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[photo: DEC]
[photo: DEC]

Outdoor furnace rules make current owners fume

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Outdoor wood furnaces have become increasingly popular across the North Country. They can save homeowners more than a thousand dollars a year on heating costs. But they've also become a bigger source of air pollution and complaints from neighbors. The Department of Environmental Conservation wants to impose new regulations on outdoor furnaces. They include rules on boiler efficiency, chimney height, and what can be burned inside. As David Sommerstein reports, a provision to force owners to replace existing furnaces may be the most controversial.

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More than a dozen towns across the North Country have some sort of restriction on outdoor wood furnaces, from Carthage to SaranacLake.  But there are no statewide regulations.  Environment officials say a growing number of complaints tells them that should change.  Laurie Severino is spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Some of the examples of the complaints that we've gotten is that they trigger asthma and other ailments, the dor, the smoke.  People complain that they can't open their windows in their own homes on warm days because of the smoke from a neighboring outdoor wood boiler.

Outdoor furnaces are a problem in a couple ways.  Older models are inefficient, emitting as much pollution as 1000 oil furnaces, according to the DEC.  They have huge fireboxes, so the wood smoulders a lot when the damper is set low.  And the chimney height is much lower than in a house, so the smoke can stay low to the ground.

Severino says some people toss things in them that should never be burned.

Wood that's not clean.  Wet wood.  Garbage, household chemicals could have been burned in them.  There was really no regulation on them.

The DEC's proposed rules would limit fuels to clean, untreated, seasoned wood and wood pellets, and non-glossy paper to start the fire.  Chimneys would have to be higher than 18 feet and two feet taller than any nearby roof peak.  Furnaces would have to meet efficiency standards.  And the boilers would not be allowed to be used from mid-May through August in the North Country.

But the rule that's igniting a fire with furnaces owners is a retirement clause.  They'd have to scrap their existing boiler after 10 years of use.

That's like telling you, sir, that you have a ten year old car, you have to go buy a new one, and your car works perfectly fine.

Ken Decker of Decker Heating and Construction in Harrisville sells as many as 250 outdoor wood stoves a year.  He says they cost at least 7,000 dollars to buy and install, but save a homeowner money quickly.

Our biggest customers are people who are spending 3,000, 2,500 a year on fuel oil.  The paybacks on these are generally within three to four years.

It's a major investment.  Decker says his customers are outraged that investment may become illegal.

The phone calls coming in to here are not nice.  If the DEC says they're gonna take it away from us, we get comments like "over my dead body."

Decker says he sells both new high efficiency stoves that would be allowed under the new rules and older ones that wouldn't.  Customers know the risk they're taking when they buy the old ones, he says.

Decker says tempers may flair when the DEC holds public meetings on the proposed new rules.  In the North Country, there's one on June 3rd in Watertown and June 23rd in SaranacLake.  Written comments are due by July 2nd.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein.

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