• Wood-burning heaters are a major contributor to air pollution in NSW.
  • Smoke from wood-burning heaters can affect your health. Short-term exposures can aggravate asthma or worsen pre-existing heart conditions. Long-term exposure can cuase heart and lung disease. 
  • Using a wood-burning heater affects the air quality inside your home and the surrounding environment.
  • Consider reverse cycle air-conditioning, flued gas or electric heaters which cause less pollution.
  • If you use a wood-burning heater, ensure it conforms to Australian Standards, that it is properly installed and that you operate it correctly.
  • Your local council may be able to assist if you are affected by smoke from other people's houses.
Last updated: 07 May 2024

What is in smoke from wood-burning heaters?

According to 2013 emission data, residential wood-burning heaters are the largest single source of human-made PM2.5 emissions in the NSW Greater Metropolitan Region. It is estimated that out of 603 premature deaths from long-term exposure to all human-made PM2.5 emissions in metropolitan areas, 269 premature deaths each year are attributable to long-term exposure to residential wood-burning heater PM2.5 emissions. In rural and regional areas of NSW, where it is colder and more people use wood heaters, the contribution of wood-burning heater emissions to the mortality burden of PM2.5 is likely to be even higher.

The NSW Government - Sydney Air Quality Study provides further information about this.

How does wood smoke affect health?

Exposure to particulate matter air pollution, including the particles in wood smoke, is associated with a range of health effects.

Short-term exposure (over hours or days) to high levels of wood smoke can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and can worsen symptoms of lung and heart disease.

Long-term exposure (many years) to wood smoke may increase the risk of developing heart or lung disease that can impact a person's health and lead to premature death.

If you can smell wood smoke you are being exposed and may be at risk of adverse health effects.

Who is most at risk?

Wood smoke can affect anyone, but certain populations are more vulnerable. These include children, older adults and people with heart or lung conditions.

What can you do to reduce the chance of wood smoke affecting your health?

  1. Instead of using a wood-burning heater in your home, consider using heating alternatives that cause less pollution such as reverse cycle air-conditioning, flued gas or electric heaters.
  2. If you do use a wood-burning heater, follow the recommendations below to minimise air pollution.
  3. If you have asthma, ensure you follow your asthma management plan.
  4. If you have chronic heart or lung problems, take all your medications as prescribed and seek medical advice if you notice any changes in your symptoms.

If you are affected by wood smoke from nearby houses, your council may be able to assist you. Councils are able to issue smoke abatement notices to occupiers of houses with chimneys that appear to be emitting excessive smoke (see NSW EPA - Smoke abatement notices)

What can you do to minimise air pollution from your wood-burning heater?

If you do use a wood-burning heater:

  • Check that your wood-burning heater conforms with the Australian Standards for pollution emissions (AS/NZS 4013:2014) and efficiency (AS/NZS 4012:2014) and that the heater and chimney are installed in line with council-specific building requirements.
  • Burn only dry, well-seasoned and chemically untreated wood
  • Adjust the air damper on the wood-burning heater to allow sufficient air flow to provide oxygen for clean combustion.
  • Ensure fresh air enters the room to prevent carbon monoxide from building up.
  • Make sure the fire burns brightly to ensure enough heat for complete combustion.
  • Never leave a fire smouldering overnight.
  • Check your chimney - if there is visible smoke from it, increase the airflow to the fire.
  • Arrange for regular cleaning of your chimney.

More air pollution is produced during fire start up and when a fire is poorly managed. Improperly installed heaters or clogged chimneys may increase the amount of air pollution inside the home and increase the likelihood of health effects. By using heaters that conform to the Australian Standard, installing them correctly and maintaining them adequately, you can minimise pollution and reduce health risks to your household and the community. If you can, replace your wood-burning heater with less polluting alternative heating to protect yourself and others.

Related information

In NSW call 1300 066 055 to talk to your local Public Health Unit.​

Current as at: Tuesday 7 May 2024
Contact page owner: Environmental Health