Making the switch: Effective wood heater buy backs (Penny Jones)

Penny Jones




Penny Jones

University of Tasmania

Dr Penelope (Penny) Jones is a Senior Research Fellow in Environmental Health at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. She has a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary background, combining government experience in environmental policy with research spanning fire ecology, palaeoecology, archaeology, aerobiology and most recently, environmental health. Currently, her core research focus is the intersection of the atmospheric environment and human health, particularly in terms of pollen and poor air quality. She has played a lead role in the AirRater smartphone application and is now working on several projects to try to reduce the impacts of wood heater smoke on Australian communities. She is also passionate about teaching – she developed and now coordinates the unit KPZ104 ‘Living with Fire’, and co-developed the award winning short course ‘Bushfires and Your Health’.


Project Status: In progress, commenced 2023

Grant Type: Project grant

Why was funding this research important?

Wood heater smoke is a leading cause of air pollution in many parts of Australia and can have significant impacts on the health of people with asthma.

That’s why we are funding Dr Penelope Jones and a team led out of the University of Tasmania to equip policy makers with comprehensive evidence about community perspectives, costs and benefits of wood heater replacement.

When wood is burnt for heating, fine particles (known as PM2.5) are released into the air. When breathed in, these particles go deep into the lungs, enter the blood and travel throughout the body.

Exposure to wood smoke has both short-term and long-term impacts on health. PM2.5 is known to trigger asthma attacks and is the leading environmental risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. In Sydney alone, wood heaters cause an estimated 100 deaths each year – more than pollution from traffic or power stations.

With only 10% of households using wood heaters as their main source of heating, supporting people to switch to less harmful heating options is an excellent investment in Australian health.

Wood heater replacement schemes (also called ‘buy-back schemes’) offer households an incentive to replace their wood heater with a cleaner alternative, such as a reverse cycle air conditioner. These programs are the only way to substantially reduce wood heater pollution. However, Australian policy makers have struggled to find effective models, and need evidence to build the case for large scale investment.

By providing policy makers with evidence and tools to design effective wood heater replacement schemes, this project is highly likely to lead to policies that reduce pollution and improve the health of people with asthma in the short and medium-term.

About the research

The research project includes three parts:

  1. A survey of more than 700 wood heater owners to understand what types of wood heater incentives would motivate various communities to switch to healthier heating technology.
  2. A cost benefit analysis, using the survey data and health and environmental modelling, to estimate the consumer uptake, costs, and benefits of various wood heater replacement schemes.
  3. Piloting a best practice wood heater replacement trial in Armidale, New South Wales. This will provide real-world evidence and learnings to support change.

“Policy makers have asked us repeatedly for research to help them design better wood heater policies – this package of research will provide the on ground, real world evidence that they need.” – Dr Penelope Jones