WOOD HEATERS - Expensive Mistakes for Some Buyers

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So you've found a bargain wood heater on eBay, but the REAL costs are only just beginning.

New Smoke Emission Legislation

The amendments made to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) by the Protection of the Environment Operations Amendment Act 2005 provide for the issuing of smoke abatement notices. These amendments commenced on 1 May 2006.

In essence, a smoke abatement notice can be issued to the occupier of a residential premises within 7 days of the offence occuring.  The offence is having visible smoke coming from a chimney for a continuous period of 10 minutes OR for a continuous period of at least 30 seconds where the plume extends for 10 metres from the chimney.

Those people with authority to issue the notice are local councils, the Lord Howe Island Board, and the Western Lands Commissioner.

A smoke abatement notice comes into effect 21 days AFTER it was issued, must be issued in writing to the occupier of the residence, and lasts for a period of 6 months only.  The idea is that the occupier has 21 days to remedy the problem with the fire place, and the 6 month limit is in place so the notice can only be in effect for a single burning season.

Fines come into effect after the 21 days and are set at $200 for individuals, $400 for corporations, and $3300 where more serious breaches need to be dealt with by a court.

Sample Abatement Notice

Possible Fixes

Where a smoke abatement notice is in force, a range of measures may be needed such as:

  • modifying an older style heater to draw more air from the base
  • chimney or flue modifications or cleaning
  • removal of creosote or ash from the fire box or flue
  • change of combustible material used in the fire (that is, wood may be too green or not hardwood)
  • change in fire starting methods, reloading methods, or reloading intervals.

Some of these methods can be quite expensive or time consuming so check with your local wood heater shop or installer.

My best tips for clean burning that won't annoy people:

  1. Start your fire with a bed of dry gum leaves on the bottom, lots of dry gum tree sticks in the middle, and some thicker gum tree sticks on the top.  Forget newspaper, it starts too slowly!
  2. Light the gum leaves in multiple places and when they get going leave the wood heater door open just a crack - this will give the fire plenty of air.
  3. Gum tree dry fuel used in points 1 & 2 will have your fire burning uncomfortably hot in about 2-5 mins.  Once you get to that stage, load some small to medium logs.
  4. Point 3 is referred to as your HOT LOAD.  It gets your premises nice and warm very quickly.  Once this load has settled down, load one really big log - the biggest that will fit through the door of your heater.  Don't close the vents - we are controlling the temperature of the heater by carefully selecting the size of the fuel we load.  This is why splitting your own wood or picking your own wood from a wood yard is so important.  Closing the vents starves the fire of oxygen and creates smoke - selecting bigger bits of wood achieves the same result but much more efficiently.

Coal-fired power stations get their coal really hot by grinding it down into very fine granules.  A greater surface area makes it burn much hotter.  Steam trains do the same thing - load the smallest coal to get the boiler started, and then load the bigger coal once the journey is underway.

I have an alumium pole that is as long as my wood heater door is wide, and a piece of tape marks the height of my wood heater door.  I use this pole whenever I cut wood - it ensures my wood is as big as possible, resulting in a much longer burning fireplace and a substantially less amount of cutting.  It is not uncommon for me to get 9 hours from a single log, and I achieve this by minimising the surface area.

If you're worried about loading such big logs, go to a welding supply shop like BOC and get yourself some elbow-length welding gloves.  These are your new tongs!  I have comfortably placed my hands right inside my wood heater while loading logs and barely felt any heat.

And finally, if buying a second-hand heater that may be quite old, get some quotes on making EPA approved modifications to the unit so it burns clean.  Do this before you start bidding.

Apart from that, wood heaters are a lot of fun, are the most environmentally friendly type of heat, provide great atmosphere, and give off a very romantic type of heat reminiscent of country charm.  Persist with your dream despite new government red tape and drop me a message to let me know how you went.

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