Well with the 2011 wood burning season now unfortunately upon us, it would
seem an appropriate time to get the proceedings underway.
My name is Frank, I live in the Australian Capital Territory in a small
suburb close to the Woden town centre known as Swinger Hill. An odd name
indeed, and unfortunately I have yet to discover the origins of this most
unusual title. If anyone has the answer to this I’d love to know!
For most of the year this suburb is a fantastic place to live. It’s clean
and relatively quiet with not much crime. It’s within walking distance to
nearby amenities, and we have some great restaurants at the local shops.
Overall it’s extremely livable.
From April through to October however the air quality here takes a major
turn for the worse, as the locals begin to fire up their wood burning
heaters. While the situation is probably not as bad as that in the
Tuggeranong Valley with the inversion layer there, it is still far from
ideal. For those of us whose lungs aren’t in the best of shape it becomes
In a flatter area where the houses are all level and there is proper space
for emissions to disperse, wood smoke might not be such an issue. However
those ideal conditions do not exist in the Swinger Hill area.
The houses in Swinger Hill are very, very close to together. ‘Medium
density townhouse development’ would be a good label for it. Most of the
houses have courtyards, and there are numerous little lane ways allowing
you to walk to any other part of the suburb with really having to cross a
road. As the name implies, the suburb is located on a hill. This means that
all the houses are at different elevations. The house across the road from
you might have a front door that is level with your roof, while the house
over the back fence might have a roof that is lower than your fence line.
So when the wood burning season starts, the court yards and lane ways of
this area designed for walking are choked out with lingering smoke that
sits there for most of the day. It also means that when the neighbour below
you starts burning wood, the smoke has nowhere to go but straight on to the
side of your house. Of course because your roof is that much higher than
the neighbouring chimney, the smoke doesn’t rise high enough to pass over
your house. It then ends up collecting in your own courtyard, and seeping
into your living spaces.
For the last several years I have been dealing with the intrusion in to my
home of unwanted wood smoke from a neighbour’s wood burning heater. The flue for this particular heater is situated in a remarkably inappropriate
location relative to the surrounding houses, and its operator consistently
fails to observe the EPA guidelines for acceptable smoke emissions. As
result I have to deal with smoke coming inside my house for most of autumn
and all of winter.
Some people do not seem to be bothered by the presence of wood smoke, and
indeed many seem to actually enjoy it. I am not part of that group. Simply
put, I am unusually sensitive to wood smoke and it makes me physically ill.
It gives me a burning throat, shortness of breath, headaches and a very
nasty cough. It makes my life much more difficult than it needs to be every
year from April through to October. For more than half the year I am
forced to tape shut my windows in an effort to keep the smoke out. Even
walking up the hill from the bus stop to my house in the evening becomes a
risky proposition when I have to pass through a cloud of smoke on the way
(think asthma attack).
Wood smoke is a health hazard, and there needs to be much greater controls
on how much can be emitted and where. Health experts from around the world
have said this time and time again, and research has linked the health
effects from wood smoke to a range of diseases from asthma to cancer.
Why in 2011 are people in densely populated areas still relying on wood
burning as a form of heating?
This blog will stand as a chronicle of my experiences in trying deal with
this nuisance and take back the right to health and clean air in my own
It will also serve as a means of sharing what I have learned about the
regulation of wood heaters in the ACT, and how the government agencies who
are supposed help members of the public in dealing with these matters fail
to do so.
I know there are others out there who experience the exact same issues
every year, and I hope that this blog can act as a place for us to come
together and exchange information and ideas.
No more suffering in silence, it’s time to speak out and be heard on this
And so begins this blog and the 2011 burning season. Let’s hope the spring
comes early this year.