New law regulates use of wood burning stoves, initiates conversion program

ST. GEORGE — One of the new laws passed in March by the Utah Legislature is the “Wood Burning Amendments” bill, or House Bill 154, which created funding for public awareness campaigns about the effects of wood burning on air quality and to convert homes whose sole source of heat is wood burning in order to decrease air pollution, especially along the Wasatch Front where the inversion prevails.

Wood burning significantly impacts the quality of the air, said Utah Department of Environmental Quality Communications Director Donna Spangler. The Division of Air Quality, a subset of the DEQ, can restrict wood burning to either encourage conversion or try to reach out to those who burn in excess. The DAQ describes the effects of wood smoke on its smoke abatement Web page:

Wood smoke is extremely dirty and carries with it both particulate matter and toxic compounds that significantly worsen our air quality. Wood smoke also travels across a broad area: not only are the people living in the home with the fire impacted, but their neighbors and others are as well, as the fine particles of the wood smoke are able to penetrate inside other homes from the outside.

Although the bill passed, it did not find unanimous support in the Legislature.

It’s a pretty minor impact considering that 60 percent of pollutants come out of a tailpipe, said Sen. Evan Vickers, who voted against the bill.

“I was hesitant because I’m always real sensitive to the rural way of life,” Vickers said. “I understand the desire to change from wood to natural gas, but there are a lot of people with cabins and homes in rural areas where wood has been a main source.”

The state’s mandatory restrictions mean that people may be fined for wood burning during the time of restrictions; voluntary restrictions mean people cannot be fined but are strongly advised to not burn wood as a source of heat.

“It is a violation to use wood burning stoves on a red air day. To use a stove during that time violates state law and that code has been in effect for several years,” said the bill’s Floor Sponsor Sen. Curtis Bramble.

The term “conversion” does not, however, mean that a wood burning stove may be converted into a natural gas stove. Instead, funding would be put toward purchasing and installing a separate stove or furnace that burns clean gas. The average cost of a natural gas stove, which includes materials, labor and installation, can be anywhere from around $600 to well over $1,000.

This bill appropriated $750,000 as a one-time general fund to the department and offers opportunities for further funding needs.

Prior to the new law, according to the state’s smoke abatement Web page, five Salt Lake City area homes were selected for a test-project conversion via grant money, stating: “Just this change alone will make a big impact.” The page further refers to a University of Utah Study that found wood burning and grill cooking could be as important a source of air pollution along the Wasatch Front as gasoline emissions:

  • A wood burning device can produce approximately 200 times as much pollution as a natural gas furnace per BTU created.
  • One older wood burning stove pollutes as much as five dirty diesel buses.

“I think it’s a work in progress,” Rep. Don Ipson, who voted for the new law, said. “I don’t think adequate recognition has been asserted for the fact that we have much better air quality than we had 30 years ago. But as the population grows, it will get worse.”

As far as Southern Utah is concerned, Ipson said that there will never be the extent of pollution that is seen in Salt Lake City.

“I think we are good enough stewards to the earth,” Ipson said. “This is going to be the greatest place to live forever.”

On March 6, the proposed Wood Burning Amendments bill passed the House 43-28 with 4 not voting. On March 12 the bill passed the Senate with contingent amendments, 17-9 with 3 not voting. The bill as amended then received House concurrence on March 13, 48-22 with 5 not voting. It was signed by the Governor on March 31, effective May 13, amending Utah Code Sections 19-2-104 and 107, and enacting Section 19-2-107.5 known as “Wood burning.”

From Southern Utah Reps. John Westwood, Michael Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Don Ipson voted for the bill as amended by the Senate; Rep. Brad Last voted against it; and Rep. Jon Stanard did not vote on the bill as amended by the Senate but had voted against the bill on the House’s earlier third reading. Sens. David Hinkins, Steve Urquhart and Evan Vickers voted against the bill; and Sen. Ralph Okerland did not vote.

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  • My Evil Twin June 9, 2014 at 10:07 am

    It is all well and good, to talk about converting to gas fired furnaces and other appliances. However, I wonder just how many primary residences, let alone mountain cabins don’t have the luxury of having a natural gas pipeline running down the road in front of their house. And just how expensive is it going to be, to bring in that natural gas.
    Propane seems like a good answer, but it has its own share of problems. One of them being that propane companies don’t always manage to get around to fill their tanks in a timely manner.
    I do agree that wood burning stoves are likely not the best way to go. I spent a number of years where that was the only heating for my house. I wouldn’t go back to that for anything.

    • Tracie June 10, 2014 at 12:57 am

      I too used to only have a wood burning stove to heat my house. It was freezing. And many times I didn’t have the time to build a large fire that would heat my house through the night. I switched to a gas fireplace after a few years, then later had forced air installed. I too would never want to go back. It was terribly inefficient and inconvenient. 20+ years ago everyone on my block burned cedar in the winter, and the smoke was pretty overpowering at times on cold nights. It’s not like that anymore. Obviously not everyone has the ability to switch, but also they are not banning wood burning stoves outright, just banning their use on red burn days. Chances are that we aren’t going to have many of those in this part of the state, and they certainly won’t have them in rural areas.

