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Wood Heating

About half of all homes in northwest Washington have some type of wood-heating device. During the winter, wood smoke can account for most of the air pollution recorded in residential areas. And studies show that when air quality is poor outside, it can seep into buildings and become as bad or worse indoors, even in homes that aren’t heating with wood.

Wood smoke is a health risk because it consists of tiny particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. Particle pollution is linked to a number of health problems, including coughing, wheezing, reduced lung function, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes. It also is linked to early death. Young children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory illness are most susceptible to health risks from wood smoke.

In order to help reduce these health risks, all wood-heating appliances sold in Washington must be certified to meet Washington state emission limits.

Current Wood Heating Burn Bans

Current Burn Alerts

    There aren't currently any bans.

Lifted Burn Alerts

    There aren't currently any bans.

Types of Burn Bans

Burn ban due to impaired air quality:
The Northwest Clean Air Agency can call this type of burn ban when air pollutants are measured at unhealthy levels, or are rising and expected to reach unhealthy levels. Impaired air quality burn bans affect wood heating and outdoor burning. There are two stages of impaired air quality burn bans:

  • Stage I Burn Ban: No outdoor burning or burning in any uncertified woodstove or fireplace.*
  • Stage II Burn Ban: No outdoor burning or burning in any woodstove, fireplace or pellet stove.*

*Exemptions: Households with no other source of adequate heat can request an exemption from NWCAA to burn during a burn ban.

Burn ban due to dry weather conditions:
This is a temporary ban on outdoor burning called by a fire official during periods of high fire danger. Call 360-428-1617 ext. 4 for current status.

Permanent burn bans:
These prohibit land-clearing and residential burning of yard clippings and other vegetative debris in specific cities and their urban growth areas.

Wood Smoke and Your Health

Tips for Cleaner Wood Heating

Burn only dry, clean, untreated wood or manufactured logs.
It is illegal to burn anything else, such as garbage. Paper is legal only for starting a fire. Firewood should be dried under cover for up to a year before burning. For more information about drying wood, visit burndryfirewood.com.

Give your fire plenty of air.
Be sure not to overload the stove or reduce airflow by closing the damper. Small, hot fires burn cleaner, produce more heat and can use less wood.

Check your chimney about 20 minutes after starting your fire.
Lots of smoke means your fire needs air. An efficient, legal fire emits heat waves and just a wisp of smoke. Be considerate — don’t smoke out your neighbors.

Buying and Installing Wood Heating Appliances

Buying
If you are considering a woodstove or fireplace insert for your home, or you are planning to upgrade your old woodstove, take a few minutes to determine which device is best for you by watching this quick video:  “A Quick Guide on how to Buy a Wood Stove for Home Heating.”

Installation
It is illegal to sell, install or give away a wood heating appliance or factory-built fireplace that is not certified to meet Washington state air emission standards.

State Requirements

All state certified stoves are also certified by the U.S. EPA, but not the other way around – U.S. certification alone doesn’t mean the stove is state certified. Your stove is U.S. certified if it has a plate with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency label. Look for the EPA plate on the back or side of the stove.

Uncertified stoves produce at least five times more pollution than certified models, deposit more creosote in your chimney and use about a third more wood.

Columbia Valley Air Quality Improvement Project

We’re working with community groups, fire officials and health officials to improve air quality in Columbia Valley. This 2-square-mile urban growth area in the foothills of northeast Whatcom County experiences frequent periods of poor air quality in the winter.

Through this community-led effort, we’re focusing on reducing smoke from woodstoves and fireplaces. Our efforts include door-to-door outreach, community meetings and events, and providing resources to those in need. We think it’s important to not just identify hurdles, but help people over them before we pursue enforcement.

Wood Heating FAQ

If you are planning to heat your home with a wood fire, it is important to understand the requirements.
Here’s a summary of what you need to know:

What are the requirements for wood heating devices?

All wood heating appliances and factory-built fireplaces sold or installed in Washington must meet Washington emission standards. Washington state law has established limits of 4.5 grams of particles per hour for non-catalytic models and 2.5 grams per hour for catalytic models.

How do I know if the smoke from my chimney is legal?

State law limits the density of chimney smoke — referred to as opacity — to 20 percent. Zero opacity means no smoke and 100 percent opacity means the smoke is so thick you can’t see through it.

What can I burn?

Burn only dry, clean and untreated wood or manufactured logs. Paper is legal only for starting the fire. It is illegal to burn anything else.

When is my firewood dry enough?

State rules limit the moisture content of firewood to 20 percent. You can check the moisture content with a moisture meter, available for purchase at most hardware and home improvement stores. Another way to check is to hit two pieces together. If you hear a hollow cracking sound, the wood is dry enough. Firewood should be dried under cover for a year before before burning.

When is wood burning enforceable by law?

If your fire is too smoky, based on the 20 percent opacity limit, or if you violate an active burn ban.

Compliance

Air quality requirements specific to wood heating are intended to help protect your health and the health of others from harmful exposure to tiny particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.

If you choose to heat your home by burning wood, it is your responsibility to know and follow air quality laws, rules and regulations. That means limiting the smoke your fire produces, using dry wood, making sure your fireplace or woodstove is properly certified and observing burn bans when they are in effect.

Consider how your actions might affect your neighbors. By law, smoke from your fire cannot cause damage to human health, plant or animal life or property, or unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life and property.

NWCAA regulations for heating with wood – section 506

State requirements for heating with wood – WAC 173-433

State laws for heating with wood – RCW 70.94.450 – 70.94.505

Our main objective is compliance with air quality regulations. We frequently use educational efforts to achieve this goal.

If your air quality is affected at home or work by smoke or odors from a woodstove or fireplace, you can submit a complaint. (See below.)

Annually, our staff receives an average of 700 complaints filed by concerned citizens. Types of complaints include outdoor burning, woodstove and fireplace smoke, industrial emissions, agricultural burning, odor and dust.

Because of the number of complaints we receive, we focus our responses on incidents that affect multiple people and properties.

Complaints

Enforcement

Nuisance Complaint Guide

 

 

Additional Resources