Research published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences says that burning biomass, such as wood, in the home can result in exposure to carcinogens. The carcinogens mainly come from the tiny particles that are released in the smoke that can work their way into the lungs, bloodstream, brain and other organs, which can then trigger asthma, allergic responses, heart attack and stroke.
According to the NSW Government, open fireplaces are less energy efficient than slow-combustion heaters, with more than 90% of generated heat going up your chimney with an open fireplace. This compares to heating efficiency of approximately 50% with a slow-combustion heater and only 20% heat loss with gas heaters. More air pollution is produced during fire start up and when a fire is poorly managed – for example, when airflow to the heater is reduced allowing wood to smoulder. Improperly installed heaters or clogged chimneys may increase the amount of air pollution inside the home and increase the likelihood of health effects so proper installation and operation is key.
NSW Health recommends installing a less polluting form of heating, such as a flued gas or electric heater for heating the home but if you choose to use a wood-burning heater, they offer the following recommendations:
• Check your wood-burning heater conforms with the New Zealand and Australian Standards (AS/NZS 4013:1999) and that the heater and chimney are installed in line with any 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 build 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 the chimney.