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Healthy Hearths
 
 
 

           Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is SCAQMD’s Healthy Hearths Initiative?
2. What SCAQMD regulation governs residential wood burning?
3. Why do we need the Healthy Hearths initiative?
4. How does particulate matter pollution affect my health?
5. Is wood burning banned?
6. What are the requirements for wood sellers?
7. Who is affected by Rule 445, and who is exempt from it?
8. What alternatives are there to the traditional open-hearth fireplace?
9. What are the benefits of clean-burning gas log sets?
10. How can I find out if there is a mandatory wood-burning curtailment in my neighborhood?


1. What is SCAQMD’s Healthy Hearths Initiative?

SCAQMD’s Healthy Hearths initiative is a comprehensive program designed to improve public health in the Southland by reducing wood smoke from residential wood burning.  The initiative consists of three parts: a regulation governing wood burning, an incentive program encouraging residents to switch to cleaner hearth products, and an education component to inform residents of healthier alternatives to wood burning.

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2. What SCAQMD regulation governs residential wood burning?

SCAQMD’s Rule 445 consists of two key components:

1. Standards for Construction

  • Beginning March 9, 2009, permanent indoor and outdoor wood-burning devices (such as fireplaces and stoves) cannot be installed in new developments. However, open-hearth fireplaces with gas or alcohol fuel based log sets or other popular design features that don’t use wood -- such as flames in river rock or broken glass -- are allowed.
  • As of September 2008, permanent indoor and outdoor wood-burning devices can only be sold or installed in existing homes and businesses if it meets one of these cleaner options:
    • Dedicated gaseous-fueled fireplace;
    • U.S. EPA certified fireplace insert or stove;
    • Pellet-fueled wood-burning heater; or
    • Masonry heater (not an open-hearth wood-burning fireplace).

2.  Mandatory Winter Burning Curtailments

  • From November through February each winter mandatory curtailments will be in effect during days and in specific areas when poor air quality is forecast.  Specifically, mandatory no-burn alerts will be issued for areas where particulate matter levels are forecast to exceed 30 micrograms per cubic meter.  Under the 2013 rule amendments, sometimes the curtailment days will apply to the entire South Coast Air Basin so it is important to stay informed and monitor the burn status or sign up at www.airalerts.org for automatic e-mail alerts on the burn status for your area.

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3. Why do we need the Healthy Hearths initiative?

The South Coast Air Basin presently has some of the highest levels of fine particulate pollution in the United States.  Public health and air pollution concerns led to the adoption of Rule 445 and other elements of the Healthy Hearths program.

Wood-burning devices, estimated at 1.2 million, are significant sources of air pollution in the Southland. They emit an average of 5  tons of particulate matter per day. During the winter, when wood burning is at its peak, wood burning is estimated to cause more than 10 tons per day of particulate matter emissions -- equal to nearly seven times the amount of daily primary particulate matter emitted from all of the power plants in the Southland. 

Additionally, wood burning in fireplaces can pollute indoor air with fine particulates and toxic air pollutants.  To learn more, watch the Healthy Hearths video.

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4. How does particulate matter pollution affect my health?

Smoke from fireplaces and stoves can emit an especially harmful particulate matter – known as PM2.5 – which consists of very small particles. In fact, PM2.5 is less than 2.5 microns in diameter. That’s about 1/30th  the thickness of a human hair!

PM2.5 can easily bypass the body’s natural defense systems and lodge deep in the lungs. This can cause health risks such as:

  • A reduction in lung function;
  • Aggravating bronchitis and related lung conditions; or
  • Triggering asthma and heart attacks

Children and the elderly are especially sensitive to these health risks. As children’s respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air – and more air pollution - per pound of body weight than adults. In addition, they are more likely to be active outdoors. Smoke inhalation poses a high risk to elderly adults because they are more susceptible to heart or lung diseases.

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5. Is wood burning banned?

No, but since 2011, mandatory wood-burning curtailments from November through February have been in effect during days and in specific areas when poor air quality is forecast. 

Based on current air quality conditions, curtailments could occur as many as 20 days each winter. With the help of the Healthy Hearths initiative and other air pollution control measures, there may be fewer or no curtailment days in the future.

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6. What are the requirements for wood sellers?

Rule amendments adopted in 2013 require commercial wood-based fuel sellers to label products to inform the public of the Check Before You Burn program.  Additional information on the labeling program for commercial wood-based fuel sellers can be found here. (PDF File, 49k)

There are no restrictions on the sale of seasoned firewood (less than 20 percent moisture content) at any time during the year. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.

SCAQMD Rule 445 does, however, specify that commercial wood-based fuel sellers may not sell green firewood (greater than 20 percent moisture content) from July through February. This restriction is only for commercial wood-based fuel sellers that have a business license and does not apply to private parties that trim or remove trees and give away or sell small amounts of firewood.

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7. Who is affected by Rule 445, and who is exempt from it?

Rule 445 applies to residents and businesses in the South Coast Air Basin, which includes all of Orange County and the non-desert portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. To see if you live in the South Coast Air Basin, view the SCAQMD map. Additionally, ceremonial fires, households where wood is the sole source of heat, households above an elevation of 3,000 feet, low-income households and households without natural gas service will be exempt from mandatory wood-burning curtailments.

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8. What alternatives are there to the traditional open-hearth fireplace?

There are many alternatives that are just as appealing -- and less polluting!

Clean-burning gas or alcohol fuel log sets, installed directly into an existing fireplace, can also give the same warmth and feel of a traditional fireplace, but emit less pollution and are better for your health.  SCAQMD has a gas log incentive program that offers residents a discount of up to $125 on new gas log sets purchased for installation in open hearth fireplaces. Read more about SCAQMD's gas log incentive program.

Please note that incentive programs change frequently so please check this web page often for the most current information.

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9. What are the benefits of clean-burning gas log sets?

Compared to open hearth fireplaces, gas log sets offer more:

  • Cost effectiveness – The cost of natural gas used in gas log sets generally is far less than the cost of firewood.
  • Ease of maintenance – While traditional fireplaces can be a hassle to clean, gas log sets are simple devices that can be used time and time again with little to no maintenance needed.

Compared to open hearth fireplaces, gas log sets offer less:

  • Pollutant byproducts – a 99 percent reduction in fine particulates.  In fact, SCAQMD’s Healthy Hearths program in total is expected to reduce approximately one ton per day of harmful PM2.5 emissions by 2014.

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10. How can I find out if there is a mandatory wood-burning curtailment in my neighborhood?

Residents can obtain information on mandatory wood-burning curtailments by: 

  • Using SCAQMD’s interactive residential no-burn alert map by entering an address or ZIP code in the search area;
  • Signing up for SCAQMD Air Alerts sent via e-mail; or
  • Calling (866) 966-3293 for Check Before You Burn information.

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For more information on the Healthy Hearths Initiative, click on the links below:

You can click here to check current air quality conditions in your neighborhood or by calling (800) CUT-SMOG.

 



This page updated: June 21, 2013
URL: http://www.aqmd.gov/healthyhearths/HH_FAQs.htm