills less crippling. Neighbours don’t even notice it. Keep your damn hands off it.

CaresAboutHealth10:45 am 30 Mar 23

If you took the time to read the report instead of aggressively calling people names, you’d understand that the plan is to require wood stoves to be removed when houses are sold. So unless the neighbours complain, you’ll be able to keep it as long as you live in the house and can afford to buy the firewood.

Efficient 6 kW split systems start from $2,500 and will save you a lot of money compared to the $400 you spend on firewood, so perhaps eventually you’ll be savvy enough to see the benefits of healthy, convenient, climate-friendly heating.

Capital Retro11:30 am 30 Mar 23

Have you any idea how much it costs to replace ducted gas heating with an electric split system? I was quoted between $15k and $20k for a small house.

And I would hate to pay for the removal of an existing wood heater and re your barb about the “cost of firewood” well, unless we burn it in efficient wood heaters it will be consumed in the next bushfire.

Anything “climate-friendly” has a premium cost attached to it.

CaresAboutHealth11:42 am 06 Apr 23

It’s silly to compare the cost of replacing ducted gas heating for a whole house with the cost of replacing a wood heater in the lounge room with a single split system to heat the same area, which would typically cost about $2,500 for a 6 KW heating system.

Also, if you google the ABC’s report “New research suggests controlled burns are doing more harm than good”, published 23 March 2023, you’ll find some very interesting information about how to reduce the risk of bushfires and the amount they contribute to global warming, so there’ll be no need to burn stuff in dirty, polluting wood heaters that damage the health of people living nearby.

cleanaircanberra6:57 pm 30 Apr 23

The ACT Government offers financial incentives to replace outdated and inneficient heating.

belcoanonomous10:23 pm 25 Mar 23

We have solar panels, reverse cycle, and a Woodheater in our suburban home. Our wood heater is not going anywhere. We burn only Seasoned wood and it’s extremely efficient. No heat warms your bones like a nice warm fire, and it almost makes Canberra’s winters enjoyable! The people who complain about wood heater smoke live near people who burn green timber and rubbish etc, hence the bellowing smoke! We live in the suburbs and get along well with all of our neighbours, not one of them can smell/notice when we have our fire going. With the rising cost of living it’s still much more efficient then using our Reverse cycle constantly, especially when the sun doesn’t get cranking.

cleanaircanberra7:00 pm 30 Apr 23

Wood heaters are responsible for 67% of Canberra’s fine particle air pollution. Quite simply, if you smell woodsmoke in your neighbourhood you have a health and pollution problem.

As electricity prices and cost of living increases, gas is phased out, leaving people struggling to heat their homes, I can only imagine that if a social media influencer said something akin to this, they’d be mercilessly and publicly shamed for being out of touch, and tone-deaf. Sure, asthma is serious, but so too is shivering in your own home (in fact cold air is more a trigger to my household member’s asthma than the wood fire).
“Let them eat cake!” (Marie Antionette)

cleanaircanberra7:04 pm 30 Apr 23

The ACT Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission reports the ACT is the only jurisdiction in the national electricity market where regulated tariffs are declining. So electricity prices in the ACT are going down and NOT up.

For the moment yes, they are not increasing as much as other jurisdictions, but there will be bill shock once the current arrangements (4 years in total, so we’re already a couple of years in) end …

What about jet fumes from Greens politicians departing Canberra like the start of a Le Mans race

Capital Retro11:31 am 30 Mar 23

Or to Antarctia via South America?

Why worry about the athsmatics and those with compromised respiratory systems really? They are only second class citizens as far as the “woodchuck” mob go. A background pm 2.5 level of around 20 cannot even be detected by the average nostril, so not sure why they are saying there is no safe level. Not as if we are discussing asbestos.

I occasionally light my wood heater in winter. My neighbour told me she can’t smell it. I have a double burner wood fire stove and dry my wood for two or more years before use. My wood is from a free source of chopped down garden trees; almost all hardwood, so not robbing the bushland. Otherwise this wood would go to the tip to rot down and produce methane. I now have added an old hardwood fence to the wood pile.
Having an energy efficient house, in ten years I think I have only needed to heat twice in the daytime, and maybe about ten evenings for a few hours in a winter.

We must ensure we protect the most vulnerable in our community.” to be able to heat themselves in freezing conditions. I’m all for clean air but I am also for affordable power prices. Global warming zealots want to control every area of our lives. We know what’s good for you. Get in line and shutup.

That sums up the left perfectly….

