Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Australia Firewood Association Scores Win for Wood Heating

A green building standard in Australia has assigned very low carbon values for wood and pellet heating, which will encourage builders and architects to specify wood heating, because it is now a cost effective means of achieving points toward the green building. The standard, called BASIX stands for the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) and aims to deliver equitable, effective water and greenhouse gas reductions across the state. BASIX is one of the strongest sustainable planning measures to be undertaken in Australia.  The US equivalent is LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and overseen by the US Green Building Council, which is also grappling with how to assign points to wood and pellet heating systems in LEED certified homes and buildings.

From the Firewood Association of Australia – This relates to New South Wales (NSW) building regulations, but the science behind it applies everywhere, wherever there are restrictions on using wood fires, or campaigns against the environmental credentials of firewood.

NSW BASIX, the Building and Sustainability Index, is an integral part of the planning system in NSW. All new dwellings and alterations/additions over $50,000 in NSW must have a BASIX certificate before they can be approved by the council. It has taken seven years but we have finally achieved a major change in the BASIX rules, which, instead of discriminating against wood fires, now gives them a significant advantage.

Here is how it all happened, and what it means.  In August 2007 we sent a letter to the NSW Department of Planning that set out our case for a decrease in the “greenhouse factor” that is used for wood heaters within the on-line rating tool used to generate BASIX certificates. We felt that wood heaters were unfairly prejudiced in the rating system by being given the same “greenhouse” emissions rating as a 4 Star gas heater, when it had been confirmed by the 2003 CSIRO Life Cycle Analysis that firewood was (practically) a greenhouse neutral heating fuel. The department’s response to our letter was that they could not accept firewood as being greenhouse neutral because the 2003 CSIRO study did not include an assessment of non-CO2 greenhouse gases like methane and carbon monoxide.

The FAA subsequently contacted the CSIRO research team that had carried out the 2003 analysis. They eventually agreed to revise and extend their initial study to include carbon monoxide and methane. The results were formally published by CSIRO in April 2012 in a scientific journal (see the article on the front page of the FAA web site). The revised life cycle analysis showed that the greenhouse effect of non-CO2 gas emissions from firewood is minimal.
Following the, we approached the Department of Planning again to request that they re-consider a revision of the BASIX rating for wood heaters. This time we received a more positive response and the team from the Department’s Sustainability Unit agreed to consider our detailed submission.

Finally on the 10th of June 2014, after almost 18 months of negotiation with the DPI Sustainability Unit, the BASIX on-line rating tool was updated to reflect a very much reduced emission factor for wood heaters. As noted in previous issues of the FAA e-news, the proposed change was strenuously opposed by the NSW EPA because they are funding a local government campaign to reduce the number of wood heaters in the State.

Because of the complexity of the BASIX system the impact of this change on any individual rating assessment is a little difficult to quantify precisely, but it will have the effect of making wood heaters much better than a 5 Star gas heater or a 6 Star reverse cycle air conditioner and in fact better than every other type of domestic heating including ground source heat pumps.

One of the likely outcomes of this change is that builders and architects will be encouraged to specify wood heating, simply because it is now the most cost effective means of achieving the required BASIX target.

Obviously manufacturers and retailers of wood heaters will be the big winners from this change. However, from a firewood industry perspective there will undoubtedly be an increased demand for wood, even if some of the new wood heaters are only used occasionally. The other main benefit for both sectors of the wood heating industry is that we have finally got formal government acknowledgement of the greenhouse benefits of firewood, which is something that the entire industry can use to its advantage.

The next thing to do is to make sure that we effectively communicate and promote what is truly a landmark win for wood heating. To get the ball rolling the FAA is obtaining quotes from commercial marketing organisations in NSW for the preparation and delivery of an integrated and targeted marketing strategy. When we are in possession of these quotes the FAA will invite all parties with a vested interest in the NSW wood industry to attend a meeting where the detailed ramifications of the rating change can be explained and a marketing strategy can be agreed.

We would like to express our thanks to the team from the DPI Sustainability Unit for their cooperation in what has been a long and challenging process. Our thanks also go to Joel Belnick of Jetmaster Fireplaces (Aust) Pty Ltd for his encouragement and assistance.

1 comment:

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