17 October 2022

Woodfire heaters on the chopping block

| Lottie Twyford
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The future of woodfire heaters is still up for discussion. Photo: Ergyn Meshekran.

More than half of Canberrans support a phase-out of woodfire heaters, while only 27 per cent of the almost 2000 respondents to a recent government survey oppose a ban.

Unsurprisingly, the 11 per cent of people who owned a woodfire heater were more likely to oppose a ban (59 per cent). Of all respondents, 19 per cent were neutral on the issue.

People with woodfire heaters were more likely to live south of the lake and be elderly.

Three in 10 respondents noted being frequently impacted by smoke from a neighbour’s wood heater. This was most likely to affect people living in Tuggeranong.

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Tuggeranong residents were also significantly more likely to rate air quality in their suburb as fair or poor.

Almost 40 per cent of owners said they were planning to or considering replacing or removing their wood heater from their home for environmental or financial reasons.

However, 57 per cent said they would never consider removing their wood heater because of their unique warmth, ambience and because they are cheaper to run.

Only one-third of respondents said a rebate scheme would incentivise them to replace or remove their wood heater.

Around 14 per cent of Canberrans use a woodfire heater as their main source of heating.

Rebecca Vassarotti.

Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the government wanted to hear the community’s views about woodfire heaters. Photo: Region.

That survey received the fourth-largest response to a non-COVID-19 survey ever, something Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said was proof people cared “deeply” about woodfire heaters.

The ACT Government doesn’t have an official position on banning woodfire heaters yet, although it has already moved to prohibit them in some new development areas.

But Ms Vassarotti said the government wanted to hear from the community for their perspectives before adopting a policy position.

“As the ACT Government begins its journey of electrifying the city and transitioning away from the use of fossil-fuel gas by 2045, and research on the potential impacts of wood fire heating on health evolves, we will continue to implement our Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy,” she said.

“Part of this is working with the community to determine the long-term future for this heating source, acknowledging that there are already legitimate concerns around the impact wood heater smoke has on people’s health.”

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The ACT Government has a Wood Heater Replacement Program which offers rebates up to $1250 for the removal and disposal of wood-burning heaters or replacement with an efficient electric system.

Some reports have emerged of the demand for woodfire heaters steadily increasing in recent years. In response to a question in the ACT Legislative Assembly last year, Ms Vassarotti said the good news was that new woodfire heaters had a much-reduced impact on the planet.

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Earlier this year, the ACT Government agreed to trial a program to assist low-income households in replacing their woodfire heaters with an energy-efficient reverse-cycle split system instead.

The government’s Bushfire Smoke and Air Quality Strategy 2021-2025 highlighted the importance of people using their wood heaters correctly to reduce any negative health impacts.

Poor air quality related to woodfire heater use has been shown to have the most adverse impact in the Tuggeranong Valley due to the region’s unique topography.

The Commissioner of Sustainability and the Environment is also investigating the use of woodfire heaters in the Territory.

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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.

Paul Webster8:21 pm 29 Mar 23

Let me put things into perspective here with one question. Who is the biggest stakeholder in electric energy in the A.C.T.?

The evidence base on the toxic effects of wood smoke is now clear. Firefighting is also now recognised as a carcinogenic risk. Why destroy Canberra’s clean air quality with wood smoke? Dr James Markos, a respiratory physician from Tas, outlines the cocktail of carcinogens and particulates such as PM2.5, in a document from the Australian Lung Foundation.

A whole $1250? That might almost cover the cost of a new heater, but not the cost of the overpriced tradie to install it. Another Greens policy that will hit low-income Canberrans harder than their Lyneham-based colleagues. Those who have money can easily upgrade to more efficient heating, install solar, get an electric car. Everyone else is left to cover the costs and remain poor.

keithjanderson5:09 pm 20 Oct 22

I am very interested in getting a wood pellet heater. They have replaced wood heaters in Europe because of the very low emissions.

