With the late Autumn frost across Launceston inevitably comes smoke. And where there is smoke, there is fire.
This fire, for the most part, starts at the fireplaces and wood heaters in residential homes.
Tasmania has always had an exceptionally high rate of households using wood as their primary source of energy for heating.
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The latest Tasmanian population health survey from the health department showed almost 30 per cent of Tasmanian homes choose wood over electricity, gas and any other forms of heat production.
In the previous survey this percentage was shown to be significantly higher in the North, 35.3 per cent, and North West, 34.2 per cent, as compared to the South, 25.6 per cent.
As a comparison, no other state in Australia registers above 15 per cent in regard to wood heater use.
Northern and North-Westerners love using their wood heaters. And this is despite a wood heater buy back scheme implemented across the state from 2001. Launceston council continued with a similar scheme until 2013 before it was discontinued due to declining interest.
The buy-back scheme was deemed widely successful by the federal government which noted a 30 per cent decrease in use of wood heaters.
Though wood heaters are the first choice for many, they have long drawn ire for their impact on public health.
Just last year, an appeal was sent out by University of Tasmania's School of Technology, Environment and Design adjunct professor Pam Allan for a ban to be issued on the installation of wood heaters.
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The cost of energy and electricity in Tasmania has remained a sticking point with a surge in the price up until the Tasmanian government committed to an electricity price cap in March 2018.
According to the St Vincent De Paul Society's Tariff-Tracking map, the average electricity bill for those in Tasmania rose $167 between 2014 and 2019 before falling slightly in 2020. The average electricity bill for Tasmanians in 2020 was $1942.
Still, over 62 per cent of Tasmanians use electricity as their primary source for heating, but there are indications a swing could be on the way.
Launceston wood heater sale and installation group Cleansweep Tasmania have noted marked increase in sales and installations of wood heaters.
Company owner Clinton Parker said over the last couple of years wood heaters were coming back in vogue.
"We've been installing plenty of wood heaters in new builds, especially," he said.
Fellow Launceston wood heater sales group Randall Heating had experienced the same increase in demand.
Sales and administration consultant Katrine Pauner said since January this year the demand for wood heaters had grown to the point where their suppliers were even struggling to meet demand.
"We've been absolutely smashed this year," she said.
Ms Pauner said the demand in 2020 had been unlike any other year she had experienced.
"People are going back and starting to use wood heaters in conjunction with their heat pumps," she said.
With fears about health implications from wood heater smoke a legitimate concern, regulations for the installation and burning in wood heaters was update in Tasmania in 2019.
As a result, from August 2019 all wood heaters produced and sold in the state had to meet a standard of emitting less than 1.5 grams of particles for every kilogram of wood burnt. Prior to 2015, the standard stood at four grams for every kilogram.
Mr Parker and Ms Pauner said all wood heaters they sold or installed met the standard and sufficiently abated any excess smoke emissions as a result.
Tasmania's arm of the Environmental Protection Agency records air quality across Tasmania every day.
Typically, air quality levels in May climb towards the realms of unhealthy while the winter months routinely record days where air contamination levels - "particulate matter" - climb to levels deemed to be poor with health implications likely for those at higher risk from smoke.
A spokesperson for EPA Tasmania said smoke levels tended to creep up at the end of April and into May every year, but so far in 2021 levels had been lower.
"This year we have seen this pattern of increase, however the weather has been milder over this period, together with some windy intervals ... Overall smoke levels so far appear to be a bit lower in Launceston and surrounding towns than in some other recent years," they said.
They said, like Cleansweep Tasmania and Randall Heating, they were aware of anecdotal evidence wood heater installation "may be increasing" but that it was not being recognised at this stage by air quality analysis.
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In 2011 the EPA conducted a survey to plot which parts of the state have the highest concentration of wood heaters.
Greater Launceston, Hadspen, Perth, Ulverstone, Devonport, Latrobe, Burnie and Wynyard all ranked high on the plot and correspondingly have typically higher levels of particulate matter floating around the air when the cold kicks in and residential wood heaters fire up.
With Launceston being a hotspot for wood heaters, Launceston council chief executive Michael Stretton said the council continued to support community education programs to encourage efficient use.
He said council routinely investigated smoke nuisances in Launceston.
"Generally when residents become aware their wood heater is causing problems for other people, they do their best to rectify the matter. The vast majority of people want to be good neighbours," he said.
The number of complaints received by Launceston council about wood heaters jumped sharply from 2019 to 2020. Just 18 complaints were received in 2019 with seven caution letters issued. In 2020 a total of 32 complaints were received and 10 caution letters issued.
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