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Last updated January 1, 2014

County limits new rural fireplaces

Supervisors ban inefficient wood-burning units in new homes; existing fireplaces OK

©Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat, March 23, 2005

Inefficient wood-burning fireplaces and stoves will be banned in all new homes in rural Sonoma County under a law passed unanimously Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

The law will affect all new home construction, as well as the installation of any new wood-fired heating appliance, in the unincorporated areas of the county.

Tuesday's action leaves Sonoma as the only city in the county without a law that regulates pollution-spewing wood-burning appliances.

The city is crafting an ordinance that is expected to be before the Sonoma City Council in a few months, City Manager Mike Fuson said.

The county's new law, which takes effect in 30 days, will not require homeowners to upgrade fireplaces in existing houses during major remodeling projects. However, the owners of existing homes must comply with the ordinance when installing a new wood stove or fireplace.

The county's ordinance is welcome but does not go far enough said Jenny Bard, director of the clean air program of the Redwood Empire Branch of the American Lung Association. She said the county should not limit the law to new homes, but set a time limit to replace all existing wood stoves and fireplaces.

"This is a public health issue. The ordinance needs to have greater teeth," she said.

"It will do a good job for anything built in the future, but it is not going to have that big of an impact on the current emission problem," Bard said.

Any new unit must be a pellet-fueled wood heater, a wood-burning heater certified by the Environmental Protection Agency or a wood-burning appliance approved by the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District.

New wood stoves, including pellet-burning stoves, typically put out 85 percent less particulate matter than old stoves. Smoke discharged from noncertified wood-burning units contains particles that can lodge in lungs, causing impaired lung growth, pregnancy complications, lung disease and heart disease, according to the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District.

Eight of the county's nine cities already have similar or tougher restrictions in place.

A committee led by the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District will manage a rebate program for property owners who replace polluting stoves with newer, more efficient units.

The group will also work to educate property owners about the ill effects of smoke and how to use their existing stoves more efficiently.

"Education can go a long way," Bard said. "Most people, when they hear how bad wood smoke is, will make the choice to burn less or not at all, or convert to less polluting technology."


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