Great idea. Unfortunately the emissions won’t be low enough for Barr, Rattenbury, Vassarotti, Bowen, Jack D or Phydeaux.

I’m crossing my fingers for you though 🤞

So I’ll ask you the same thing as I asked CaresAboutHealth – how do poor people keep warm?

What makes you think woodfire heating is cheaper or more affordable than the alternatives?

Everything from gas, electricity, food, petrol, etc, has gone up so much in the last year or so. Collecting wood for free, or getting a permit to collect wood, is presently cheaper than gas or electricity.

Gary Stuart,
So they are cheaper if you can get “free” fuel.

Perhaps have a think about that and why it isn’t a valid comparison.

Particularly not if you are trying to apply it to how “poor” people can stay warm and how preventing the worst of the air pollution from wood heaters requires specific types of fuel and preparation of that fuel prior to burning.

“So they are cheaper if you can get “free” fuel.”

Yep, it is. I also mentioned getting a permit (which is also a cheaper alternative to gas and electricity).

To be honest Chewy14, I don’t give a rats about the pollution argument. All Australians should be able to live comfortably, including staying warm.

I’m lucky enough to be able to live very comfortably, leaving my gas heater roaring 24 hours a day during winter whilst still being able to eat and pay bills. Others, unfortunately, aren’t so lucky.

The alternative to gas and electricity heating is wood fire heating. What alternatives do you suggest?

Oh it’s Gary Stuart again! What’s the bet Gary is a climate change sceptic. So Gary tell me, how do you define “poor”. Should these “poor” people be allowed to go out and chop down trees and destroy the environment and animal habitat in the process just so they can keep warm? Let’s make it a free for all. What about all of those “rich” people trying to make a quick buck cutting down trees so that they can sell wood to the poor. Not to mention all of that environmental pollution from wood heating!

“Oh it’s Gary Stuart again! What’s the bet Gary is a climate change sceptic.”

I’m not a climate change sceptic but I am a MAN MADE climate change sceptic. Climate has, and always will, change. Been happening for 14 billion years.

“Should these “poor” people be allowed to go out and chop down trees and destroy the environment and animal habitat in the process just so they can keep warm?”

Why have you put poor in inverted commas? Don’t you think they exist? And I never said “go out and chop down trees”. I said collect wood.

“What about all of those “rich” people trying to make a quick buck cutting down trees so that they can sell wood to the poor.”

Give us an example of “all those “rich” people trying to make a quick buck cutting down trees…”?

And talking of environmental pollution – do you drive a car (ICE or electric)? Use electricity? Use a computer or mobile device? If you answered yes to any of those questions then you are a hypocrite.

OK it seemingly needs to be spelt out for you.

The types and amounts of wood that would be required to keep “poor” people warm is far in excess of what is available for what you are calling “free” (it isn’t really free).

What you’re really advocating is for people to create even greater pollution and destroy the local environment by sourcing unsuitable wood for burning from areas that are not renewably managed.

Just because a tiny amount of people can currently source some low cost fuel, doesn’t mean that it is a cheaper solution at the scales required.

You can’t just externalise all the costs of your solution and then claim its cheaper.

Ha Ha you are so funny Gary Stuart! Gary tells us that he is not a climate change sceptic but a MAN MADE climate change sceptic, whatever that means. He then boasts that he leaves his gas heater “roaring 24 hours a day in winter” because he doesn’t “give a rats about the pollution argument”. Onya Gary!

“Ha Ha you are so funny Gary Stuart! Gary tells us that he is not a climate change sceptic but a MAN MADE climate change sceptic, whatever that means.”

Whatever that means? I literally said this: “Climate has, and always will, change. Been happening for 14 billion years.” So, in a nutshell, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as man made climate change.

“He then boasts that he leaves his gas heater “roaring 24 hours a day in winter” because he doesn’t “give a rats about the pollution argument”.”

