We Dispel The Common Myths About Wood Heating & Measure It Against The Alternatives.
Grand Designs Australia Magazine. Issue 4.3
April Ossington. May 2016.
Wood heaters have received a bad rap in the past with concerns about air pollution, their lack of energy eﬃciency and their carbon footprint, but new research has painted this traditional form of heating in a new light.
“BASIX’s favourable new rating for woodburning heaters now sees them as the preferred, cost-eﬀective solution for making a new building ‘compliant’,” says Aaron Budai, general manager of Jetmaster Fireplaces.
The New South Wales government’s Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) is a scheme aimed at regulating the energy eﬃciency of residential buildings. All new dwellings and renovations that cost more than $50,000 must obtain
a BASIX certiﬁcate before they can be approved by council.
The online assessment tool checks elements of a proposed design against sustainability targets, which, in the case of home heating, is measured by its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Recent research conducted by the CSIRO has found ﬁrewood produces less greenhouse gas than all other domestic heating options. “Wood heaters now achieve a superior
score to alternate domestic heating options including 5 Star gas heaters, 6 Star reverse-cycle air-conditioners and even ground-source heat pumps,” says Aaron. Joel Belnick from Jetmaster Fireplaces explains that as the carbon released from
burning wood is absorbed when a tree grows, wood is recognised as a renewable energy.“There is a natural carbon cycle that does not contribute to increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere,” says Joel. However, unlike renewable energies such as wind and solar, there are particulates produced when wood burns. As a result, wood-burning ﬁreplaces have to meet stringent Australian standards for particulate emissions and energy eﬃciency.
“Newly designed heaters are able to burn eﬃciently and cleanly if operated correctly,”explains Joel. The contribution of particulates from domestic wood-burning ﬁres is minute compared to naturally occurring particulates such as dusts, pollens and salts along with those created by bushﬁres and prescribed burns.
“Domestic wood-burning contributions are often measured with the maximum possible emission rates by EPA departments due to the fact some consumers will operate wood heaters badly,” says Joel. “Tested emission rates of 3g per kg are often calculated at 10g per kg to try to duplicate real-life emissions. Studies indicate only 15 per cent of consumers operate heaters badly, not 100 per cent as measured by EPA departments. New technology in wood heating is making it easier for homeowners to burn wood correctly. Secondary air and ceramic baﬄes enable ﬁres to burn smoke at the top of the ﬁrebox, providing a cleaner combustion when burning on a low setting. Some units incorporate timing mechanisms that will automatically shut the unit down after 20 minutes of burning on high.”
While this is great news for builders or renovators who enjoy the charm and ambience of an open ﬁreplace, wood heating still has its pitfalls. Traditionally, wood heaters were more popular in rural and semi-rural areas due to greater access to wood and space for storage. In the past, councils had concerns about the impact of wood ﬁres, but times are changing
and we are seeing an increase of wood ﬁres in urban areas.
However, this type of heating may not be suitable for every home. As wood is generally available for purchase by the tonne or halftonne, Joel says storage may be an issue for smaller homes. “Wood heaters suit larger homes and are often sold into regional areas where wood can be available at a low cost,” he says. If smoke is unable to dissipate without causing issues for neighbouring structures, some councils may object to wood heating being installed in low-lying, high-density areas.
Joel suggests chimneys should be high enough to avoid smoke being blown back down into residential buildings. Additionally, wood heating may not be suitable for a time-poor or elderly homeowner. Tech-savvy homeowners may seek an instantaneous solution for their homes rather than one that creates work. “Wood heating is an inconvenient means of heating as there is a certain amount of eﬀort that goes into lighting a wood ﬁre and continually feeding the ﬁre,” says Joel. “Gas and electricity can be easily turned on and oﬀ and can often be thermostatically controlled, allowing complete
ease of use.”
For those who seek the authentic look of a burning ﬂame without the eﬀort, gas heating can be a convenient and cost-eﬀective solution for the modern home. “Gas heating can be thermostatically controlled, allowing you to set a temperature to ensure it remains constant,” says Joel. “Although burning gas does contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t produce visual particles to the extent of other fossil fuels such as coal, oil or wood.”
There is a range of gas heaters on the market including portable or unﬂued heaters, ﬂued indoor heaters and gas ﬁreplaces. A popular choice in Australia, ﬂueless space heaters can be easily installed by using a bayonet ﬁtting, though
Joel oﬀers a word of caution about this type of heating. “Flueless gas space heaters are not considered a healthy means of heating as the gasburning by-products are emitted into the room and don’t escape,” he says. “Carbon dioxide and water vapours accumulate in the room and are breathed in. As the oxygen in the room is used, it is mandatory to have permanent ventilation in the room when installing a ﬂueless ﬁre.” The cost of this heating will depend on the type of gas that is used. “Natural gas or piped gas is a cost-eﬀective way of heating,” says Joel. As LPG or propane needs to be delivered in bottles,
it’s a more expensive option. This means houses connected to natural gas are more suitable for gas heating, unless you have money to burn. Gas heating can also be energy eﬃcient. “Gas is a controlled substance that has sophisticated
technology to burn very eﬃciently,” says Joel. “Decorative gas ﬁres have improved dramatically over the past 10 years due to ceramic ﬁbre material being used to mould the logs or pebbles to provide a realistic-looking ﬁre that glows and looks like it’s burning. This material also provides eﬀective radiant heat which replicates the working of wood ﬁres.”
For further information on the basix study visit: //www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/nsw-government-sets-lower-greenhouse-gas-emission