Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sample Wood Smoke Nuisance Regulations

This outdoor wood boilers in Morgan
County Utah was somehow found not
to be a nuisance by a County Judge. 
Many jurisdictions in the Western US have “burn bans” that disallow the use of wood or pellet stoves when air quality is very poor, often in conjunction with weather inversions.  Nuisance regulations, on the other hand, apply when one person is creating excessive smoke that bothers an immediate neighbor.  That person may be using an EPA certified stove, an old stove or an outdoor or indoor boiler.

The purpose of this paper is to show the range of standards by which excessive smoke is measured.  Lack of resolution between neighbors is all too common, due sometimes to a lack of a clear nuisance standard for that town or county, or simply due to a lack of the ability or willingness to enforce a nuisance standard. 

If a jurisdiction has no written standard or regulation, the sample provisions below offer an excellent starting point for the jurisdiction to adopt.  Most jurisdictions use "opacity" as a measure of smoke - meaning the ability to see through it.  An opacity of 20% or lower is often listed as acceptable, but not always.  In some regulations, a specific amount of start-up time is exempted, ranging from 6 to 20 minutes in these sample regulations. However, many wood stove experts say 20 - 30 minutes is often the time needed to get a fire without visible smoke.
The Ringellman chart or scale was developed in 1888 and is still sometimes used and referenced today.
The Ringellman scale was adapted by the US Bureau of Mines.
The Alliance for Green Heat has noticed an increase in complaints about wood smoke.  We know that in many cases excessive wood smoke results from burning unseasoned wood, caused in part by the shortage of seasoned firewood this year.  Too many people with wood stoves wait until the fall to order wood and too many firewood distributors try to pass off unseasoned wood as seasoned.

The proposed ban of stoves in Utah has also brought the issue of “responsible burning” to the forefront, with industry calling for EPA certified equipment to be exempt from any ban.  These nuisance provisions, with a few exceptions, make no distinction between the kind of device that is being used, and focus solely on how well the operator is using it. 

No person shall cause or allow the emission of smoke exceeding twenty-percent opacity from any flue or chimney, except for a single fifteen-minute period for cold start-up. Any emission in excess hereof is hereby declared to be a nuisance and is prohibited.

A person who operates in a densely populated area an outdoor wood-burning device that produces visible emissions, measured as any opacity, totaling 12 minutes in any hour that cross onto land or buildings immediately adjacent to a dwelling or commercial building not owned by the owner of the outdoor wood-burning device creates a nuisance.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) regulations limit visible smoke (or "opacity") and prohibit air pollution that places people at risk, interferes with property uses, threatens natural resources, or creates nuisances, such as excessive odor and soot.

* Existing sources outside special control areas. No person may emit any air contaminant for a period or periods aggregating more than three minutes in any one hour which is equal to or greater than 40% opacity.
* New sources in all areas and existing sources within special control areas: No person may emit any air contaminants for a period or periods aggregating more than three minutes in any one hour which is equal to or greater than 20% opacity.

* A nuisance is anything which is injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property. A nuisance may be the subject of an action.
* A nuisance under this part includes tobacco smoke that drifts into any residential unit a person rents, leases, or owns, from another residential or commercial unit. [There is no mention of wood smoke or opacity in the nuisance provisions of the Utah Code.]


No person shall cause or allow a visible emission from any wood-burning device in any building or structure that exceeds No. 1 on the Ringlemann Chart or 20 percent opacity for a period or periods aggregating more than three consecutive minutes in any one hour period. Visible emissions created during a fifteen-minute start-up period are exempt from this regulation.


* Certified wood heaters may be operated during a no-burn period provided that no visible emissions are produced after a twenty (20) minute period following start up or refueling.
* During a period in which the Director has not declared a no-burn, no person shall operate a solid fuel heating device in a manner which produces emission into the atmosphere if the emissions exceed 30 % opacity twenty (20) minutes or longer after ignition or refueling of the solid fuel burning device. Visible emission opacity shall be determined by an observer certified by the Director.

Smoke shall not exceed an average of 20% opacity for any 2-minute period during an hour or average of 40% for 6 minutes after start-up.

The emission into the open air of visible smoke from any residential indoor non-wood pellet-burning appliance or any non EPA-Phase II certified wood burning appliance or fireplace used for home- heating purposes in such manner or in such amounts as to endanger or tend to endanger the health, comfort, safety or welfare of any reasonable person, or to cause unreasonable injury or damage to property or which could cause annoyance or discomfort in the area of the emission, is prohibited.

* During a green or yellow advisory, no person in charge of property shall operate or allow to be operated a solid-fuel space-heating device which discharges emissions that are of an opacity greater than 40 percent. This provision does not apply to the emissions during the building of a new fire, for a period or periods aggregating no more than ten minutes in any four-hour period.
* Upon a determination that a person has violated section 6.255 of this code, the city manager may impose upon the violator and any other person in charge of the property, an administrative penalty not greater than $500.

Fort Collins, CO
* After the first 15-minutes of start-up, smoke from the chimney must be at or less than 20% opacity (smoke should be barely visible looking at it with your back to the sun).
* Violation of City Code can result in a summons to appear in municipal court resulting in a fine of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail.

No person may operate a solid fuel-fired heating device in such a manner that visible emissions reduce visibility through the exhaust for more than 15 minutes in any one hour by 50% opacity or greater.

* No person shall discharge into the atmosphere from any source of emission whatsoever any air contaminant greater than 20% visible opacity as determined by Test Method described in subsection A, for a period in excess of six (6) minutes in any consecutive sixty (60) minute period.
* Any emissions from portable, stationary, or motor vehicle sources in excess of 40% opacity, regardless of length of time, are considered excessive emissions.

* State law limits the density of smoke from indoor fires to ensure that people use clean burning techniques. This requirement is called the 20 percent smoke opacity limit. Opacity means how much your view through the smoke is blocked.
* 100 percent opacity means you can't see anything through the smoke. 20 percent opacity means there is very little smoke and you can see almost perfectly through it. If you use dry enough fuel, the right equipment, and give your fire the right amount of air, there should be no visible smoke from your chimney or stove pipe--only heat waves.
* There are two exceptions to the opacity rule which allow you limited time for denser smoke:
• Starting the fire. You have up to 20 minutes every four hours.
• Stoking the fire. You have up to six consecutive minutes in any one-hour period.