And you’ve mashed two completely different comments of mine to try and make a point. I wasn’t boasting. I grew up in a freezing cold government house in Belco during the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. Mainly because my parents couldn’t afford to keep us warm and feed us – so they made the choice to feed us.

OK it seemingly needs to be spelt out for you.”

From your condescending tone I suggest you’re suffering from a lack of oxygen from sitting on your high horse. I only asked you for your suggestions to cheap alternatives to gas and electricity.

Sorry – accidentally sent an incomplete reply.

Following on from the above I decided that I would not let my children freeze during Canberra’s cold winters.

My comment about not giving a rats about pollution was in regards to Australia being a country where everyone deserves to be comfortable – whether that comfort be financial or physical (warm in winter, cool in summer).

By being aggressive towards me and my comments you have only shown that you and your kind (far left green tossers) prefer to throw insults and lies than actually having a conversation and listening to truth.

The story, if you remember, is about how more than half Canberrans want wood fire heaters phased out when, actually, less than 2,000 people were polled. Again, you and your kind would prefer that lies dictated the conversation.

The reason for the condescending tone is because there are gas and electric heating options that are cheaper than woodheaters already.

So your attempted loaded question is moot, it’s a false dichotomy

If you actually cared about keeping “poor” people warm in the most affordable way, woodheaters are not the answer.

Personally I don’t want them banned but I do think they have limited use as a heating source when there are better options available, noting that people also often value the aesthetics of a woodheater over their functionality.

As for your critique of the poll, why do you believe 2000 people isn’t enough?

If they’ve polled a representative sample of the population, it’s easily big enough for a very high level of confidence and low margin for error. I haven’t looked at the survey design but straight numbers wouldn’t be a problem.

A comment on the survey of about 2000 people.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with a properly constructed sample survey. It will give a good guide with a known confidence band, is used all of the time by political pollsters and by the ABS for many of its surveys (rather than censuses).

This was a ‘Yoursay Community Panel’ survey. It means the responders were self-selecting among those who already are interested in handing out opinions to the government by this channel. One cannot claim it is unbiassed though nor can you say what would be a specific bias existing, if any.

To those who say “only 2000 people”, if there were a population survey and the outcome were to eliminate wood heaters, you would have no further disagreement? If you would still disagree then the “only 2000” point is pretty irrelevant; a majority of 2000 may vote to keep wood heaters yet still be wrong. Focus on health issues, just like we did with industrial pollution in the past. If they are problematic and we can act cost-effectively, then we should include them in our priorities.

The greens are communists who want everyone living in caves (small box apartments) with no heating and no light. At least the cavemen had fires (which provided both heating and light so the cavemen were very resourceful).
Neanderthal caveman was clearly smarter than an ACT greens voter.

CaresAboutHealth11:04 am 18 Oct 22

Irrespective of political persuasion, everyone wants good health for their families and their children.

Below is a link to a report from the Guardian about research showing:
“Toxic air pollution particles found in lungs and brains of unborn babies” that explains: “Dirty air was already known to strongly correlate with increased miscarriages, premature births, low birth weights and disturbed brain development. But the new study provides direct evidence of how that harm may be caused. The scientists said the pollution could cause lifelong health effects.”

Who are the real smart ones – those who want to avoid the major source of pollution in the ACT that causes these effects – or the “cavemen” who want the damaging pollution to continue?


What about backyard fire pits, pizza ovens or campfires when camping? Do you want them banned too?

Oh what a tired old comment jorie1!!! Your comment is the type I would see on the Young Liberals Facebook page. This is an article about environmental protection and the damage being done by wood fires. The Greens proposal aims to phase out wood fires as a process to protect the environment. Your comment seems to suggest you don’t agree with environmental protection. However, instead of contributing to the debate in a meaningful way you come up with a tired old argument trying to link the Greens to communists! I mean how long do we have to listen to these tired comments linking Greens to communism? No matter what you think of the Greens they received overwhelming support at the last ACT election with environmental protection at the top of their agenda!

