Who you gonna call? Smoke busters!.. Yeah as if.
So approaching the neighbour directly did not work. the next step is contacting the Government.
The only agency who will even pretend to listen to your plight is the ACT Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which is a part of the ACT Department of the Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Water.
They will assist you in the following ways;
- Come out and look at the smoking chimney.
- Send the neighbour a pamphlet on how to correctly operate a wood heater.
- Potentially visit the neighbour in person to view their set up and educate them on how to correctly operate a wood heater.
- Patiently listen to you vent your frustration at the whole issue.
That’s pretty much it.
Unless the neighbour has an uncertified heater, or you can prove the neighbour is burning garbage (good luck with that), they won’t and in fact can’t do anything more. Regardless of how much smoke is coming out of that chimney. No fines, no warnings, nothing that will actually stop the smoke. They might do something if the smoke is black, but you can’t see that what colour smoke is at night anyway.
That’s the EPA and their role in a nutshell, but let’s look at it more closely to get an idea of what is really going on.
The EPA website contains all the official advice as to how one should operate a wood heater in order to minimise smoke emissions. Anyone in Canberra who is interested in the wood smoke issue should be familiar with it.
The content there is mostly the same sort of ‘common sense’ information you will see around the Internet. The basic theme is ‘wood heating is essentially okay, and if you do it properly it shouldn’t bother anyone’. It sounds really good in that theoretical perfect world that Government policy makers seem to live in. I wish I lived there too, I bet it’s much less smoky in the winter there.
At the bottom of the page we see the section about complaints.
Smoking chimneys can be annoying. (just annoying, how about a public health
risk? – ed) However, before making a complaint check that the guidelines
are being breached, i.e. that the chimney is not just smoking temporarily
because the fire has just been lit or wood has just been added to the fire.
If the guidelines are being breached, it is best, where possible, to
discuss the problem with the operator of the heater. Experience has shown
that, in most cases, this enables the problem to be resolved amicably.
However, where this approach is unsuccessful or impractical you should
contact us. You can also contact us if you have any enquiries on the
operation of solid fuel heaters.
They are telling you to do what you should have already done, that is to
contact the neighbour directly and try to resolve the issue with them. But
that didn’t work out so well, which is why you are now looking at the EPA
The next thing to pay attention to is,
Guidelines for Acceptable Smoke Emissions
The chimney may smoke for up to 30 minutes when first lit and up to 20
minutes on refuelling. At other times there should be little or no smoke
from a properly operated solid fuel heater.
I have to be brutally frank here. These ‘guidelines’ are complete rubbish. Whoever devised them was either great at writing deliberately pointless and misleading rules, or just plain stupid. Bear in mind though that these are simply ‘guidelines’ and not rules. They are the sort of ‘guidelines’ that don’t actually mean very much when it comes to real world application. The extremely non-robust wording of these ‘guidelines’ in fact renders them entirely useless.
First of all, the guidelines do not even start to take into account the location of a chimney. What if the chimney is only 5 metres away from, and at a lower elevation than your bedroom window? There are plenty of set ups like that around, and ANY amount of smoke is unacceptable in those conditions. (We’ll talk more about the location of chimneys in another post, as it’s a long discussion in itself.)
Secondly, it doesn’t say how much smoke can be emitted for those 20 to 30 minutes. A light trickle or a thick heavy cloud? It makes no distinction.
Should the smoke be white, grey, black or green? It doesn’t say.
And last but not least, if they are including a provision for the chimney to be allowed to smoke for a further 20 minutes every time it’s reloaded then whole thing becomes redundant. Even if you have video evidence of the chimney smoking uninterrupted for hours at a time on a daily basis, it means absolutely nothing. All the operator need do is merely claim that they are reloading the heater every 20 minutes. You can’t prove they aren’t. This gives them a free pass to emit as much smoke as they want, and renders the entire concept of having guidelines for acceptable smoke emissions completely redundant.
Why should anyone bother even trying to operate a wood heater according to
these rules when they are meaningless? To help a neighbour from the kindness of their heart…? Not often in Canberra I’m afraid.
What does acceptable smoke emissions even mean anyway? Acceptable to whom exactly, the operator of the wood heater? They’re too busy being inside enjoying the warmth, they couldn’t care less about what happens to the smoke.
These guidelines offer absolutely nothing whatsoever to the unfortunate souls on the receiving end of unwanted chimney smoke. As far as I’m concerned there is no acceptable amount of smoke that should be entering my home as a result of
my neighbour’s preferred method of heating. What is the difference between allowing smoke, a waste product, to cross your neighbour’s property line, and dumping the contents of your garbage bin over their fence? Ethically there is no difference, but unfortunately the litter act only refers to solid and liquid waste. So the law refuses to even recognise your situation.
We’ll come back to that later though, as there is more to the story than what you see on the surface of the EPA website.
Next let’s assume that you are going down the path of getting the EPA involved. What can you expect to occur?
To be continued in part 2.