Town Board Seeks to Limit Wood-Fired Boiler Use to Certain Months

Public hearing set for July 29

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Hoping to decrease problems for the environment as well as those with respiratory difficulties, the Philipstown Town Board wants to restrict use of wood-fired boilers or furnaces to cold-weather months and recently scheduled a public hearing on a draft law to tighten present code provisions governing such devices.

Acting July 9, the board set the hearing for Wednesday, July 29, at 7:30 p.m., at Town Hall. The law under consideration applies to pre-existing furnaces, not to wood stoves or fireplaces. According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, “hydronic heaters,” or wood-fired furnaces, “are typically located outside the buildings they heat” and occupy “small sheds with short smokestacks. They burn wood to heat liquid — water or water-antifreeze — piped to provide heat and hot water to occupied buildings such as homes, barns and greenhouses.”

Other sources, including a manufacturer, say the furnaces sometimes also are located in nonhabitable indoor locations, such as garages. The town law would affect relevant indoor as well as outdoor models.

A drawing of a wood-fired furnace system

A drawing of a wood-fired furnace system (click to enlarge)

The Town Board’s move coincides with state and national government interest in strengthening controls over wood-fired furnaces. On March 16, the EPA adopted emission standards for them. One national supplier subsequently warned that “EPA rule changes will eliminate most wood furnaces” and urged potential buyers to “get yours while you still can!”

After the EPA announcement, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a list of models it certifies and said these “are deemed to meet EPA’s emissions standards.” The DEC cautioned that “only the models listed may be sold in New York state through Dec. 31, 2015,” adding that New York would maintain its list of acceptable models through that date, when it expects the EPA’s national rules to take precedence. Nearly all the DEC-listed models, intended for outdoor installation, are for residential usage, although several are for commercial needs.

At least one municipality in Pennsylvania banned outdoor wood furnaces, and Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection said that, among other drawbacks, such furnaces often use short chimneys and can blanket nearby areas with smoke.

Philipstown’s proposed law would limit use of wood-fired furnaces to the period from Nov. 1 to April 15. The draft also states that “any wood-fired furnace in existence … which has received a permit from the town” can remain in place, “provided that the emissions from the furnace do not interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of life or property” and it operates during the 5.5-month time frame.

The draft further specifies that any replacement model must fully comply with the new regulations. It also provides that a wood-fired furnace “existing or in existence” means one “in place on the site” — which apparently rules out one on order from a manufacturer or sitting in a box awaiting installation when the law takes effect.

Supervisor Richard Shea said July 9 that the measure “is just to tighten up” provisions already on the books. Wood-fired boilers “don’t belong in neighborhoods. They’re not the best heating method,” he said. “They’re about the worst, actually.”

When the Town Board introduced the idea of such a law, on May 27, Shea said that he knows whereof he speaks. “I had one for eight years,” he said then. “It was a nightmare.” The town government had received numerous complaints about wood-fired furnaces and “they create so much hazard” for those with health complications, he explained. “You really need a half mile from any other building to not have an impact on your neighbors.” Also, “they’re a real environmental hazard.”

He noted that some wood-fired furnaces went in before the town required a distance of 500 feet between a furnace and another residence. Moreover, he said, “people aren’t really following the guidelines we currently have, so we’re going to bolster those, without completing eliminating” wood-fired furnaces. Giving a critic’s view, though, “I think they should be eliminated,” he said.

He and Councilor John Van Tassel observed that some residents use wood-fired furnaces to heat water. “People are basically running them year-round,” Shea said.

“This has become a real issue for the people it affects, so we’re addressing it,” Councilor Nancy Montgomery added.

Image courtesy of the EPA and the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association 

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