How to Find Out and What to Do about It

Discussions about air pollution and wood burning fireplaces have been ongoing for many years. Regulations are nothing new. The first air pollution control act was passed in 1955. The Clean Air Act of 1963 was the start of the first federal public health service related to air pollution.

More acts and amendments have been passed in the time since then. It is also common to see local governments pass regulations on air pollution, specifically related to wood burning fireplaces.

Most recently, in 2015, the New Source Performance Standards (passed under the Clean Air Act) directly addressed residential wood burning fireplaces. The EPA stated in 2021 that there is ongoing review of the new regulations and actions would continue to be implemented over time.

Many of those actions started showing up in the last couple of years and we can expect to see more in the near future. Here’s a rundown of what regulations are in effect now.

Clean heat from an electric fireplace in a neutral colored living room.

National Ban on Non-Compliant Wood Burning Fireplaces

Retailers had until May 2020 to stop selling less efficient wood heating devices. Many U.S. retailers have been in compliance for several years now and have only offered cleaner burning models for quite some time. Wood burning fireplaces in homes from before the time of the regulation are exempt from the current ban.

The EPA also launched the Burn Wise program to spread the word about new regulations and make it easier to find compliant fireplaces. Look for the Burn Wise logo to find models that come in under the EPA maximum smoke emissions allowance of 2.5 g/hr.

The Burn Wise website offers resources, tips and tricks, and a database of EPA-certified wood burning fireplaces to help you find the right fireplace. They also offer strategies for burning best practices that decrease emissions like burning only seasoned wood.

There are also some items passed related to fuel which regulates the material pellets are composed of. For more details about that visit the EPA website.

State-Level Bans on Wood Burning Fireplaces

Some states took the EPA’s regulations a step further to manage their residential smoke emissions and passed laws, fees, and taxes of their own.

For instance, Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment implemented a wood burning advisory program. On a red advisory day, mandatory burning restrictions apply to the Denver-Boulder metro area below 7,000 feet. They also have regulations in place pertaining to certain types of fireplaces on high pollution days.

Michigan has an ordinance that bans outdoor wood burning units. Idaho offers a tax deduction to residents who switch from uncertified wood burning fireplaces to approved alternatives. In Oregon, not only are uncertified wood burning units banned, but when a house is sold all uncertified units must be removed and destroyed.

Contact your State air agency to find out what further regulations may be in place in your State.

What To Do If There’s a Ban in Your Area

If you currently have a wood burning fireplace, there’s plenty you can do to ensure you stay within regulations. The Environmental Law Institute’s 2021 report: Indoor Wood Burning: Policies to Reduce Emissions and Improve Public Health offers many ideas to help you continue to enjoy your fireplace legally and safely.

If the bother of keeping up with advisories and the continually changing regulations is too much for you, other types of fireplaces may be a better option. The EPA and other air protection agencies are beginning to regulate gas fireplaces as well so your best bet is to go electric.

Electric fireplaces have no emissions and are highly efficient with their electrical usage. They are the optimal alternative for clean supplemental heating. You can choose from a wide variety of fireplace styles that offer much more than a traditional wood burning fireplace but with all the same ambiance and stellar heating. Read more about the health, safety, and efficiency of the electric fireplace.

 Electric vs. Gas Fireplaces

Electric vs. Wood Fireplaces

Local Laws & Ordinances Banning Wood Burning Fireplaces

Some communities have taken it upon themselves to create further restrictions. California is well known for local regulations on fireplaces.

The Bay Area Quality Management District in San Francisco has made it illegal to burn wood on days when they issue a “Winter Spare the Air Alert.” As of November 2016, new build construction could not install wood burning fireplaces or units of any kind (including EPA certified units).

Many other local governments have restrictions in place for “alert” days when the air quality is compromised or there is air stagnation. Denver, CO, Lagrande, OR, Puget Sound, WA, are examples of areas with these restrictions.

Puget Sound, WA has also passed regulations related to visibility in addition to unhealthy air quality. They have made it illegal to “smoke out” neighbors. When smoke obscures vision by more than 20%, it incurs fines.

Find out if you have a local air protection agency to learn more about regulations in your specific area.

Ready to make the change to electric? Start your journey here and find the right type of fireplace for you.

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