      My family owns a cabin in the mountains that has a wood fireplace, but also a propane heater, and space heaters as needed. This law probably won’t even effect cabins much, since they are not likely to be in metro areas with red burn days.

  • 375ultra June 9, 2014 at 10:28 am

    more government overreach that may end with people getting killed

    • Bender June 9, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Right you are. This is ‘murica where anyone has the right to dump whatever he wants, whenever he wants, into the air that all of us breathe.

  • Dontdodat June 9, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Don’t do dis don’t do dat, wat else des gad gurn politician gunna tell us we can’t do. They had them there a parade this here week end. Whole heard of folks driving into the area to support making all kinds of pollution out that there tailpipe. Not out just the cars tailpipe neither. No one says gad gum thing about it. The smell was out this world. One barking spider at a time.

  • Petra June 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    You should clean your soul by burning all your bad thoughts and actions. You have to change to do this like changing from wood to natural gas. I have a friend who stopped using wood and he loves natural gas doesn’t bother him at all because he says it is natural. He likes it so much he won’t us his wood or even give his wood away for some else to us. Now he carves his logs into like figures and sells them on he bay help to clean up this country of filth. I figure his wood figure(get it) is like giving him self to the world for change, he only charges $2.93 each. So I attach a positive message to each figure now like, I am saving the world of pollution please except my wood from me to you. Or hope this brings you joy before I carved it it was just a dead piece of wood, or by receiving my wood you are proving receiving can be as much fun as giving(they pay for the item) please help keep the air clean by sharing your wood with others not to burn but to receive what Mother Nature has to offer. Thanks for changing the world for a better tomorrow today.

  • Wood fired June 9, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    I don’t use gas because I heat my house for $40 a year 4 chords of wood. Gas isn’t cheaper than that heck even using no gas I get a service charge and who wants an ugly propane tank at there house And propane still isn’t $40 a year.

  • re June 10, 2014 at 12:12 am

    I really like the smell of burning cedar or pinion pine. These fireplace smells smell so much better than the e. Coli infested gases seeping out of animal and human butts..ill gladly huff a lil carbon laced smoke from granny’s chimney to keep the smell of that other crap outta my nose. Oh, and heaven forbid I should get a wiff of john’s barbecue grill USU,… hot air rises , cold air sinks, fix your inversion problem Salt Lake…

  • Grace June 10, 2014 at 8:02 am

    I have grandparents in Salt Lake City who depend on there fireplace in the winter. Because there house doesn’t have heaters and such so what’s going to happen to them are they just supposed to freeze on red days…

  • yup June 10, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Basically a wood stove sends 85-90% of the heat produced by burning right out the chimney in the form of exhaust smoke and soot. Although the newer ones are much improved over the old timey ones they are still hugely inefficient and very polluting. For areas of low population density they are probably fine. For anywhere else they are an unpleasant nuisance. The old timers will never like the change but it needs to be done.

    • Bender June 10, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Get out of here with your good judgement and common sense. You’ll turn my fireplace off over my cold dead body.

  • Researcher June 11, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I have problems with blanket statements or laws responses without good options out for the unusual cases or situations. Sure there are those who don’t run their fireplaces or heaters at maximum efficiency, but they need to stay warm. Then there are those who have more efficient or modern burners that do burn more efficiently, what about them? There are schools in the western parts of the US that are converting to wood because it’s cheaper than burning fuel oil. It’s a government run program. Also, there are times the Forest Service burns forests as a means to clear some debris, that’s not all efficient. …. It’s not an easy one law does it all. Also just to add a little more information, there is research going on now at the Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, WI that squeezes every bit of energy out of a piece of wood in a much cleaner manner. Maybe they can make exceptions for new wood fired units using this new technology.

    • NoWhereMan January 2, 2015 at 7:22 pm

      Well said , wish there were more common sense folks like you out there .

  • NoWhereMan January 2, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    They say “wood burning significantly impacts the quality of the air” then they say it’s 5% of the problem even King Herbert said that , now is that 5% of the 32% of area sources or is that 5% of the total , just how much is significant ?
    If you use an EPA phase II unit or a Washington state certified unit like I do (it puts out 2.6 grams per hour max) or a catalytic stove some of which put out less than 1 gram of particulate matter per hour your not chugging that much smoke into to air in fact the only time you see any smoke is at start up and at refuel periods , if everyone had this type of stove it would help a lot .
    King Herbert also says maybe the state will pony up $3000 for people to switch to natural gas (which has it’s fare share of environmental impact IE fracking) or propane (almost $5.00 a gallon at times !)just how far does he think that $3000 will go?

    Oh just in case you haven’t heard , now there talking about an outright ban from Nov 1 to March 1 , with an exception for folks living at over 7000 feet , meanwhile nothing is being done about industrial pollution or the nearly 500’000 cars that travel up and down I15 on a daily basis and that doesn’t include surface street traffic !

    None of this makes any sense !

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