Firewood . . . The Clean Heat

NSW Government sets lower greenhouse gas emission rating for wood heating

Nathan Johnson – Architecture & Design

Residential wood-fire heating has scored a better environmental rating from the NSW Government, alleviating the concerns of many homeowners about the ecological implications of wood heaters.

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) system was recently revised to set a lower greenhouse gas emission rating for residential wood-fire heating.

The Firewood Association of Australia (FAA) called for this improved rating for wood heaters in the BASIX system following the results of research conducted by the CSIRO, which they FFA says found that firewood produced less greenhouse gas than all other domestic heating options. CSIRO’s finding was backed by accepted national and international protocols for assessing greenhouse gas emissions from biomass.

Joel Belnick, Director of Jetmaster Fireplaces Pty Ltd, explains that previous BASIX requirements recognised wood burning fires on par with 4-star flued gas appliances. However, the new rating places wood-burning fireplaces substantially better than 5-star gas heaters and 6-star reverse cycle air conditioners, making them a cost effective means of achieving the required BASIX target.

Part of the planning system and a requirement for development applications in NSW, the BASIX certificate must be obtained by all new dwellings, and alterations or additions over $50,000 in NSW before they can gain council approval. The BASIX target aims to reduce water, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in homes across the state, providing long-term savings for the homeowner while contributing to the sustainable future of the community.

BASIX is assessed online using the BASIX assessment tool, which checks elements of a proposed house design against sustainability targets and includes a rating for the selected heating system.

Prior to the BASIX rating revision, wood-burning fireplaces were regarded as a less environment-friendly heating option. However, the CSIRO reports have confirmed that wood is a part of the natural cycle for carbon and is therefore renewable. A tree will absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen throughout its life. Carbon atoms from the carbon dioxide absorbed by the tree are converted into carbohydrates and stored in the tree’s roots, stem, leaves and branches.

When a part of the tree is burnt or naturally decomposes, the stored carbon is released, mainly as carbon dioxide. The carbon in the roots, leaves and small branches is usually sequestered in the soil. Coal, oil and gas are geologically sequestered products that are extracted and burnt, thereby adding carbon to the atmosphere without getting replenished. Wood can be continuously grown and, like wind and solar, is considered to be in infinite supply.

According to Belnick, many commercial forestry and farming operations supply sustainably grown wood, which is available from FAA members. The industry strongly recommends that consumers burn this wood, which is considered 100 per cent sustainable and is also properly seasoned to reduce particle emissions when burnt.

Belnick comments that correctly installed, well maintained and properly operated wood fireplaces create insignificant amounts of particle emissions when compared to all other sources of particle pollution in the environment.

On the cost implications of wood heating, Belnick said that depending on the cost of wood in an area and the nature of the fireplace the wood is burnt in, wood fires can be the most cost-effective way of heating a home, not to speak of the comfort, visual appeal and atmosphere produced in the space.

Homeowners, builders and architects should be aware that in order to fully comply with BASIX, all domestic solid fuel heaters such as wood heaters need to be installed in accordance with the Local Government Act, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, the Building Code of Australia and Australian Standard AS/NZS 2918.



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