Wood Burning Fires In Lane Cove

On Sunday night, I kept asking Mr ITC if he could smell smoke and to check to see the house was not burning down (when you live in an unrenovated Californian Bungalow who knows what the electrics are like!!).   ITC started texting neighbours in my street, and they all agreed they could smell smoke, and assumed it was the next-door neighbour’s fireplace.  Was it only our street?  Not long after first smelling smoke, a post popped up on ITC Lane Cove Chat asking if anyone in Riverview could smell smoke?  The answer was yes and in other parts of Lane Cove as well.   It could have been wood-burning fires or numerous people enjoying sitting around fire pits.

The ITC household has two fireplaces, and we have never fired them up.  Lane Cove has some beautiful federation homes and California bungalows that have fireplaces. A warm fire is cosy and charming.

Smoke Pollution

According to the NSW EPA site, a wood heater can cause issues with neighbours.  The EPA website states:

“EPA community research has consistently found air quality is the second most important environmental issue to NSW residents, following water issues.

Wood smoke pollution from neighbouring chimneys is the source of many complaints to local councils throughout NSW.”

Do Wood Heaters Create Health Issues?

Recently The Conversation reported the Victorian Branch of the Australian Medical Association has endorsed a local buy back or subsidy scheme to encourage wood fire heater users to switch to a more environmentally friendly heating source.

The article states:

“Based on NSW guidelines, burning 10 kilograms of wood (an average day) in a modern, low-emitting wood heater can produce around 15 grams of “particulate matter”.

This is composed of tiny particles which can penetrate the respiratory system, potentially causing lung and heart diseases. It is one of the most dangerous components of smoke, and a carrier for many of its cancer-causing chemicals.

By contrast, a truck travelling on congested urban roads can produce just 0.03 grams of particulate matter per kilometre travelled. A truck would, therefore, have to travel 500km in heavy traffic – roughly the distance from Melbourne to Mildura – to produce the same particulate matter emissions as one average day of using a wood heater.

So a wood-fired heater is like having a truck idling in your living room all day (albeit with the bulk of the emissions escaping via the chimney).”

Are Wood Heaters Permitted in Lane Cove?

Lane Cove Council’s Development Control Plan requires wood heaters in new houses to be noted on the DA.  If you are renovating and will be installing a wood fire heater, you also need to note this on your DA.

A Lane Cove Council spokeswoman told ITC the following:

“Council’s position is not to abolish the use of domestic solid fuel heaters within the local government area. However, Council will continue to encourage the community to consider improved residential insulation and alternative approaches to home heating and design which minimise the potential for pollution and encourage the use of renewable resources and more sustainable energy alternatives.

Anyone considering a wood heater would be encouraged to look at the gas option as they don’t require consent and don’t have the same flue restrictions.

We have not investigated any additional controls at this stage as we are finding that the number of applications for new heaters is minimal. The key criteria for a wood heater are that the flue needs to be 1 metre above the uppermost ridgeline of the dwelling and 1 metre above any dwelling within a 15-metre radius, as such this makes most proposals non-conforming. In the past 12 months, we’ve had one complaint about smoke from an existing heater which we were able to resolve by having the neighbour relocate their heater on their property as although it conformed; it was more pleasant for their immediate neighbour having its located away from their side of the boundary.

Wood heaters do produce smoke that may impact persons with respiratory illnesses, particularly asthma which is exasperated during temperature inversions that Sydney encounters during the colder months of the year.

If you are considering your heating options – such as installing a wood/reliable fuel heater, please call Council’s Environmental team on 9911 3555 before you purchase or install the heater to discuss your proposal.”

Make Sure Your Wood Heater is Working Correctly

The most important thing is to make sure your wood heater is working correctly. The EPA list of Do’s and Don’t’s for a wood-burning heater are listed below:

 Do  Don’t
Check your heater complies with the Australian Standard for pollution emissions (AS 4013:1999) Don’t use old inefficient heaters that don’t comply with pollution standards.
Don’t use open fires.
Burn only, dry seasoned hardwood Don’t burn coal, coke or moist wood.
Check your wood is dry by tapping it with a coin. You should hear a loud, hollow sound. Don’t burn rubbish or painted or treated wood.
Use a number of small logs in your heater Don’t burn just one log
Store freshly cut wood for eight to twelve months before use Don’t use greenwood
Store wood undercover in a dry ventilated area Don’t store your wood where it is exposed to water or moisture.
Be aware of the source of your wood. Don’t harvest wood in a way that threatens vegetation and animal habitats.
Ask your wood seller to verify whether wood for immediate use is aged and dry.
Stack wood loosely in your firebox, so plenty of air circulates around it. Don’t pack wood too tightly in the firebox.
Keep the flame lively and bright. Don’t let your fire smoulder.
Open the air controls fully for 5 minutes before and 15 to 20 minutes after loading the heater. Don’t keep the vent closed when you add fuel.
Keep enough air in the fire to maintain a flame or let it go out overnight. Don’t dampen down your fire or let it smoulder overnight.
Rely on your home’s insulation to hold in enough heat for the night Don’t allow creosote to build up in the flue, increasing the risk of a chimney fire.
Check your chimney regularly to see how well your fire is burning.  If it is smoky, increase the air supply.
Clean the wood heater flue and baffle regularly


The old adage of where there is smoke, there is fire is valid with the wood heater.

Image Source: Lane Cove Council

The first two pictures on the right are examples of excessive smoke and are deemed unacceptable. The last picture shows an acceptable level of smoke.

In a nutshell, wood heaters are permitted. However, they must be used correctly. If you use your wood heater correctly, it will save you money, and your neighbours won’t get upset.

Several tools are available to help you use your wood heater correctly, minimise harmful wood smoke pollution and save money. The  Australian Home Heating Association (AHHA) have some useful tips on their website here.

One of ITC’s sponsors Xchange Air can also assist you with getting the most benefit out of a log burning fire.

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