CaresAboutHealth7:24 am 18 Oct 22

The problem is that current wood heater standards are insufficient to protect public health. PM2.5 is the most hazardous air pollutant, responsible for the premature deaths of over 2,600 Australians every year. There is no safe level of PM2.5 pollution.

In Australia, wood heaters are used by only a small proportion of households, but they are the largest source of PM2.5 that ends up in our lungs, not only in the ACT but also in Melbourne and Sydney.

Until there is a standard sufficient to protect public health, wood heaters should not be installed, and the existing ones that don’t meet a health-based standard phased out.

For more information, see sites.google.com/view/healthy-air/no-safe-standard

Capital Retro8:41 am 18 Oct 22

Indeed, the main pollutants of health concern in Canberra are particulate matter: fine particles of up to 2.5 microns in diameter (abbreviated to PM2.5), or 10 microns in diameter (PM10). These tiny particles are present in smoke generated most commonly by wood heaters, bushfires, vehicle emission exhausts, and dust storms.

Canberra has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world.

Next time, tell the full story.

So how do suggest poor people keep warm?

Pay the poor more money, Gary? Then perhaps they could afford to rent insulated properties. Oh, and extend property insulation requirements to new rentals.

insulation is the first important step to keeping warm economically, regardless of the heater used.

“Canberra has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world.”
Capital Retro, you cite this as a pollution problem. Good to see you on board with a shift to EVs and electricity not from burning fossils.

“Pay the poor more money, Gary?”

Is this a question or are you enlightening me with your bush economics?

Encouraging a little imagination, Gary.
Ground infertile.

CaresAboutHealth3:36 pm 18 Oct 22

The truth is that 1 wood stove emits more PM2.5 pollution in a single hour than driving a petrol car for an entire year. The 5% of households who use wood as main heating cause the majority of PM2.5 emissions in the ACT.

More info: woodsmoke.3sc.net/woodheater-car-comparison

Mr Phydeaux – My imagination disappeared around the same time as my hair and patience. So, yes, ground infertile.

Capital Retro8:20 pm 18 Oct 22

People breathe too, so that’s a pollution problem. There are some pollution producing actions that the world can’t do without and I’ve cited two.

Forget about EVs, they are too expensive and with the Aussie Dollar heading south they will get more expensive. So will the electricity needed to charge them.

And if you are thinking about a new Tesla Powerwall battery for your home think again because it now costs almost $20K to get one and have it installed.

CR wrote: “People breathe too, so that’s a pollution problem.”
So exterminate anything that breathes, is that your point?

Pretending that if a basic level of something exists then all forms and amounts should be ignored regardless of consequences is worse than lazy thinking, it is not thinking at all. Not surprising given you go on to advocate doing nothing to further known solutions to known problems. Your price argument has no future, though it tells me which chapter you have reached in the denialist playbook.

But you can’t attack the car! People are not at all logical regarding their cars. I’ve never seen so many cars with only 1 person in each and so many vehicles parked outside each house. Talk about wasteful, polluting and selfish!

In telling the whole story, let’s focus on diesel powered vehicles such as trucks which pump masses of particulates into our air. Then look at our petrol powered tools such as lawn mowers, blowers, hedgers, whipper snippers. Really, there’s so much we could do to reduce our emissions, if only we were prepared to be more community focussed.

They have no place in an urban environment. Three of our neighbours in the Belconnen area use them and they are offensive. People in units and apartments survive without them. And where does all this hardwood come from???

Capital Retro6:48 am 18 Oct 22

Hardwood for wood heaters comes from Australian native forests. It’s a renewable resource.

Where does the cobalt for EV batteries come from?

Renewable sounds great in theory!

Way to use a small statistical sampling pool. This article is biased and wouldn’t recommend reading this garbage. Pro wood!

