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Woodburning Stoves Could Soon Be Illegal

Woodburning Stoves Could Soon Be Illegal

Many of us have dreams of living off the grid (or at least escaping to a wilderness cabin for a few days). In almost every one of those dreams, there’s a crackling wood stove in the background.

Implementation of a new EPA rule [PDF] designed to limit particulate emissions is threatening this way of life, however, and some homesteaders feel like it’s a personal attack.

“Shortly after the re-election of President Obama, the agency announced new radical environmental regulations that threaten to effect people who live off the grid. The EPA’s new environmental regulations reduce the amount of airborne fine-particle matter from 15 micrograms to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air,” reports Off Grid Survival.

On one hand, this is a step in the right direction for curbing air pollution: the open burning of biomass (wood) releases a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. Both long- and short-term particle exposures have been linked to health problems, not to mention the cumulative effect of wood burning all over the world, which sends climate changing particulate into the atmosphere.

On the other hand, the EPA’s new policy threatens to make off-grid living impossible for some who have never known anything else.

“The ability to heat your home off-grid is a major part of most preparedness plans,” argues The Organic Prepper. “Heating with wood is the number one way to do this. Much like our food supplies, the ability to keep ourselves warm and healthy and the ability to cook without being connected to the grid are vital to our freedom.

“Those of us who live this lifestyle are constantly targeted. In many places it’s illegal to collect rainwater.  Growing food in your front yard instead of flowers is all but outlawed. Sellers of raw milk have their farms raided by SWAT teams as though they’re running a meth lab instead of a dairy…We, the self-sufficient, by our very nature, are a threat to this insidiously spreading control. Our self-sufficiency means that we won’t be forced to be subjugated, tagged, chipped, and inventoried like our less prepared friends and neighbors.”

Set aside some of the conspiracy speak, and you can’t deny that the author has a point.

Yes, air pollution is a dangerous, out of control problem in America, but is going after the small percentage of citizens that live off-grid in rural communities really the best way to address it?

In many of these towns and villages, there is no such thing as reliable gas heat. Electric lines and plumbing services just don’t extend that far into the wilderness, and frankly, that’s how the residents like it. However, the EPA’s rule means that most would have to scrap their current woodburning stoves in favor of more efficient (and expensive) models. And if a resident can’t afford the upgrade, they could find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

In actuality, the ones truly responsible for particulate emissions in America are those operating coal-fired power plants. They’ve got much deeper pockets than the average homesteader, however, meaning that holding them responsible is slow going.

How do you feel about the EPA regulation on woodburning stoves? Will the new law affect you directly? Please share your thoughts in a comment.

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202 comments

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11:48PM PDT on Jun 28, 2014

surely they have a way now to create wood burning stoves that don't spew out the smoke? It's time they did.

6:23PM PST on Dec 3, 2013

My apologies William on the miss spelling of your given name. Time to hit the hay instead of posting.. lol.

4:32PM PST on Dec 3, 2013

Hi Willaim. While I concur with your logic I wonder what type of wood burners you might be referencing about the area and wood smoke. If they are being run most effeciently with no inversions my immediate neighbor can not tell when my is running and she is less than 50 feet away. No when I do fire up my dual boiler on wood that she can tell when it is running and that is 75% effecient on wood. I only wish I could afford one of the Swedish boilers that are up to 94% effecient. None are U/L approved either for sale in the states.

3:53PM PST on Dec 3, 2013

It makes a lot of sense to control this pollution source in densely populated regions but as the density drops, it becomes less of a problem. In rural areas wood burning should be permitted even if alternate fuels are available. I live in northern New Jersey and on some days the whole area reeks of wood smoke.

4:10PM PST on Nov 13, 2013

torn... we have both gas heat and wood... but the world is in need of cleaner air

4:17AM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

Justin C.. Do you live in the country, city or suburbs?

3:55AM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

The EPA is out of control they need to be reined in! Abolished even!

9:14PM PDT on Oct 19, 2013

Love those people that use straw-man arguments when they hear that woodsmoke is harmful ("what about all of that car and coal pollution!")

Woodburning is NOT "green" nor is it "carbon neutral." If you CARE about environment and human health, you would actually LISTEN to some of those commenting (alerting us to the woodsmoke hazard) they may actually KNOW what we are talking about (personally I have been researching WS for almost ten years)

2:14PM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

(continued): I’m sure that new technology including gasifiers and filtration systems could make wood stoves as clean as cars. But that will never happen without government regulation or consumers refusing to buy new stoves until they are guaranteed not to harm our health.

Why are wood-burn enthusiasts not demanding better stoves, instead of arguing that a single wood stove should be allowed to produce between 3,000 and 90,000 times more pollution than a natural gas furnace?

With air pollution linked to genetic damage in babies, behavioural problems such anxiety, attention deficit and even autism, perhaps the last word should go to Dr Monech, “If you are not a smoker, burning wood is probably the greatest threat to your health as anything that you do. But it is also a threat to your neighbors' health, as inappropriate as blowing cigarette smoke in the face of the passenger in the seat next to you. More than likely your neighbors are less than enthusiastic about sacrificing their health for your freedom to burn wood. A civilized society would suggest they shouldn't have to.”

2:13PM PDT on Oct 18, 2013

A good moral test is to ask what if everyone did the same? In Canada (which woodsmoke forms a large proportion of PM2.5 pollution) an increase of just 3 ug/m3 in PM2.5 was associated with a 9% increase in deaths from ischemic heart disease and 3-4.5% increases in all deaths. Muswellbrook, with perhaps 10% woodstove use has 2.4 ug/m3 of PM2.5 pollution, so 100% use would be 24ug/m3.

Yet this town is only a short drive from 2 power stations (wholesale price about 6 c/KWh) supplying electricity to 3.25 million homes. At 6 c/kWh, an efficient electric heat pump could keep a house warm all winter for less than it costs to fill the car with a tank of petrol.

In Christchurch, areas with the highest woodsmoke levels (about 20 ug/m3) had 64% more respiratory deaths, 22% more circulatory deaths and 16% more deaths overall than the cleanest areas. That’s with about a third of households using wood stoves. Think how bad it would be if everyone had wood heating.

A consultancy report for the NSW Government estimated that woodsmoke was an $8 billion health problem – that works out at more than $22,000 for every wood stove in the state. However much wood burning enthusiasts would like to dispute these figures, they were produced by a reputable consultancy firm that used exactly the same methods as those used to estimate the health costs of other sources of pollution such as power stations and vehicles.

I’m sure that new technology including gasifiers and f

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