Ask the County Law Librarian – Local Restrictions on Wood Burning
Q. When the cold weather hit last week I made a comment to my neighbor about how much I was looking forward to using my fireplace this winter (I recently bought my first house). My neighbor said that I can only have fires on approved days, but he didn’t know anything more about it. Is this true? I can’t imagine the government controlling how often people use fireplaces and or woodstoves in their own homes.
A. Your neighbor is correct: some local and state governments regulate the use of fireplaces, woodstoves, and fire pits during the colder winter months in order to reduce soot levels in the air. The increased use of wood-burning devices as the temperature drops can lead to poor air quality, which can impair breathing in very young and elderly residents as well as those with respiratory problems such as asthma or allergies.
Some states have regulations in place that limit the use of wood-burning devices in certain areas or when air quality is threatened, while others offer credits or tax deductions when residents purchase state-approved, low-emission wood-burning devices, like pellet or wood stoves. A summary of state regulations, fees, and taxes regarding wood burning is available on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web site, but for comprehensive coverage check your state’s air resources agency web site.
California is divided into 35 air districts that have primary responsibility for controlling air pollution from residential or commercial structures. The air districts tend to correspond to California’s counties (e.g. the Colusa air district covers Colusa County) but some air districts are regional (e.g. the Bay Area air district spans several counties). The California Air Resources Board provides a district map and a helpful guide to help users determine their air district by ZIP code, city, or county. Once you’ve determined your air district, you can view that district’s rules online or contact the district directly using this online directory.
In many areas of California, local county or city governments have implemented their own seasonal programs—in addition to air districts’ rules—that may apply stricter guidelines to the use of wood-burning devices. These programs, which generally run from November to February, provide daily forecasts of the amount of fine particulates (soot) in the air, and then issue advisories to residents based on forecast findings. These advisories can be optional, recommended, or mandatory depending on the program. The city of Davis, for example, has implemented a pilot program that expressly prohibits the use of wood-burning devices on days that the city has issued a ban on wood burning. Residents can report violations, and a case will be referred to local code enforcement if a resident fails to comply after two courtesy notices. If you’d like to find out whether there are any wood-burning restrictions in your area, try the above sources or visit your city and county’s web sites.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email email@example.com. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.