Capital Retro6:24 pm 17 Oct 22

I’m glad this came up but as already pointed out by Gary Stuart it is kite flying given that a survey of 2,000 people can determine that half of Canberra support phasing out wood heaters.

How does Vassarotti explain that in the current EU context, biomass energy is a form of renewable energy. If the demand for renewable energy continues to grow, the use of wood fuel will rise as well. The Greens in Europe have really wedged themselves on this because they are now saying this may have an impact on our climate and forests.

Several people near me in Tuggeranong have recently installed wood heaters with the new high standards of operation. When they are using fully seasoned wood and are operating as they have been designed to one would not know they are there. It’s a lot different to the old “Turbo 10” days.

Many of our native eucalypt forests would not exist unless new growth is enabled by hot, naturally occurring bushfires so this makes burning our native timber renewable in the pure sense of the word.

I have a secondary burn woodstove. I only light it a few nights in winter as my house is energy efficient. It has been used purely for heating, never for the ‘pretty’ flame look. That’s a waste of wood. It’s free to run, as I have a free source of wood. Chopped down trees from people’s gardens; most of it hard wood. I age the wood before burning. My neighbour asked recently, had I lit the fire this winter. I told them I had the night before that. “I didn’t smell it”, they said.
I also put in a wood heater I can cook on, as an emergency backup if the power goes off. So far it hasn’t been used for this, although if the heater is going, I will cook on it too and heat water on it. But only if it’s already lit for heating. I have never lit it just for cooking.
If this goes, my electricity bill will cost this retiree more money.

Yet another problem made by the Greens. The Greens are advocating and switching to more expensive renewables. So we become more reliant on solar and wind for energy/electricity, moving away from historically cheaper coal produced electricity. Consequently electricity and gas bills are rising. So of course people, especially those on lower incomes like our elderly, will seek, or keep, less expensive to run woodfire heaters for home heating. Can you blame them? Yes, having at one time lived in Tuggeranong I remember waking to unpleasant winter smoke. But the answer is not another Greens moral ban, imposed by the wealthy and privileged to penalise those who can least afford expensive heating. Rather, bring the costs of electricity down for all and/or encourage use of dry, well-seasoned and untreated wood which produces less smoke. Some types of wood burn with less smoke.

I’m in favour of phasing them out. I love wood fires, grew up with them, and relied on them for heating, cooking and hot water as a child, but that was on a farm in the country on a plateau. Canberra is closing in on half a million people, largely in valleys. Not a good place to be producing lung damaging wood smoke.

I’m against them being fazed out. I’m in a fortunate position where the recent 35% increase in electricity and gas has had minimal effect on me. However, many people aren’t as fortunate.

I feel that these people, in fact all people, should have the option to have cheaper heating opportunities such as wood fires to keep them comfortable during the bitter Canberra winters.

Do suppose you happen to driveva fossil fueled car, do you?

So Gary when the price of wood goes up due to demand, noting that not everyone will be able to go scavenge for “free” wood like you. Would you also support the poor people burning what ever they can find, like old tyres like they burn in Mongolia to keep themselves warm?

Or would you think that’s the time to look for a solution that works.

“More than half of Canberrans support a phase-out of woodfire heaters…”

Really? Only 2,000 respondents (I rounded up) of a possible population of around 455,000 (ABS). Why is this even news?

How were the respondents selected? We’re they polled at an asthma convention?

Never had had a wood fire, didn’t realise they were cheaper to run.

Most of the problems with wood stoves is not that people use them, but people use them poorly.
The wood is poorly seasoned or whatever they want to burn they do. A well kept fire has very little in the way of visible smoke that is common around town.

I also take issue that Vassarotti says they don’t have a policy decision when clearly they do and offering money for removal. Otherwise why are we spending money with a policy decision, thats absurd. This is merely optics and blaming the community for something they already decided. The government of no accountability.

Are they planning on taking public opinion on other areas like criminal sentencing/bail?

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