Solid fuel heaters and wood smoke

A solid body of scientific evidence has confirmed that wood smoke can have adverse effects on our health.It’s important to share the truth about wood smoke, the more aware people are of the dangers, the more likely they are to take action to prevent harms to themselves and others.

Is wood smoke dangerous?

Like tobacco, wood is an organic fuel that emits harmful compounds when burnt.

PM2.5– solid particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter – have harmful effects, especially for pregnant women, children and the elderly. The particles are so small they behave like gases and are breathed deeply into the lungs, where they can trigger or worsen respiratory illnesses such as asthma, pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. Health experts say there is no safe level of PM2.5pollution.

Like gases, PM2.5 enter our homes even when all doors and windows are closed. In old weatherboard homes, on still nights, PM2.5 pollution from wood smoke often reaches the same high level as outdoors. PM2.5 are linked to raised blood pressure, inflammation and can enter the bloodstream to be transported to every organ in the bodyincluding the brain

NSW Health says “long-term exposure to particulate matter decreases lung function and increases the risk of developing heart and lung diseases like angina and chronic bronchitis (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).NSW EPA says: “If you can see or smell smoke from your wood heater then you are causing a problem for yourself, your family and your neighbours.” Their wood smoke awareness video emphasises that “wood smoke isn’t good smoke”. 

What can you do?

Visit the NSW Health website. Their advice includes: “Don't use a wood-burning heater in your home” and Consider installing a less polluting form of heating”. One of the best option for heating is a modern, efficient reverse cycle system.



Are you are affected by other people’s wood smoke?

Don’t suffer in silence. Ask council for help by reporting problems online, or by phoning counci on

As noted above, NSW EPA says: “If you can see or smell smoke from your wood heater then you are causing a problem for yourself, your family and your neighbours.

Wood smoke pollution inside older-style houses is often as high as outside. If the air inside your home is affected by other people’s wood smoke, consider a HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Air) filter.

Cost effective things to do to reduce energy bills

1. Keep the heat you're paying for inside your home

Draught-proofing is one of the cheapest ways to keep your home warm and can save you up to 25% on your heating bills.

To prevent heat loss, seal off gaps like those around windows and doors, and at flooring-to-wall junctions.

Install weather seals around doors and install draught stoppers on exhaust fans. Internal doors can also benefit from weather seals when closing off rooms you're not heating, such as laundries and bathrooms.

Read more about ventilation and airtightness on Your Home and ask about home energy assessments.

2. If you have a thermostat set it to a comfortable temperature

A programmable thermostat can save you money. Keep the internal temperature of your heating set to between 18°C and 20°C.

Every degree you increase your heating can add up to 10% on energy use.

Set your thermostat to warm your house for times you need it. Turn it off overnight and when you’re away from home.

3. Reverse cycle is still cheaper than buying firewood

Reverse cycle air conditioners use heat pump technology to deliver 4 or 5 times as much heat to your home as they use in electric power, so, despite the recent price rises, they are often “far cheaper, cleaner, healthier, and safer than burning gas, LPG, or wood” even in colder climates such as Armidale.

4. Windows of opportunity

Up to 40% of a home’s heating energy can be lost through the windows.

Investing in quality curtains and blinds can make a surprising difference to your home’s warmth. Look for fabrics that insulate well, or curtains with thermal lining.

Fitted pelmets (curtain boxes) above curtains also reduce heat loss. A low-cost option could be to fit a strip of light timber across your curtain rail. Alternatively, you could hang curtains from the ceiling to the floor.

Thermal film or secondary glass panels added to existing window fittings are a cheaper alternative to double-glazing.

Read more about windows and glazing on Your Home.

5. Insulate your roof

Save 45% or more on your heating costs by installing roof and ceiling insulation.

Stop heat escaping from your home by installing or topping up insulation. Ceiling insulation can reduce your home’s winter heat loss by 25 to 35%.

Talk to an expert to find out what's best for your home and its climate. It's important to safely install insulation that meets Australian standards.

Read more about insulation on Your Home.

Steps to help reduce air pollution

If you must use a wood-burning heater, follow these steps to help reduce air pollution:

  • Don’t forget that wood stoves can increase indoor as well as outdoor pollution
  • Laboratory tests show that operating a wood stove properly, burning a hot fire with dry wood, reduces smoke levels
  • 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
  • Click here for more information about what wood you should be burning in your wood heater.
  • 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