Check Before You Burn - Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the Check Before You Burn initiative.

1. What is South Coast AQMD’s Check Before You Burn Initiative?

Check Before You Burn logo

South Coast AQMD’s Check Before You Burn 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 education component to inform residents of healthier alternatives to wood burning, and an action item for residents to sign up for Air Alerts to be aware when No-Burn days are called.

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2. What South Coast AQMD regulation governs residential wood burning?

South Coast AQMD’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 1 through the end of February each year mandatory curtailments will be in effect during days when poor air quality is forecast.  Mandatory No-Burn alerts are issued when particulate matter (PM2.5) levels are forecast to exceed 29 micrograms per cubic meter. Alerts are typically issued for the entire South Coast Air Basin.

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3. Why do we need the Check Before You Burn 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 Check Before You Burn program.

The Southland's estimated 1.2 million wood-burning devices are significant sources of air pollution. 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.  

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4. How does particulate matter pollution affect my health?

Many scientific studies have linked PM2.5 particle pollution to a variety of health risks, including increased chances of:

  • Irritated eyes, nose, and throat;
  • Reduced lung function;
  • Increased lung inflammation, difficulty breathing, bronchitis;
  • Asthma exacerbation or attacks;
  • Aggravated heart disease or heart attacks; and
  • Premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Older adults, young children, pregnant women, and people with heart diseases or lung diseases (such as asthma) may be especially sensitive to these health risks. 

Smoke from wood-burning also contains gases, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These pollutants can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, and exacerbate asthma symptoms. Some VOCs found in wood smoke, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene and formaldehyde, are also known to cause cancer, so breathing these pollutants over years to decades may increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Carbon monoxide (CO) is also found in smoke and it can reduce the oxygen supply in the body when inhaled in large amounts. 

Not everyone who is exposed to wood smoke will have health problems. The levels of pollutants and duration of exposure, as well as individual characteristics (e.g. age, health conditions), will likely affect the chances of someone experiencing smoke-related health problems.

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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 when poor air quality is forecast. 

Based on current air quality conditions, curtailments could occur on about 20 days each winter. With the help of the Check Before You Burn 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).

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.

South Coast AQMD 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. 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.  

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8. 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.

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9. 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: 

  • Signing up for South Coast AQMD Air Alerts sent via e-mail; 

  • Using South Coast AQMD’s interactive residential no-burn alert map by entering an address or ZIP code in the search area; or

  • Calling 866-966-3293 for Check Before You Burn information.

  • Follow South Coast AQMD’s social media accounts on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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More Information

What is a No-Burn Alert?
How do I make a complaint about smoke, dust or odor?

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