Problems with a neighbour’s chimney smoke? The first step towards resolution.

When suffering unwanted wood smoke from a neighbour’s wood heater, absolutely the first thing one should do is to approach the neighbour and politely let them know about the issue. It doesn’t have to be face to face, by all means do that if you can, but otherwise a short letter should suffice.  Often they may not even be aware that what they are doing is causing a problem for anyone else. That’s understandable, going outside to check how much the flue is smoking and where the smoke is going is probably not high on the list of things to do after having just fired up the heater for the night.

Having good relations with your neighbour is of the utmost importance. You all have to live in the same area so it’s in everyone’s best interests to get along.

Try to help them help you. There’s a fair chance that they may not know how to properly operate a wood heater. Unlike switching on an electric heater operating a wood heater is actually a learned skill, which requires attention and dedication to learn properly. There is also a considerable amount of maintenance required to ensure the heater runs cleanly and correctly, and we all know how easily people can lapse into lazy habits.

A wealth of information is available on line designed specifically to educate the owners of wood heaters how to best operate them in the manner that will produce the least amount of smoke, and get the best results for them in terms of heating efficiency. Most local governments should have education material available which you can pass on to your neighbour.

This link is quite helpful for people in Canberra, even if the content is somewhat flimsy.

http://www.environment.act.gov.au/environment2/residential_environment_protection_issues/wood_heaters_and_their_emissions/soild_fuel_heaters

Less smoke for you, and more heat for them. Everybody wins!

Basically you need to try to do everything and anything you can, within reason of course, to help them either reduce the amount of smoke being produced or move to a cleaner form of home heating. It’s your health and enjoyment of your own home that is at stake here. You must be pro active, the problem will not go away by itself.

So hopefully you were are able to contact your neighbours, and they turned out to be reasonable people who are willing to work with you to try and resolve the problem in a manner that is mutually beneficial to both parties.

That’s the best case scenario.

On the other hand though, there is also a very good chance that even continued communication with your neighbour will fail to have any positive effect.

It’s quite possible that upon being informed of the issue your neighbours will be completely unsympathetic to your plight. They may ignore you all together and do exactly nothing to help you.

As mentioned before, correctly operating a wood heater is a big task to take on. It’s unfortunate to think so, but as straight forward as the instructions may seem the simple fact is that many owners of wood heaters are just not capable of running them properly and never will be. Think of the level of proficiency most people display when driving their cars for example…

Even worse they may actually take offence to your questioning their activities and deliberately attempt to make the situation even more unpleasant for you. Their opinion may be something along the lines of, ‘Well I’ve been doing it this way for the last thirty years and no one has complained before, why don’t you go away and mind your own business!!!’.

Reports floating about the Internet suggest such vengeful responses as adjusting flue caps to direct even more smoke towards your house. Even such despicable behaviour as deliberately burning garbage or wet wood to inundate you with even dirtier, foul smelling smoke.

You could also be stuck in the most unfortunate situation where you neighbour’s chimney is in an utterly inappropriate position, such that any use of their wood heater whatsoever will impact you directly. Even if they are following the rules to the letter.

I can understand that people have a strong emotional attachment to their fire place, it produces comforting warmth that helps them through the long cold winter.  It sounds like a great luxury, and being cold is not much fun. So be prepared to accept that their relationship with the fire means more to them than your health. Their smoke may be making you very sick, but they don’t really care about that much at all.

So when diplomacy fails, and only then, it becomes necessary to involve a third party.

This should really be a last resort, as the neighbour will definitely become even more annoyed with you then, and the third party will in all likely hood achieve little or nothing towards a proper solution to your wood smoke problems.

Grim news, but unfortunately that’s how it will likely play out. Don’t be deterred though. It will be a long painful process to get any meaningful official assistance with this, but you absolutely have every right to complain. The operators of the wood heater are denying you the right to the quiet enjoyment of your property, and you have to fight that. They may have the right to burn wood for heat, but their rights to burn wood end at your property line. Your property is yours, and they have no to engage in activities which affect your life and health.

Don’t give them an inch. Call and complain every single time you can smell smoke in your house or see it in your yard. Nothing will come of it the first time, but keep at it. Persistence is the only way you will get anywhere when it comes to complaining to the government. Write letters to Ministers, Local Members, etc. Do not stop until someone recognises your plight.

You have the right to health and clean air in your own home. Do not let them take that from you.

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