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Wood smoke

Chimney smoke

What is wood smoke?

Wood smoke is a complex mix of chemicals and particles, including:

  • fine and course particulate matter
  • carbon monoxide
  • sulphur dioxide
  • Nitrogen oxides and
  • volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) and
  • particulate matter

Where does wood smoke come from?

Residential wood smoke is produced from wood heaters, open fire places and back yard burning. Chimineas and pizza ovens often found in many backyards can also be a source of smoke.

Up to 70% of wood smoke can be retained in your home and may affect your health if your indoor wood burning appliance is poorly maintained.

Wood smoke and your health

Wood smoke affects the quality of both indoor and outdoor air. The influence on human health comes from the fine and coarse particulate matter. Fine particles in particular are linked with the most harmful affects. Wood smoke is composed mostly of fine particles.

Particulate matter

The effect that particulate matter will have on your health depends on the size of the particles as well as any underlying health conditions.

Particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres (PM10) or less are a mixture of coarse and fine particles.

Coarse particles have a diameter between 2.5 and 10 micrometres (PM2.5-10) for example soot, dust and pollen. When breathed in these particles settle in the lungs and narrow airways.

sneezingFine particles have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), for example smoke. These particles penetrate deep into the lungs and smaller airways.

Fine and coarse particles both contribute to several health problems:

Short term effects

  • irritation of the eyes, throat and nose
  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing and
  • aggravated asthma

Long term effects

  • decreased lung function
  • development of chronic bronchitis and
  • cardiovascular effects

What levels affect your health?

When particulates are at low levels (just above background air quality levels), sensitive people will be the first to be affected. As the levels increase, even healthy people will be affected.

Sensitivity to wood smoke

Some members of the community are considered more vulnerable to wood smoke and therefore are more likely to develop health problems or experience aggravation of existing health problems. These people include:

  • elderly people
  • young children
  • people with existing respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia and
  • people with cardiovascular disease

Decreasing the Effects of Wood Smoke Wood Quality

  • Only use weldry wood pilel seasoned hardwoods
  • Do not use stained, treated or painted wood
  • Chop your wood into smaller pieces and
  • Store your wood loosely stacked and covered in a well aerated area

Burn Bright

  • Use plenty of kindling and paper to establish a good fire quickly
  • Use smaller logs to get the fire started and larger logs for slower burning
  • Stack your fire such that there is 2 cm between each log. This allows air to get into the hot area of the fire and
  • Do not over fill the heater or fire place

Wood heater and fireplace

  • Ensure there is enough air circulation in your wood heater by adjusting the air intake or flue and
  • Check your wood heater and chimney regularly to ensure no smoke is being produced


  • If you have an old wood heater, consider purchasing a low emissions wood heater compliant with Australia/ New Zealand standard 4013:1999. You can check this by looking for the wood heater compliance plate on the back of the heater.
  • Change your winter heating techniques to gas or electric heaters.

Back yard burning of household waste is completely banned by some local governments. Contact your local council to find out about backyard burning.

More Information

For more information on pollution and wood heater compliance visit the Department of Environment and Conservation's website under "halt the haze"

In the event of a smoking nuisance in your neighbourhood, communication with your neighbour is the first step. If this fails, raise the issue with your local council. Most councils employ environmental health officers who can investigate smoke complaints.


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