Anyone with a wood fire who does the right thing can thank the many who burn unsuitable wood and/or burn it incorrectly for these changes.

A way to send video evidence of excessive smoke into the government and have the government act on it with the immediate issue of a fine to the offender would have the issue sorted far quicker and cheaper.

Capital Retro6:25 pm 24 Mar 23

A comment about Dr Lewis’s CV on the agency’s website:

“Her experience will bring a strong focus on climate change…….”

Nothing to see here folks, go to your home and await instructions.

A good resource is a site called Purple Air https://map.purpleair.com/1/mAQI/a10/p604800/cC0#11/-33.8715/151.2006

You can find metres in your area which will tell you the pollution levels in real time. Winter in canberra can be an eye opener.

Family Narel6:08 pm 24 Mar 23

If people had expensive new fire boxes from Europe then the issue would be lessened. In anycase this is getting expensive also and heat pumps need to be cheaper and better subsidised. This would solve the problem without punitive rules that aren’t really needed.

Capital Retro11:00 pm 24 Mar 23

Why should heat pumps be subsidized?

Thank you Dr Lewis. Wood fire heaters are terrible for health and the environment. They are one of the least efficient and most polluting ways to heat your home. Most of Canberra was horrified and ran out and bought masks when the bushfire impacted airquality, yet some people need to put up with thick smoke all winter from their neighbours wood heater. I ended up selling my home and moving to get away from my neighbours smoke.
The podcast linked in this article is well worth a listen interested.
And for those who go on about cost, yes it is important to look after those who need financial help to heat/cool their homes, and split systems (electric) are very efficient and cost effective. If people are buying properly dried out firewood and burning it quicky at high heat which you are meant to do to avoid pollution, electric split systems work out much, much cheaper. Subsidies or similar may be needed with power prices rising, but that shouldn’t stop getting rid of wood fire.

That podcast is excellent. Points out that not only is wood smoke toxic outside the house, but also toxic inside the house – dust particles getting into lungs etc. Just as we are now hearing about gas being toxic for those who have it in their homes due to leakage even when not in use.

Key is getting solar onto roof tops – particularly through low cost schemes and especially onto government housing. That way electricity costs are subsidised…by the sun.

Yeah I don’t doubt maybe you are sensitive to smoke, but unless you have some actual measurement , “heavy smoke” is very subjective.

To be fair, people shouldn’t use unseasoned wood as it’s too wet and it does generate smoke, a hot fire will run with very little smoke.

I have no doubt the green push to push electricity on everyone is to force people into a dead end of complete control over all people. By removing choices ( gas, wood) it allows the left wing control freaks to have their way with the population…..

As an Engineer, I realise gas heating is more efficient than electricity, and that EVs are idealogy and not sound in terms of transport. Internal combustion is very efficient and allows freedom of movement. EVs need massive power grid upgrades to be charged and limit people’s movement as they need stupidly long charge times and are limited in their use. Electric trucks are a joke in that you need massive batteries and I have no idea how you would charge them in the back of beyond moving cattle and supplies to outback families.

The wood smoke thing is just an attack on choice, pure and simple. The lefties can’t handle that people have options that they can’t control, so the usual approach is demonize perfectly good heating options.

I don’t want an electric split system, I burn my wood dry and hot so leave me alone.

And sorry, it’s not cheaper. I spend $400 a year on wood, a split system would be $15k

So those people who rely on wood heaters as a more affordable heating source than electric or gas (which is also being phased out) will need to…..what…..huddle up?

Pretty much….

I came to the conclusion the Left basically hate any form of choice or freedom, so by shutting off heating choices under the Big Lie of climate change, they can force people to be controlled.

This I suspect is also why gas installations are being banned – it’s removal of choice, it’s absolutely nothing to do with anything eco.

It appears they hate us, that’s why we’re being herded like sheep up the ramp….

cleanaircanberra7:15 pm 30 Apr 23

Wood heating is NOT a cheap source of heating. The ACT has the cheapest electricity costs and there are many cheaper forms of electric heating. As Dr Lewis pointed out each wood heater adds $3,800.00 to our annual health bill. That is a cost you and I and every other taxpayer in the ACT is forking out every year.

Ban bushfires too?

Ban the Greens and Labour

Capital Retro6:40 pm 23 Mar 23

Why pick only wood heaters?

What about the dust and bioaerosols coming from the building recycling dust and large scale open air composting at MLRMC?

And there is nothing anyone can do about bushfire smoke.

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