Burn smoke-free for better air quality
In the cooler winter months, Taupō District households fire up their wood burners to heat up their homes.
Unfortunately, Waikato Regional Council air quality monitoring has shown this is linked to poor air quality in the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning when households use domestic wood burners.
The good news is this issue can be remedied, but we need your help.
Replacing your old wood burner with a low-emission alternative such as a heat pump has the largest impact, but we understand that this is not affordable for all households.
Fortunately, anyone with a wood burner can make small changes, at no additional cost, to enjoy warmer, longer lasting, lower maintenance fires. In fact, with good technique, it’s even possible to burn completely smoke-free.
The trick is to use only dry wood (and a little paper to get things going of course) and to follow tried and tested steps to ensure good airflow.
Six steps for smoke-free success
- Layer - Start with a generous layer of paper knots. Newspaper is great and adding scrunched-up pieces to the front as well makes it easier to light. Then, add your kindling, leaving lots of air gaps. A criss-cross pattern helps to elevate your logs to create good air flow. Next, stack two or three smaller logs around it in a pyramid shape.
- Light - Light your fire. Leave the door slightly open and set the air flow to high until the kindling is well alight. Then shut the door.
- Look - After 15 minutes, step outside to check your chimney. If you’re doing it right, there should be no visible smoke at all. If you still see some, don’t worry, it just means there’s room to improve next time.
- Load - Add a second load of smaller logs. Then wait another five to 10 minutes until the wood is charring and making a ‘bricking’ pattern.
- Reload - Add one or two bigger logs. After about an hour, these should be well alight and creating a nice bricking pattern too. At this point, you can reload with a few more of your bigger logs as required to keep it burning well.
- Relax - About 15 minutes after adding the new big logs, you can turn the airflow down to keep your toasty fire burning longer.
Once you’ve mastered it, you should see no smoke at all. If you do still see some though, keep persevering, it can take some time to get it just right.
National Environmental Standards for Air Quality
The Waikato Regional Council (WRC) reported Taupō’s airshed as having poor air quality in the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning in winter when households use domestic wood burners for heating purposes and when there is little to no wind that disperses smoke.
According to WRC, Taupō exceeded the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ) limits 7 times in 2021 (the allowable limit is 1 exceedance per year). Under the new (and more stringent) World Health Organisation (WHO) limits, these exceedances would increase to 74 per year.
Taupō District Council receives about 50 complaints a year from smoky fires – the vast majority of these are outdoor burning, rural burn-offs, rubbish burning, or outdoor braziers. In the past two years there were only two cases directly relating to a domestic wood burner – one for burning treated wood, the other for burning plastic. In both instances council inspectors informed the homeowner to refrain from doing that.
Poor air quality has an adverse health impact
The burning of wood, coal, gas, petrol and diesel contain numerous chemicals and particulate matter that can cause poor air quality especially in urban areas. Chemicals include hazardous substances, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, dioxins, furans, and PCBs.
Poor air quality causes several health issues and studies have linked it with increased hospital admissions, school and work absences, and premature death. Health issues include aggravation of asthma and bronchitis, nerve and organ damage, cancer, birth defects, skin irritations, heart disease, harm to unborn babies, decreased immunity, respiratory disease, reproductive, neurological, brain and liver damage.
Almost the entire global population breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits, with adverse impacts on health and wellbeing. Particulate matter, especially PM2.5 penetrates deep into the lungs and enters the bloodstream. This raises the incidence of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory complications. There is emerging evidence that particulate matter impacts other organs and causes other diseases as well. The risk on health impacts is particularly pronounced among the most vulnerable members of the community such as the elderly, people with underlying health conditions and children.
Health impacts occur both from short-term exposure and long-term exposure to air pollution. The impacts on health from poor air quality are:
- Premature deaths – there is a close, quantitative relationship between exposure to high concentrations of small particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) and increased mortality or morbidity, both daily and over time. Conversely, when concentrations of small and fine particulates are reduced, related mortality will also go down – presuming other factors remain the same.
- Increased hospitalisations – in particular, cardiovascular disease hospitalisations and respiratory hospitalisations.
- Reduced activity days – where due to health impacts people are unable to work, attend school, or undertake their usual daily activities
- Social costs associated with the above – early loss of life, hospital costs, loss of work and productivity.