Reducing Wood Smoke During Winter

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To both stay warm and breathe easy during the cooler weather it's important to use your wood heater as efficiently as possible.

Wood smoke contains a number of noxious gases (including carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and a range of organic compounds, some of which are toxic or carcinogenic) and fine particles, which go deep into the lungs.

If you can see or smell smoke from your wood heater then you are causing a problem for yourself, your family, your neighbours, and our natural environment. Air pollution from your wood heater can affect other members of your household and community, especially young children and people with breathing issues. 

Not only is a smoking fire wasting your money, but the air pollution it causes can also affect our health. That's why we need to change the way we use our heaters to ensure responsible wood heater use and heater maintenance to reduce wood smoke pollution and potential health impacts.

Contribution of wood smoke to air particle pollution

Wood smoke is a significant source of particle pollution, which can often be seen as a brown atmospheric haze on still, cool, winter mornings.

According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), domestic solid fuel combustion contributes 28 per cent and 47 per cent of annual PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution in the Sydney region, respectively. The contribution of wood smoke is highest in July, making up 57 per cent and 75 per cent of monthly PM10 and PM2.5 particle pollution, respectively.

In rural and regional areas of NSW where the climate is colder and wood heater ownership and usage is higher, the contribution of wood smoke to particle pollution would be higher than the GMR and Sydney region.

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Tips to help run your wood heater hotter and cleaner

  • Give your wood heater and flue an annual clean. A chimney sweep service can do this for you (reduces smoke and risk of chimney fires). Search chimney cleaners or chimney sweeps on the Internet. The Home Heating Association of Australia has a list of services by location.
  • Keep wood dry by storing it under cover in a shed, garage or even under a tarp at a pinch.
  • Get good dry hardwood from a reputable supplier to ensure it is good quality.  
  • Only burn unpainted, untreated hardwood in your heater.
  • Don’t burn rubbish as it could become toxic smoke.
  • Keep your fire burning bright – check out your chimney from time to time. If you see smoke coming from the chimney, open the flue up to allow more air into the firebox.
  • Avoid letting your wood heater smoulder – that creates more smoke going up the chimney. 


How to operate your wood heater effectively

  • Use plenty of kindling to get your fire started and heated up quickly with the air intake wide open for maximum air flow around the fire.
  • Add small pieces of wood then gradually build up to larger pieces as the fire becomes more established.
  • Keep enough air circulating to maintain a flame so don’t overload the firebox. Don’t let the fire reduce to a smoulder as this creates more smoke.
  • 5 minutes before putting more fuel on the fire open up the air intake, and then reload the fire and leave the air intake open for another 20 minutes.
  • Chimneys tend to smoke for up to 10 minutes when the fire is first lit, when done correctly and with the right sort of hardwood. If it smokes for longer after startup, or for more than a minute after reloading fuel, there is something wrong with your wood or the operating method and this needs to be corrected.
  • Keep your chimney clean. To reduce the build-up of soot and creosote, burn the fire fast for 1-2 hours every day the fire is lit.

For more information, see the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) guide, Check you're using your heater correctly.

Taking care of your firewood

  • Keep your firewood in a dry, well ventilated area.
  • Fresh cut wood needs to be stored for 8-12 months before it should be used.
  • Check the dryness of your wood by banging two pieces together – wet wood makes a dull sound, dry wood makes a sharp resonant sound.
  • Green or unseasoned wood causes more smoke as it has up to 50 per cent water content. Don’t use it in a wood heater as it can be dangerous to breathe.  
  • Treated pine wood, painted wood and coal or coke all have toxins that are released into our air when burned. Don’t use them in a wood heater.

Make sure your wood heater complies with Australian Standards

If you are planning to install a wood heater, contact Council to discuss any compliance requirements by phone on (02) 4868 0888 or by email at

New heaters are cleaner burning and more efficient than older-style wood heaters and open fires.

A slow combustion heater will produce less pollution than a pot-belly stove or open fire because the fire is sealed in an airtight box.

As of 1 November 2016 more stringent emission and new efficiency controls were introduced in NSW in an amendment to the Clean Air Regulation (See the Protection of the Environment Operations (Clean Air) Regulation 2021). The Australian/New Zealand Standards 4012:2014 and 4013:2014 introduce more stringent emission limits and new efficiency limits for domestic solid fuel appliances.

From 1 September 2019 all new solid fuel home heaters sold in NSW (locally and imported) must have at least 60 per cent efficiency and no more than 1.5 g/kg.

Check your heater has a compliance plate stating it conforms to the Australian Standard for pollution emissions (AS/NZS 4013:2014) and efficiency (AS/NZS 4012:2014). If it doesn't you might consider upgrading your heater to a newer more efficient model.

More information can be found at NSW EPA’s Check your Heater Complies with the Standard webpage.

Excessive smoke from chimneys and smoke abatement notices

Councils are the regulatory authority responsible for dealing with woodsmoke emissions from residential properties.

Councils can issue smoke abatement notices under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act. A smoke abatement notice requires that a householder ensure that excessive smoke is not emitted from the chimney. The notice gives 21 days for any necessary improvements, maintenance or repairs to be carried out.

  • Council has an education-first approach to managing complaints about or responding to excessive smoke from household chimneys.
  • In cases where there is a continuing failure to remedy the issue of excessive chimney smoke, Council officers will provide a smoke abatement notice in writing to the resident.
  • A smoke abatement notice gives the resident 21 days to make the necessary improvement, maintenance, or repairs after which time no excessive smoke should be emitted from the chimney.
  • Failure to meet the conditions of a smoke abatement notice attracts fines starting from $200.
  • Smoke Abatement Notices are in place for six months to cover one heating season.