Cleaner air, warmer homes in Timaru

There’s at least another month of cold temperatures ahead in Timaru, and households with older-style woodburners can continue to use them this winter without hesitation.  However, Environment Canterbury is working hard to help those same households change to cleaner, lower emission burning technology in time for next winter.

“It’s important that we improve air quality in Timaru to protect everyone’s health and meet the government’s environmental standards,” says Katherine Trought, Environment Canterbury director of air quality.

“Starting next winter, older-style woodburners cannot be used in the Timaru Clean Air Zone because they emit too much winter air pollution.  This means people living on a property measuring 2 hectares or less who rely on a woodburner that is at least 15 years old will need to replace it with a lower emission model,” Ms Trought says.

Meeting the 31 October 2017 deadline

By 31 October 2017, affected people must apply for a building consent from the Timaru District Council to switch out their older-style burner for a low emission one.  The installation can take place after this date as the consent will be valid for 12 months.  If the 31 October deadline is missed, the options include installing an ultra-low emission burner, pellet burner or heat pump.

“The great news is that several hundred people in Timaru have already gone ahead and applied for their building consent and are taking steps to switch to cleaner burning technology.  For those who haven’t yet acted because they are confused or worried, I want to invite them to contact us for personalised advice and help,” says Ms Trought.

Environment Canterbury has made plenty of help available ahead of the 31 October deadline, including a large fund of subsidies for lower income households ranging from $500 to $5000, which do not need to be repaid.

“On top of the financial help available, we have instigated many ways for people in Timaru to find out what they need to do. This has included opening a pop-up information shop, running public demos showing lower emission burners, boosting our advertising around the 31 October date, and teaming up with community organisations including Senior Citizens Timaru,” she says.

Frequently asked questions

Cleaner, Healthier Air in Timaru 

What do I need to do?

If you have a woodburner aged 15+ years in the Timaru Clean Air Zone (on a property smaller than 2ha) and you want to replace it with a low emission burner, you need to apply for a building consent from the Timaru District Council before 31 October 2017.  

If your woodburner turns 15 between 31 October 2017 and 1 January 2019, and you want to replace it with a low emission burner, you will need to have a building consent by its 15th birthday and before 1 January 2019.

If you choose to upgrade to an ultra-low emission woodburner or heat pump, you can do so anytime.

Can I use my older-style woodburner for the rest of winter 2017?

Yes. What we are asking is that people show their intention to upgrade older-style woodburners in time for next winter.

Why do I need to replace my woodburner?

The community told us they still want to use woodburners, so the Canterbury Air Regional Plan allows for burning wood to continue. However, it meant introducing new rules so the burners do not go on producing so much winter air pollution.  Burning technologies are constantly improving and modern burners are designed to run more efficiently with lower emissions.

Do woodburners really cause the majority of PM10 emissions?

About 90% of particulate emitted into the air in Timaru comes from home heating.  The pollutants are so small we can’t see them, but they can cause a range of health problems. Coal-fired boilers represent a significant proportion of the total fuel burned in Timaru on a typical winter day.

However, boilers tend to emit a lot less particulate matter (PM10) per kg of fuel burned than a domestic woodburner. This means industrial boilers emit a lot less PM10 on a winter’s day than all the woodburners in Timaru.

On top of that, industrial boilers have flues that release the smoke much higher in the air than a woodburner, and they are mainly used during the day when it’s windier.  The smoke from woodburners is emitted closer to the ground where people breathe it in, which can lead to serious respiratory health problems.

What consultation did you do during development of the Air Plan?

The Air Plan was developed over three years and involved a lengthy consultation and review period. In June 2014, a newsletter on the Air Plan review went to homes throughout Canterbury and this was
followed by well-attended public meetings in Timaru.

The proposed plan and all public submissions were considered by an independent panel of hearing commissioners.  As an example, the rules around secondary devices are less stringent than originally proposed because commissioners responded to feedback.

How much does a woodburner and installation cost?

Low emission woodburners can be purchased and installed from around $3500 and up, high-performing pellet burners from around $6000, and in October ultra-low emission burners will be available from
around $5300.

How am I going to afford this?

Depending on the cost of your installation and your eligibility for funding, you could get a subsidy ranging from $500 to $5000.

Enquiries are welcome at ecan.govt.nz/financialhelp or by calling  0800 329 726.

Why do you have a large reserve of subsidy money?

Our reserves have been built up over a number of years and will be spent in Timaru on home heating subsidies.  Now that the deadline for upgrading a woodburner is approaching, our reserves give us confidence that we have enough money to meet the upswing in demand for subsidies.

We already extended our criteria and increased the value of subsidies to up to $5000.

How long will it take to get my new woodburner installed?

Building consents from the Timaru District Council last for 12 months.  There’s likely to be a backlog of installations as demand increases.  The key step is lodging that building consent – we are in close
contact with retailers and if there is a delay between the consent and installation that is okay by us.

What is Environment Canterbury doing to help during this time of change?

We don’t want anyone to be worried about the changes, and we definitely don’t want anyone to be cold at home.  We urge anyone with questions or worries to call us on 0800 329 726 and we can talk you through options or arrange to visit your home.  If preferred, we can have an anonymous conversation without asking for your name or address.

Is Timaru making progress?

Yes. We’re already seeing results as people become more aware of the need to burn with “no visible smoke” and many woodburners have been upgraded.  However, Timaru still lags behind the six other towns and
cities in Canterbury where winter air pollution is a problem.

Is retrofitting allowed? What exactly do you mean by retrofitting?

We support retrofitting – meaning the use of new technology such as an electrostatic filter in an older-style woodburner.  There is a pathway in the Canterbury Air Regional Plan for retrofitting.

Rule 7.88 enables the manufacturers of secondary emission devices (such as electrostatic filters) to apply for a resource consent.  If an application was granted and a burner could be demonstrated to operate at ultra-low emission burner standards when fitted with secondary technology, the burner could be operated beyond 15 years.

The Air Plan does not allow the modification of woodburners, meaning transforming a non-complying burner into a complying burner by replacing the air tube or similar.  

This would not comply with the emissions and efficiency testing regime set out by the Building Act 2004 and the National Environment Standards for Air Quality.

Likewise, the Air Plan does not allow the refurbishment of burners (repairing a burner to its original condition) because it would not help us move towards cleaner burning technology.

Ways to get help or advice

  • Visit the pop-up information shop at 302 Stafford Street in Timaru (near Coffee Culture), open Tuesday through Friday 10am to 3pm until 18 August
  • Attend a public burner demonstration at Breen Plumbing Ltd on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 9.30am or 5.30pm until 16 August
  • Call Environment Canterbury on 0800 329 726 or visit our website dedicated to woodburners at www.warmercheaper.co.nz
  • Call EnergySmart on 03 688 7508  
  • Call Senior Citizens on 03 687 7581 or drop in to Community House in Strathallan Street

If you would like to read more about the new rules visit our Home heating page.