Solid Fuel Heaters and Wood smoke

Tips and Safety for operating a Wood fire

Installing or Replacing a New Solid Fuel Heater

A s68 application is required to be submitted to Council for the installation or replacement of any Solid Fuel Heater device. This process ensures that heaters installed are certified under the most recent emission performance criteria and are installed in such a manner to minimise smoke nuisance to surrounding neighbours. Please see a copy of the S68 application form. (PDF 236.5KB)

Discussion paper - Reference to high child mortality rate in Armidale by Professor Geetha Ranmuthugala (PDF 220KB)
NOTE: The discussion paper by Professor Geetha Ranmuthugala is an opinion piece and does not represent the views of Armidale Regional Council.

Is wood smoke really dangerous?

A solid body of scientific evidence has confirmed that wood smoke is bad for our health. Smoke from wood heaters has a lot in common with tobacco smoke. Both are organic fuels and when they burn they give off very similar compounds. Particulate matter, especially those particles known as PM2.5, are the most worrying. Children and the elderly are most at risk from PM2.5. These particles lodge in the lungs and can trigger or worsen respiratory illnesses like asthma, pneumonia and middle ear infections. Because they can also enter the bloodstream, PM2.5 particles can raise blood pressure and cause inflammation, increasing overall risks of cardiovascular disease.

It’s important we share the truth about wood smoke. The more aware people are of the dangers, the more likely they are to act.

We’re too small to be the Big Smoke

Unfortunately, Armidale’s air quality is affected by our climate and location. Because of the cold winters, thousands of homes burn wood for heating. And because of the valley that we live in, combined with low winds, wood smoke gets trapped over the town.The good news is that we can fix the problem – if we all work together. When operated properly, the vast majority of wood heaters will burn without smoking excessively. Laboratory tests by experts have shown that operating a wood stove properly, burning a hot fire with dry wood, can reduce smoke levels by up to 90%.

What’s being done to fix the problem?

A lot. With help from NSW EPA, Armidale Regional Council conducts smoke patrols on a regular basis. We’re serious about improving Armidale’s air quality and we believe that with hard work and your help we really can make a difference. 

Council has prepared a helpful video to give residents some instructions and tips to reducing wood smoke.

Moisture meters are available to borrow for free at the Armidale Library to test how dry your firewood is.

Simple steps to reduce woodsmoke pollution:

  • Don’t let your heater smoulder overnight – keep enough air in the fire to maintain a flame
  • Burn only dry, aged hardwood in your wood heater. Unseasoned wood has lots of moisture, which causes a fire to smoke
  • Store your wood under cover in a dry, ventilated area. Freshly cut wood needs to be stored for at least eight to twelve months
  • Never burn rubbish, driftwood or painted or treated wood. These are sure to pollute the air and can produce poisonous gases
  • When lighting a cold heater, use plenty of dry kindling to establish a good fire quickly
  • Use several small logs rather than one large log and stack them loosely in your heater, so air can circulate around them. Don’t cram the firebox full
  • Keep the flame lively and bright. Your fire should only smoke when you first light it and when you add extra fuel. Open the air controls fully for 5 minutes before and 15 to 20 minutes after reloading the heater
  • Check your chimney regularly to see how well your fire is burning. If there is smoke coming from the chimney, increase the air supply to your fire
  • Have the chimney cleaned every year to prevent build-up

Council Policy for Sustainable Domestic Energy Use and Local Air Quality (incorporating Policy for Solid Fuel Heaters) (PDF 1.2MB)

Want to check the air quality of Armidale yourself?

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has installed a dedicated air quality sensor with hourly data available on their website and Council has installed a network of Purple Air sensors across the city which also delivers real-time data.

Application to install a solid fuel heater (PDF 236.8KB)

Simple steps to protect your health

Simple steps to protect your health from air pollution and woodsmoke pollution

Avoid exercising when pollution levels are higher. If you experience symptoms, or tend to be susceptible to air pollution consider the following:

  • Substitute your exercise with a less intense activity (e.g. walk instead of jog)
  • Reduce the time you are exercising outdoors
  • See your doctor if symptoms are severe or do not settle after reducing exposure

Reduce your air pollution inside your home

  • Don’t smoke indoors
  • Regularly ventilate your home to remove indoor pollutants and build up of moisture. Turn on exhaust fans, particularly when bathing, showering, cooking, doing laundry and drying clothes.
  • Don’t use wood-fired stoves and wood-burning heaters (fire places) in your home if possible. If you do use a wood-burning heater, follow the recommendations on our factsheet on wood-burning heaters to minimise air pollution
  • Don’t use unflued gas heaters if possible. If you do use an unflued gas heater, follow the recommendations on our factsheet on unflued gas heaters
  • Install a kitchen exhaust fan above your gas cook top if possible
  • Consider limiting burning candles and incense

If you suffer from asthma, other respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis (also called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD), or cardiovascular disease, make sure you have your reliever medicine handy.


Sustainable quality firewood suppliers

The graph below indicates the cool weather change and the levels of air pollution caused by particulate matter trapped in the valley over the past fortnight. The peaks in the graph are generally in mid-to-late evenings, a time when many stoke the fire and turn it down for the night. To help prevent this build-up of pollution, keep enough air in the fire to maintain a flame, or let it go out overnight.
Air quality graph