Installing a wood heater in your home

Wood Heaters and Smoke

Burning wood in an open fireplace or wood heater is a traditional method of heating living spaces. Unlike other methods of heating a living space such as electric and gas heating, care must be taken to ensure that your open fireplace or wood heater is operated correctly in order to avoid it producing excessive amounts of smoke, which can have a negative impact on your neighbours and the environment.

Thinking of getting a wood heater or open fireplace installed in your home?

If you are considering installing a wood heater or open fireplace in your home, you should ensure that:

• You purchase a wood heater that is certified to Australian Standards (AS) 4013 and 4012

• All installations of new woodheaters comply with the requirements of any relevant planning instruments

• Your heater or fireplace is installed by a licensed person in accordance with the Building Act 1993

• woodheaters are installed in compliance with the Australian Building Code and Australian Standard AS/NZS 2918 to ensure the safety of the installation

• the woodheater is located within the home such that the flue system works most effectively – usually towards the central part of the home and not against an outside wall

• You are able to achieve the correct flue height relative to the buildings surrounding you and all relevant standards and legislation

To find out how to choose a suitable wood heater for your home, visit the EPA Victoria wood heaters page.


What causes excessive wood smoke?

Common operational causes of excessive smoke are:

• insufficient kindling

• too much firewood in the heater

• turning the air control to slow burn too soon after light-up or refuelling

• trying to burn a single large log

• adding firewood without opening the air control

• an incorrectly placed log which blocks the air supply to the base of the fire

• use of wood that is too wet

Common installation or maintenance issues that cause excessive smoke are:

• heater flue is clogged with creosote and needs to be swept.

Symptoms of a clogged flue are:

  • the heater is difficult to start
  • smoke enters the room when heater door is opened
  •  flue length is too short for adequate 'draw'. The flue is an important component of the woodheater installation and needs to be long enough to draw sufficient air for proper combustion of the fuel
  • poor location of heater and/or flue. A woodheater will perform better (in terms of both heating effectiveness and reduced smoke emissions) when located towards the centre of the home and not against an outside wall
  • DIY repairs such as those that leave the heater with missing components or the baffle plate incorrectly installed.


Tips to avoid excessive smoke emissions and maintain your wood heater

In order to achieve the best performance from your wood heater or open fireplace by producing efficient heat with a minimal amount of smoke, you should:

• Have your heater professionally checked and cleaned prior to using it e.g. before Autumn begins. Ensure all built up creosote is removed

• Use the right type of timber - always burn dry, well-seasoned wood. As a general rule, do not burn any old or waste timber such as old building and fence materials, offcuts from building construction or railway sleepers. Such timbers will have either been treated with a preservative agent or may have been contaminated by chemical substances.

• Always burn small logs of aged, dry hardwood – unseasoned wood has more moisture and is more likely to smoke.

• Store firewood under cover in a dry ventilated area; freshly cut wood needs to be stored for 8–12 months.

• When lighting a cold heater use plenty of dry kindling to establish a good fire quickly.

• Stack wood loosely in the firebox so air can circulate – don't cram the firebox full.

• Turn off the warm air circulation fan when lighting up and when refuelling.

• Keep the flame lively and bright; your fire should only smoke for a few minutes when you first light it and when you add extra fuel. Open the air controls fully for 5 minutes before and 15–20 minutes after reloading.

• Don't let your heater smoulder overnight – keep enough air in the fire to maintain a flame.

• Check your chimney regularly – if there is smoke coming from the chimney, increase the air supply to your fire.

• Understand how to operate your wood heater or open fireplace correctly. For tips on efficient lighting and burning of firewood, go to EPA Victoria's website

Once you have started your fire, go outside occasionally and check the chimney for smoke – if there is excessive smoke, then something is wrong with your heater/fireplace or the way in which you are using it.


What to do about excessive wood heater smoke emissions?

If you are concerned about the amount of smoke produced by your neighbour’s wood heater, the first step is to talk to your neighbour as they may not be aware that there is an issue.

If you are experiencing difficulty resolving the issue, another option is to contact the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria, who offer free mediation services that may assist.

If you are unable to resolve the issue in relation to the amount of smoke produced by your neighbour’s wood heater, contact Central Goldfields Shire Compliance Unit on 5461 0610 to discuss your concerns.


How does Council investigate Complaints relating to wood fires?

Council will investigate complaints in relation to wood heater smoke that, outside of the typical or ordinary operation of a wood heater, is dangerous or noxious to public health. Council will need to be satisfied that the evidence is a breach of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 as a nuisance or Part 3.4 of Councils General Local Law 2015.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 defines a nuisance as being likely to be dangerous to health or offensive. When assessing and investigating a report of a nuisance, Council considers a range of factors, including but not limited to, the time (when the alleged nuisance is occurring), frequency, intensity, and the nature of the wood heater smoke, such as the burning of plastics and other inappropriate material.

Part 3.4 of Councils General Local Law also states that an owner or occupier of land must ensure that any chimney on that land does not discharge dust, grit, ashes or smoke to such an extent that is dangerous to health or offensive.

In investigating wood heat smoke complaints, Council will consider all available information, including liaising with both parties to examine the issue and identify any possible avenues the matter can be resolved. 

All parties will be informed of Council’s decision having investigated the complaint and advised of any avenues of appeal should they seek to pursue the matter in a civil capacity.


Where can I get further information?

• The EPA wood smoke and air quality web page

• The Victorian Building Authority wood heaters and flues web page

• Contacting Council’s Compliance Unit on 5461 0610