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Rotorua air quality project

Historically Rotorua has had some of the worst winter-time air quality in New Zealand. The main source of air pollution in Rotorua is smoke from solid fuel burners used for home heating.

Air pollution is now recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the single biggest environmental threat to human health. The young, the elderly, and those with respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses are the most vulnerable.

Where have we got to?

As a regional council, it’s our role to monitor air quality and manage air pollution. The National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ) set out ambient air quality limits that must be achieved. Over the last 15 years a combination of regulations, funding incentives, and community awareness has meant that we have slowly but surely phased old out inefficient wood burners and improved air quality in Rotorua.

The graph below shows just how far we have come – from 36 exceedances of the NESAQ limit for PM10 in 2008 at the Edmund Road monitoring station to only one in 2020 and none in 2021:


What’s next?

While we have had fantastic air quality improvements in the Rotorua Airshed, we cannot become complacent now. The Airshed is still classed as ‘polluted’ under the NESAQ and will remain so until we have been able to maintain five years of only one PM10 exceedance per year.

It is illegal to use a non-compliant burner in the Airshed. Regional Council will continue with enforcement of the rules to ensure that everyone is playing their part and there are no non-compliant burners being used in the Airshed. Enforcement action so far has been focussed on engaging, educating and encouraging compliance. A stronger enforcement approach is now being taken.

Additionally, central government are proposing amendments to the NESAQ, meaning limits will get stricter. They are proposing to include a limit for PM2.5 – the much smaller particulate matter. This is because the smaller the particles, the worse the health effects become, as the smaller particles travel further into the body.

The last three years of PM2.5­ monitoring at the Edmund Road monitoring station indicates that the Rotorua Airshed will not meet central government’s initial proposed PM2.5 limits. More pollution reduction measures are therefore likely to be required in order for the Airshed to meet the new limits. The amended NESAQ is expected to be released in late 2022 or early 2023, and Regional Council will assess future options at that time.

Pollution Hotline

If you suspect someone is using a non-compliant burner, smell an offensive odour, or notice excessive smoke please phone our 24/7 Pollution Hotline on 0800 884 883

Airsheds are a tool that allow councils to monitor and introduce rules to help improve air quality for a specific area. The Rotorua Airshed was first gazetted in 2005.

Rotorua airshed map

The boundary was previously re-gazetted in 2018 to cover some areas of proposed new residential development, however at that time housing prices and demand in Rotorua were still relatively stagnant and massive growth in the immediate future was not expected. Rotorua is now firmly in a housing crisis and further residential development is beginning to happen in areas next to the Airshed.

Any burners installed in houses in these areas will contribute to the PM10 concentration in the Airshed, and have the potential to compromise all the hard work the Rotorua community has done over the last 15 years to improve air quality in the Airshed.

The National Environmental Standards for Air Quality are also in the process of being amended by Central Government. Extending the Airshed is a good first step in preparation for the more stringent regulations that are proposed, and the air quality targets that we will need to meet in future. Therefore, in July 2021, Regional Council applied to the Ministry for the Environment to extend the boundaries of the Rotorua Airshed.

The Ministry for the Environment has now granted our application to re-gazette the Rotorua Airshed and extend the boundary. The new boundary came into effect on 3rd June 2022.

View an interactive map of the Rotorua Airshed

The Rotorua Air Quality Action Plan was created in 2008 to help reach the National Environmental Standards for Air Quality (NESAQ) limits, and to improve the air quality for the health of the Rotorua community.

While the main source of PM10 in Rotorua is domestic solid fuel burners, the Action Plan is a holistic document and includes actions for all potential sources, including industry.

The Action Plan set out a combination of regulatory (i.e. rules) and non-regulatory (voluntary) methods. The six areas covered are:

  • Reducing domestic emissions
  • Restricting future domestic emissions.
  • Reducing industrial emissions
  • Dry wood promotion
  • Raising community awareness
  • Infrastructure development

We have recently completed a review of the Action Plan. Based on the upcoming legislative changes, it is likely that a new Action Plan for Rotorua will be needed to ensure that we can comply with the new NESAQ standards when they are released, and make sure the air is safer for our community.

Regional Council controls the discharge to air from a burner. The relevant rules are in the Air chapter of the Regional Natural Resources Plan.

