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Frequently Asked Questions - Winter Spare the Air and Wood Smoke
The Air District passed the Wood Burning Rule to limit health impacts from fine particulate matter, a hazardous pollutant that can easily bypass filters in your nose and throat and penetrate deep into your lungs. It can cause serious health effects, particularly in children, older adults, and those suffering from respiratory illnesses.
On cold, still winter days and nights, wood smoke is the single largest source of air pollution in the Bay Area, responsible for about one-third of the fine particulate pollution.
Depending on weather patterns, fine particulate pollution can remain in the air for prolonged periods and be transported from one part of the Bay Area to another. This means that air pollution produced in one part of the Bay Area that might be experiencing “good” air quality can sometimes contribute to unhealthy conditions in another part of the region.
The Air District supports cleaner-burning wood-burning technology. Under the Wood Burning Rule, the only types of wood-burning devices allowed to be sold and installed in the Bay Area are EPA-certified devices and pellet-fueled devices. Older, uncertified stoves can emit two to three times as much air pollution as certified stoves.
However, while EPA-certified devices and pellet stoves are designed to pollute less than open hearth fireplaces or uncertified wood stoves, they still emit substantial amounts of fine particulate matter and can dangerously increase air pollution concentrations on days when air quality is unhealthy.
EPA-certified devices emit at least 10 times as much fine particle pollution as natural gas-fueled devices and can generate even more excessive emissions if not installed or operated properly.
Natural gas combustion is a much cleaner, more efficient source of heating than wood burning. Natural gas and electric furnaces have the highest heating efficiencies, at 78 percent and 95 percent, respectively.
Air District meteorologists evaluate weather conditions and existing levels of fine particulate air pollution in order to prepare their forecasts and predict days on which air quality will be unhealthy. On these typically cold, still winter days, a Winter Spare the Air Alert will be called to protect the health of Bay Area residents.
The Bay Area is currently out of attainment of federal air quality standards for fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, which translates to potentially serious health consequences for many of our residents.
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to almost seven million residents and an estimated 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves, which are the largest source of wintertime fine particulate pollution.
In order to warn the public and protect their health by banning wood burning, the Air District issues Winter Spare the Air Alerts for any day - including holidays - on which air pollution levels are forecast to become unhealthy.
To file a wood smoke complaint over residential burning during a Winter Spare the Air Alert, over excessive chimney smoke, or over the illegal fireplace burning of trash or plastics, call 1-877-4NO-BURN (466-2876) or use the online wood smoke complaint form.
You can always call in a complaint at 1-877-4NO-BURN (466-2876) or fill out the online wood smoke complaint form.
Residents can be cited for burning wood during a Winter Spare the Air Alert, for burning garbage or other prohibited materials in a fireplace or wood stove, or for having a fire that emits excessively dense smoke from the chimney for a long period at a time.
The complaint information provided places the address in our complaint system to help direct wood smoke patrols.
Information about the negative health effects of wood smoke, about the Wood Burning Rule, and instructions about how to comply are mailed to the address in the complaint.
Once the wood smoke complaint is in our system, Air District inspectors will plan patrols in areas where there are high numbers of complaints or high rates of wood burning.
When an Air District inspector documents a violation and the violation goes through a verification process, the violator will be issued a ticket by mail that includes a financial penalty.
First-time violations can be waived if the violator takes an online wood smoke awareness class.
Any subsequent violations observed by inspection staff at the address may result in increased financial penalties.
If a wood-burning stove or fireplace is your sole source of heat and there is no other permanently installed heating system (e.g. gas, electric or propane) in your home or business, there is an exemption available. Call 877-4-NO BURN (877-466-2876) for more information or visit the wood burning compliance page.
However, starting November 1, 2016, a sole source of heat exemption can only be claimed if the wood-burning device is EPA-certified and registered with the Air District.
Temporary exemptions are only available for 30 days.
For more information, view this exemption guidance document.
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Last Updated: 6/2/2011