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Air Quality Newsletter Air Quality Newsletter
Indoor Fireplaces and Woodstoves
Once a main source of heat for most homes, wood burning fireplaces and stoves have largely been replaced with more efficient means of heating with less impact to local air quality. However, many homes in our community still utilize indoor wood burning appliances. Uncontrolled smoke and odor emissions from wood burning appliances can have negative impacts on those around us, especially those with existing respiratory illness, children, and older populations.
Beginning in 1986 and with updates in the 1990s and 2010s, the City adopted Air Pollution Nuisance Code and requirements for solid fuel burning appliances in response to growing concerns of poor regional and local air quality and its impacts to public health. In addition to defining certain emissions as a public nuisance, these ordinances regulate the types of fuels and appliances that may be used within city limits.
What You're Breathing
Woodsmoke may smell good, but it's not good for you. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles, also called fine particulate matter or PM2.5. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they may cause burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses, such as bronchitis.
Fine particles can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. Fine particles can also trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions.
Fort Collins is not immune to the pollution of big city life. One out of every four days, the City violates the State of Colorado's visibility standard, causing a dark haze or "brown cloud." While wood smoke contributes to the brown cloud, it can be more impactful in the specific neighborhood where wood burning occurs.
Build a Better, Safer Fire
An efficient fire requires good firewood, using the right wood in the right amount, and good fire building technique. Get the best efficiency from your wood stove or fireplace using the following tips:
- Season wood for at least six months.
- Store wood outdoors, off the ground, with the top covered.
- Wood burns best at a moisture content of less than 20 percent. Test wood with a wood moisture meter before you burn it.
- Start fires with newspaper, dry kindling, or all natural fire starters, or install a natural gas or propane log lighter in your open fireplace.
- Buy and burn locally cut firewood to decrease the risk of transporting invasive forest pests to your property.
For other helpful tips, visit EPA's Burn Wise Program.
The following regulations apply for residential indoor burning within city limits:
- For wood burning appliances installed or modified after 1991, only wood burning units certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be installed in Fort Collins.
- Only clean, dry, untreated wood may be burned in a wood stove or fireplace. "Pellets" burned in pellet stoves and manufactured fire logs such as DuraFlame burned in a fireplace are acceptable. Burning of garbage and treated wood is prohibited.
- After the first 15-minutes of start-up, smoke from the chimney must be at or less than 20% opacity (smoke should be barely visible looking at it with your back to the sun).
- Violation of City Code can result in a summons to appear in municipal court resulting in a fine of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail.
Applicable Code language:
If someone's fire is negatively impacting you, here are some tips for finding a healthy resolution:
- Know what's allowed and what's not, which can help when talking to your neighbor or submitting a complaint. Review Section 20-1 Air Pollution Nuisance Code.
- If you feel comfortable doing so, talk to your neighbor about your concerns.
- If resolving the issue with your neighbor is unsuccessful, make a formal complaint online through Access Fort Collins or call the Nuisance Hotline at (970) 416-2200. An actionable complaint should include as many details as possible but at a minimum include the following, if known:
- The address of the source of smoke
- The time that you noticed the smoke
- Note if the smoke is from an outdoor fire pit or indoor fireplace
- If you observe hazardous conditions that are dangerous to life or property, please call 9-1-1.
- When conversation or code enforcement are unable resolve the issue, consider the City's free and confidential Community Mediation Program.