Rotorua Lakes Council controls the actual burners themselves. The relevant rules are in the Rotorua Air Quality Bylaw.

The combination of both types of rules was needed to best tackle the air quality problem in Rotorua.

Summary of the main rules from both regulations

Non-compliant Burners

Woodburners installed before 1 September 2005 and all coal burners, multi-fuel burners, indoor open fires, potbelly stoves, coal or wood ranges/cookers, chip heaters, Marshall heaters regardless of their installation date.

Point of Sale Rule

Before the sale of any property is completed, any non-compliant burners must be removed or replaced with compliant heating. It is the vendor’s responsibility to remove or replace non-compliant solid fuel burners in the property. Indoor open fires must be made inoperable.

You must complete a Point of Sale Compliance Form, attach before and after photos and submit the form to Bay of Plenty Regional Council regardless of which option you opt for (remove only OR remove and replace). This must all be done before the property title transfers to the new owner.

A dispensation from the Bylaw Point of Sale rule will only be granted in exceptional circumstances. There is a $200 application fee. Dispensation application forms are only available upon request.

New Burner Rules

Only woodburners that have an emission rate of no more than 0.60g/kg and a thermal efficiency of no less than 65%, and are on the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) Authorised wood burners list can be installed in the Rotorua Airshed.

You can only install a woodburner if you are replacing an existing wood, coal or multifuel burner in the same house and Rotorua Lakes Council issued the old burner a permit or building consent. If you are purchasing a house and the vendor removes an existing burner but does not replace it before the sale, you will not be able to install a new burner later, unless you get a resource consent. 

Offset Rule

If you want to install a woodburner, but do not have an existing burner in your house to replace, or the existing burner was not issued a permit/consent, you will need to get resource consent to do so. In order for a consent to be granted, you will need to find an existing solid fuel burner in another house in the Airshed to remove, to offset the emissions from your proposed new woodburner. The offset burner must be operable and Rotorua Lakes Council needs to have issued it a solid fuel burner permit or building consent.

For any queries about the resource consent requirements, please contact the Consents Duty Planner on 0800 884 880.

Useful documents:

Enforcement of the Rotorua Air Quality rules is done by Regional Council’s Compliance team. Enforcement action so far has focused on engagement, education and encouragement, which has seen great results.

From Tuesday 7 June 2022, Bay of Plenty Regional Council Compliance officers started using new infrared camera technology to help detect illegal non-compliant woodburner use in Rotorua.

The new thermal imaging camera technology detects thermal energy on chimneys and flues which show unlawful use of woodburners. If use of illegal woodburners is identified, Compliance Officers will follow up with the occupants. The cameras do not see-through walls or glass, nor show any human activity within houses.

This compliance monitoring will help ensure everyone is doing the right thing by only using clean and permitted heating.


Financial assistance for replacement heating, insulation, double-glazing and solar is available from:

  • The Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority (EECA) – insulation and heating grants are available through their Warmer Kiwi Homes programme
  • Banks – some banks offer interest free or low interest loans for replacement heating and other healthy home improvements including insulation and double glazing.

Ultra-low emission burners

Ultra-low emission burners (ULEBs) are the most efficient type of woodburner. The first models of ULEBs had two combustion chambers on top of each other, but recent models of ULEBs look just like “regular” woodburners. As the technology has improved, and demand for ULEBs has increased, the price has also come down. 

Pellet burners

Pellet burners use pellets made from waste wood as their fuel source. Newer models of pellet burners often have timers, thermostatic control and are wifi-enabled, allowing you to set the burner to warm your house remotely. Having to buy the pellets may not appeal to some people, however they may be more convenient for people without the space for storing firewood, people who may not be able to easily handle firewood, and for those who want the atmosphere of a burner but the technology to set it on a timer or thermostatic control. Additionally, it may be easier and more financially manageable to buy a bag of pellets with the weekly shop over the winter months rather than purchasing a bulk amount of firewood.  

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are a great way to heat your home and do not produce any of the harmful particulates in the air. They provide convenient, thermostatically controlled heating that can be pre-set at different times of the day to turn on and off.

The simplest versions are designed for a single room, the most complex for a whole house. A heat pump works by extracting heat from the air outside your house and bringing it indoors.

