The Australian Home Heating Association (AHHA) is the peak industry body representing woodheater manufacturers and retailers.
On their website - homeheat.com.au/enviro_air.htm (accessed 25/5/2012 - see pdf attached) the AHHA claims that: "Substantial technological advances in the past 5 years have led to modern wood heaters that produce only a small fraction of the smoke and particle pollution that earlier models did. In most cases up to 80% less."
The heater emission rating is defined as grams of fine particles emitted per kilogram of wood burned (g/kg). In 1999, the Australian-New Zealand standard As/NZS 4013 set the emission limit for new heaters at 4 g/kg. If the claims by the AHHA were true, most models would now have emissions 80% lower than the 4 g/kg limit, i.e. most models would have emissions 0.8 g/kg or less.
In fact, only 2 of certified heater models listed on the AHHA website in 2011 were 80% cleaner than the dirtiest model allowed under the AS4013-1999 standard. Only 8 heater models were rated less than or equal to 1 g/kg, which is the same as in 2006.
It was also claimed on the webpage that "at that time [5 years ago] the average wood heater produced three to five times as much smoke as the average wood heater sold today". However referring to the list of certified heaters published on the AHHA website, the average emission rating of certified heater models in 2011 was 2.5 g/kg only marginally less than the average value of 2.6 g/kg in 2006. Note that actual emissions can be a lot higher than the emission rating which is measured using a specified test procedure under laboratory condtions. A study of real-life emissions of woodheaters in 2008 found the average particulate emission was 9.4 g/kg.
Wood heaters are a significant source of air pollution. According to a recent report Economic appraisal of wood smoke control measures it is estimated that the health effects from woodsmoke in NSW could be $8 billion over the next 20 years. In Canberra, despite being used by less than 4% of households, woodheaters emit two thirds of all fine particle pollution.
Apparently promotional material on the website is beyond the scrutiny of the Advertising Standards Board, the ACCC, and even the Australian Consumers' Asociation (Choice). Unfortunately several local Council and government websites refer people to the AHHA website for information on woodheaters, so it is important that the material on the website should be substantiated. If false claims like these from the AHHA go unchallenged, more people are likely to be misled into installing polluting woodheaters in residential areas when cleaner heating alternatives and improved energy efficiency would be more appropriate.