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Wood Burning and the Law

If you use a fireplace or wood stove in your home, Washington State regulations require you to manage your fire properly and responsibly. Improper burning results in excess smoke, which fouls the air and is harmful to your health.

 

 Wood Burning & the Law

 

If you choose to heat with wood, follow these guideline to help maximize energy output and minimize pollution.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Burn only manufactured logs or dry, seasoned wood. It is illegal to burn anything else. This includes garbage, treated wood, paper (except for starting the fire), and plastics. For a complete list of prohibited materials, please refer to Washington Administrative Code 173-433-120.

  • Watch your chimney smoke. Generating excessive smoke is not only un-neighborly, it's illegal. Under state regulations, smoke from your chimney cannot exceed 20 percent opacity (as shown in the left panel in the image to the right) for six consecutive minutes in any one-hour period. Greater smoke densities could result in fines from air pollution control officials.

    • It is always illegal to smoke out your neighbor. Everyone has a right to breathe clean air. If smoke from your fire is affecting your neighbors, it is considered a nuisance and subject to enforcement action (Regulation 1, Section 9.11, PDF).
    • TIP: To help minimize smoke, burn small, hot fires and give the fire plenty of air. Check your chimney occasionally: If you see smoke coming out, you are not burning hot enough and are wasting fuel. Let your fire have more air, and check your chimney again.

  • Observe burn bans. When the air agency declares a burn ban, it is unlawful to use your fireplace or uncertified wood stove, unless this is your only source of adequate heat. During Stage 2 Burn Bans it is also unlawful to use pellet stoves and certified wood stoves. Sign up for burn ban alerts here under Email Notifications.

  • Don't buy, sell, exchange or give-away uncertified devices - it's illegal. Wood stoves, fireplaces, and other solid fuel burning devices sold in Washington must be certified to meet Washington state emission standards.

Click to learn more about the laws on wood burning devices: Regulation I, Section 13.03 (PDF), Washington Administrative Code: 173-433.

 

 Burn Ban Exemption

 

​What if burning wood is the only way I can heat my home?

In some cases, using a wood burning device may be the only way to adequately heat your home. If you believe this is true for your home, you may apply for “no other adequate source of heat” exemption through our agency. 
 
You must apply and be approved for this exemption before using your wood burning device during an air quality burn ban.
 

How do you know if my heater is adequate or not?

The “no other adequate source of heat” exemption was designed to identify homes that have no other way, besides wood burning, to adequately heat their homes. We must determine if the heating system that was designed for your home can effectively heat it. The assessment is based on the adequacy of the whole system’s heating capacity, including any parts of the heating system that may have been disconnected, damaged, or simply aren’t working.
 
A heating calculation is made based on the building structure and other aspects of the home, such as:
  • Heating system & total heating output
  • Insulation
  • Window type
  • Age
  • Square footage
Exemption application decisions are made strictly on the heating calculation results. The regulation clearly states that an adequate source of heat is based on the “adequacy of the design on the system’s capability prior to the disconnection, damage, improper maintenance, malfunction, or occurrence that rendered the system nonfunctional.” We are unable to make any exceptions.
 
We cannot take into consideration:
  • Your income level.
  • Ability to pay heating bills.
  • Whether your system is working.

What if I rely on my wood stove because my other heat source is too expensive?

Typically air quality burn bans only last for a few days and during that time we ask that you come up with another way to stay warm temporarily. 

Our goal is not to create hardship, but to allow for pollution levels to come back into a healthy range so everyone has healthy air to breathe. When pollution levels begin to rise on cold winter days, calling a burn ban is always carefully considered. We only call burn bans when pollution levels get high enough that it is necessary to do so to protect public health, including the health of you and your family as well as your community.

Our furnace is broken. Can we use our woodstove during the burn ban?

Whether your heating system hasn’t worked for years or it broke last night, you must still follow the burn ban. The only way to be exempt from a burn ban is to have an approved “no other adequate source of heat” exemption from our agency.
 
If you think you might qualify, apply here.
 
Typically air quality burn bans only last for a few days. If you do not have an approved exemption prior to a burn ban, we ask you to temporarily explore another way to stay warm until the burn ban is lifted.

My application for a “no other adequate source of heat” was approved. What now?

You may continue to burn wood cleanly during air quality burn bans for the time period stated on your approval letter from our agency. Regardless of your exemption status, the smoke density coming from your chimney must be less than 20% in opacity at all times or you can still receive an opacity violation.
 
For more information on burning cleanly, please visit the Wood Burning & The Law tab above. 

My application for a “no other adequate source of heat” was denied. What now?

If your application was denied due to “insufficient information” you may reapply. We are unable to make determinations if any information is missing, so applications are denied. Make sure to carefully fill out the entire application so a determination can be made.
 
If your application was denied for any other reason, you must follow any air quality burn bans issued by our agency. Typically air quality burn bans only last for a few days so we ask you to temporarily explore another way to stay warm until the burn ban is lifted.
 
If you feel this decision was made in error or you have any questions, please use the contact information listed on the letter of denial that was sent to talk to someone.  

I can’t stay warm in my home without burning wood – where can I go for assistance?

Depending on where you live and your individual circumstances, you may be able to take advantage of rebates and assistance. Visit Rebates and Assistance for more information.