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Do I need a building consent (permit) for a new wood burner?

The answer is yes. Your local building authority (which in most cases is your local or regional council) will require you to apply for a solid fuel heating appliance building consent. The councils want to ensure that wood burners are installed correctly. Wood burners installedincorrectlycan be an obvious fire risk. Make sure you have your smoke alarms installed within 3m of bedrooms, and replace the batteries each year.

I thought wood burners were banned. Can I still have one?

Yes, there are over 100 approved models of wood burners to choose from that can be installed, whether you live in the city or out in the country. The central government requires that homes under 2ha (5 acres) must install a clean air approved wood burner (high efficiency and low emissions), and some local councils (like Christchurch and Nelson) require the very lowest emission wood burners be installed. But yes, you can certainly still have a wood burner! The latest technology is even achieving over night burn times in the low emission fires. Wood burning cookers and central heating units are still popular in the rural areas.

What is the difference between an insert and a built in wood burner?

An insert is installed into a non combustible masonry chimney. This is typically into a pre cast or traditional brick open fire (usually designed 600mm high by 600mm wide).

An inbuilt is installed into timber framing which is lined with gib wall lining. The term "Zero Clearance" is a term associated with inbuilt wood burners and refers to the protective outer casing around the firebox (usually with extra insulation) as well as triple lined flue systems.

What is the difference between Radiant and Convection style wood burners?

Radiant wood burners are designed to project heat in all directions (apart from behind) and are best positioned in homes with very high ceilings and large open areas. They often have a 'cook top' style lid which is great for boiling a kettle or cooking on if the power ever goes out. As such they generally require bigger clearances around them for furniture, side walls and the like.

A Convection style wood burner on the other hand has extra panelling on the sides and a grill top which works on the principle of warming air which will then circulate around, and heat most of the home. They are therefore better suited for living areas with lower stud heights (ie 2.4 - 2.7m tall) and can be positioned closer to furniture and walls. 

Some woodburners have a combination of both radiant and convection features which allows for cooking on a radiant top, but has closer clearances to the sides.

How can you tell if your wood is dry and ready to burn?

A moisture meter will accurately measure the moisture content of your wood. You can roughly check the dryness of your wood without a moisture meter by knocking two sticks together. If you hear a sharp sound, the wood is probably dry. If you hear a dull thud, the wood is not fully seasoned.

Cracking and checking on the edges of a stick of firewood also indicates that the wood is seasoned and dry.

How long to season firewood?

Firewood like Pine, Macrocarpa and Gum need about 6 months to season, whereas the hard woods like Ti Tree (Manuka) and Kanuka ideally require up to 12 months to season. Seasoning means the removal of the greeness from within the wood (the sap) and the best way to do this is to leave it outside exposed to the sun and wind for as long as possible over the summer months. Come Autumn time you can then cover it up and it should be ready to use. Place a tarp or rigid top over the firewood to keep the rain off, but it is still best to have plenty of air circulating round the sides.

How should I store my wood?

Firewood that is dry and seasoned can be stored indoors or outdoors. If you are storing wood outdoors, it is best to cover the top part of the pile with a tarp to keep it dry. For the most part, it is not advisable to store wet, unseasoned wood inside because of the problems dealing with all the moisture in the form of water vapour that will be released from the wood as it is drying.

Why do some fires go great and some just tick over?


Up to half the weight of freshly cut logs is water. After proper seasoning only about 20% of the weight is water. As the wood is heated in the firebox, this water boils off, consuming heat energy in the process.

The wetter the wood, the more heat energy is consumed. That is why wet wood hisses and sizzles while seasoned wood ignites and burns easily. Smoke (or flame)

As the wood heats up above the boiling point of water, it starts to smoke. The gases and tar droplets that make up the smoke are combustible and will burn if the temperature is high enough and oxygen is present. When the smoke burns, it makes the bright flames that are characteristic of wood combustion. If the smoke does not burn in the firebox, it may condense in the chimney, forming creosote.


As the fire progresses and most of the smoke and tars have vaporized, charcoal remains. Charcoal is almost all carbon and burns with very little flame or smoke. It is a good fuel that burns easily and cleanly when enough oxygen is present.

Of the total energy content of the wood you burn, about half is in the form of smoke, and half is charcoal.

We all know working Smoke Alarms are a good idea. Where is the best place to install them?

The best place is in every room. But practicably you should have them within 3m of every bedroom door opening (as requested by council building consents) and one near the heating appliance. You can get less sensitive Kitchen and Dining room smoke alarms for when dad burns the toast! But make sure you have the right ones around bedrooms, and ensure the batteries are working.

Do I need a hearth?

Hearths (or floor protectors) are required to protect any combustible flooring underneath the woodburner (such as polished timber floors) or where there are combustible floor coverings like carpet or rugs. Straight concrete or polished concrete floors don't need a floor protector, but they do if they have any carpet or timber over laid. Floor protectors are required for freestanding, insert and inbuilt wood fires. A range of non combustible materials can be used such as ceramic tiles, stone, granite, polished concrete, brick or even steel plate as an ash hearth. An Ash Hearth needs to be a non combustible material of any thickness, whereas some bigger fires require an Insulating Hearth of at least 50mm thickness of a suitable insulating material before it is covered in the home owners choice of covering.

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