Some areas of Rotorua have high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide due to the geothermal system. This gas is very corrosive and can cause problems with metal corrosion and electronics, all of which are incorporated in heat pumps. Before choosing a heat pump check with your supplier how they propose to treat the heat pump to ensure it can withstand Rotorua conditions if you are located in a geothermal area and confirm any impact this may have on manufacturer’s warranties.

Heat pumps also have the advantage of providing cooling in the hot summer months, which is also important for the health of those more prone to heat stress, such as the elderly and young children.

Dry firewood burns better and hotter than wet wood, so provides more heat for your home. Burning dry wood also creates less smoke and pollution.

Easy ways for you to make sure your firewood is ready to burn:

Stack it well

Split your wood to a maximum thickness of 15cm and stack it loosely to let air flow though the pile.

Also store it off the ground to protect it from ground moisture – a wooden pallet is ideal.

Cover it

Store your firewood in a sheltered place where it is protected from the weather.

This can be as simple as covering your wood pile with a tarpaulin.

Let it dry

Firewood takes about 12 months to dry.

Whether you source your own or buy it, make sure you get your firewood early.

How to tell if your wood is dry:

  • Dry wood has cracks in the end
  • It weighs less than wet wood
  • When hit together two dry pieces of wood should make a noise like a loud hollow crack.

Regional Council has a wood moisture tester in the Rotorua Office. Bring a piece of your firewood in for testing if you are unsure if it is dry enough. Dry wood has a moisture content of less than 25%.

To really make your home warmer, drier and healthier to live in, it is important to think about how insulation, heating, ventilation and tackling dampness work together as a system. By thinking of each element as one piece of the whole puzzle, it’s easier to see how getting each part sorted contributes to a more efficient, comfortable and healthy living environment.

Recommendations include:

  • Ensuring the roof and underfloor are sufficiently insulated, as this is where most heat is lost
  • Air your house regularly - open windows to allow fresh air to circulate
  • Using bathroom and kitchen extractor fans
  • Make sure curtains and blinds form a good seal around your windows – the BRANZ guide Understanding the magic of curtains provides more detail
  • Consider double glazing

The Asthma & Respiratory Foundation NZ has more information about making sure your home is warm, dry and healthy in their Healthy Homes Guide.

Hot Swap loans were available in the Rotorua Airshed from 2010 to help the community replace their non-compliant burners with cleaner, more efficient heating methods, such as ultra-low emission burners and heat pumps.

The Rotorua Hot Swap Scheme ended on 31 June 2021.

Hot Swap loan information

Interest Rates

Under the Rotorua Hot Swap Scheme, a single interest rate is used for the whole term of the loan, set at the time of the loan being issued. Various interest rates have been applied and different loan limits have been applied within the Scheme over time to different heating appliances or insulation loans.

Interest rates may be 6%, 3% or interest free depending on the chosen heating appliance. Grants have also been funded by the Council to reduce loan amounts.

The combined total of the loan and total interest is divided into a set annual amount to be collected via rates.

Default fees/Default interest charges

Regional Council does not expressly charge default fees or default interest charges, however, penalties can be applied to late rate payments (for instalments and for the previous year). Rates are currently collected on behalf of Regional Council by each local authority and penalties range from 3% to 10% of the outstanding amount.

Issues or complaints with loan agreements

If any person has a problem with a Rotorua Hot Swap Scheme loan agreement please contact the Bay of Plenty Regional Council toll-free between the hours of 8.30 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday on 0800 884 880.

Regional Council is registered as a financial services provider (FSP number FSP1001835) and is a member of an approved dispute resolution scheme (Financial Services Complaints Ltd).

Re-payment Difficulties

Any Rotorua Hot Swap Scheme ratepayer who finds themselves in a position where repayments are difficult should contact Regional Council as soon as possible to discuss options.

Changes to Loan Agreements

Interest rates and repayment arrangements are not changed by Council. Rotorua Hot Swap Scheme ratepayers can decide to pay a lump sum and the interest is reduced in accordance with the lump sum.

If a property is sold during the life of a loan agreement the loan must be re-paid. If there are circumstances where a request is made for a person to take over the loan, Regional Council will consider the request. At Council’s discretion a new loan agreement may be provided.

This information is provided in accordance with the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act 2003.

Any Rotorua Hot Swap Scheme ratepayer can request detailed information about their loan agreement.