From our Chair: Working together on air quality

We may be enjoying a long spell of settled early autumn weather but the days are slowly slipping away on us.

It’s noticeably more chilly when you step outside in the morning and the evenings are certainly closing in earlier.

Jenny Hughey

Jenny Hughey, Chair, Environment Canterbury

Before we know it, the clocks will have gone back an hour – early on Sunday 4 April – and the first decent southerly will have made its mark on the Alps and sprinkled frost across the Canterbury Plains.

A warm home is a healthy home

Once the nights turn frosty, the benefits of having a warm home become more obvious. Not only is it more comfortable to be warm, but also it is far healthier. Nobody wants to live in a house where you can see your breath and in which condensation streams down the inside of windows.

There’s nothing like using a modern wood-burner, and dry wood, to keep out the cold and keep your place cosy. These burners have given us a great start to improving Christchurch’s air quality.

I’m sure many of you remember just how bad the city’s smog was during the 1960s, ‘70s and into the ‘80s – the dirty brown/orange stain that hung low in the sky above Christchurch on cold winter nights and the smell of woodsmoke everywhere.

I remember when I first came to Christchurch as a student in 1969. I was biking down Bealey Avenue from St Albans to the old Teachers’ College and the smoke was so thick it would make you feel sick, it would literally choke you. When you arrived, you reeked of smoke.

Of course, there was an awareness then of how bad the situation was becoming and, as part of that, I also recall the newspapers used to run smog graphs, showing how shockingly high the readings were on many winter nights.

Seasoned wood is key to cleaner burning

When it comes to an efficient, clean-burning fire, having good seasoned wood is the key. Many of you who use approved wood-burners will already have your supply of wood tucked away in a dry spot for this winter – though for the best results this year, your wood should have arrived last spring.

It’s worth remembering that wet wood burning sub-optimally is often responsible for smoking out the neighbours and causing air pollution. Often it can take up to three years for wood to dry properly.

Make sure when buying wood you use somebody from our Trusted Good Wood Merchant programme and stock-up at least a season ahead. If you are concerned your wood may not be dry enough to burn efficiently, call us on 0800 329 278 and we can arrange to test the wood’s moisture content.

We audit the merchants in this programme annually and testing moisture content is part of this. Generally, if they don’t have dry wood, they will let you know how “green” their wood is and when it should be ready for burning.

Choosing the best wood and fire-lighting technique

Bear in mind not all dry woods are equal. Some burn hotter and produce less smoke. Plantation pine, Douglas fir and blue gum are the best, while old-man pine can be smoky, and so is probably best for kindling or mixed with other woods.

Our experts also suggest trying the “upside-down” fire-lighting technique, with larger wood at the bottom and kindling on top, and resisting the urge to turn down the heat overnight and leave wood smouldering – and producing more smoke as a result.

None of us would want to go back to the way things were 20 years and more ago. While we have made massive strides towards clean air during the past couple of decades, there always remains room for improvement, particularly in some airsheds across the region.