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The Heat facing Outdoor Wood Furnaces and Boilers

By Kenneth Barbalace
[Friday, February 24, 2006]
Emissions from outdoor wood burning stoves drift across property lines raising health concerns for neighbors who inadvertently breathe the smoke filled air. The Heat facing Outdoor Wood Furnaces and Boilers


NOTICE: Comments are user generated feedback and do not represent the views and/or opinions of EnvironmentalChemistry.com.

Anonymous said...

Outside wood boilers are a great way to heat your house. They do create a lot of smoke when they first start up, but they don't burn your house down and where wood is plentiful, it beats giving half your pay to the gas company in the winter time. Pollution needs to be addressed by making these stoves cleaner burning and more efficient rather than legislating them off the market. A million of them don't make as much smoke as one California brush fire. How about the government spending some money on improving this renewable energy heat, rather than banning it. Makes more sense than bombing Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Isn't just like everything nowadays. Someone says "oh I don't think we should do that anymore" and before you know it some jerk legislates against it. I totally agree, make the stoves more efficient and cleaner.


Anonymous said...

What do you suggest in the mean time for a neighbor who lives less than a 100 feet from the smoke source? When someone comes in my house they smell like they were just at a campfire! How can I get them to change the way the smoke affects my family?

Anonymous said...

Quoting the article, "The OWB removes the risk of fire and indoor pollution by taking the heat source outside."

Who invented this statement? The truth is exactly opposite.

A properly installed and maintained indoor wood heating system (which is very easy to do) produces NO indoor air pollution and NO fire hazard (except from improper ash storage).

The indoor air quality in houses near OWBs is poor due to the poor air quality outside the house. Have you ever witnessed a creosote covered OWB go up in flames? You don't want to have anything within 100'.

The technology to make 80%+ efficiency low particulate clean burning boilers has existed and units have been available to the public for about 30 years. I won't advertise companies, but you can find them easily. Hint: You won't hit high efficiency with a water jacket around the combustion chamber.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor has an OWB approximately 300 feet from my house. Perhaps because if the wind pattern in our neighborhood, or because of the location of his stove, we get smoke in large amounts at least 4 to 5 days out of the week. My yard for some reason seems to be a smoke magnet. In the spring and fall I cannot leave windows open because invariably I will get a smoke filled house. I put my dog out only to have her come back into the house with smoke scented fur. On a nice day I would like to take my morning coffee out into the yard and enjoy nature… I can almost count on being driven back into the house because of the smoke smell, sometimes so strong that it burns my eyes and my lungs. In mid winter with my house all closed up I can still often smell smoke inside my house. Even when it is only mildly smoky I am concerned about the health hazards I may encounter. I have breathing problems, get headaches and have concern because of my husband’s heart problems. For those of you who believe wood smoke is harmless, I urge you to do some research. As far as I am concerned, shame on you to those of you who are basking in the warmth of the big bucks you are saving by using OWBs at the expense of those who live near you. Unless you haven’t got a neighbor within a mile of you, you still might be affecting the health, happiness and comfort of your neighbor. And that, my dear friends, is pure greed. You can blame legislators if you wish, but in the end it is the responsibility of owners and manufacturers of OWBs to control the smoke their systems emit.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

In regards to the last comment about owners of OWB not having respect for neighbors; I have to concur. We all owe it to our neighbors to have some respect for their air. It is unconscionable to use an OWB if the smoke is going to have any kind of negative impact on downwind neighbors. They have as much right to clean air as you do and you do not have the right to put their health/wellbeing at risk just so you can save a few dollars on heating costs.

If you can not mitigate and eliminate the negative impacts on your downwind neighbors, then you have a social obligation not to use an OWB.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

The following comment was just posted, but not directly approved because of some what seemed to be self-promotion links. I'm using the blockquote in this post to allow the comment sans the self-promotion:
--begin quoted comment--
I must greatly disagree that ALL who own a outdoor furnace are disrespectful to their neighbours.
If a person who knows a outdoor furnace follows the HPBA guide lines setup by the HPBA http://www.hpba.org/index.php?id=154
there should and would be no problems.

Three of my neighbours own a Crown Royal Stove (URL Removed) both up wind and down wind, one uses hers to heat the greenhouses and one is within 250 feet of my home. I have NEVER had a problem with smoke outside or in the yard, and I'm not afraid of my children playing out there because of it.

Seriously... I know for a fact that Northland Distributing (URL Removed) has a copy of the HPBA's Burn Best information in with their manual. I swear that makes all the difference, and this why the EPA is getting involved. http://www.epa.gov/woodheaters/partners.htm

So maybe before you jump to the fact that outdoor furnaces are all bad, maybe you might want to talk to your neighbour about burning at higher temperatures and for longer periods, this will eliminate smoke production, and ask them to put on a tall enough chimney. Maybe it's just your neighbour being uneducated about the situation which YOU, and no one else, have the responsibility to do. Talk to them and ask them if they can help you live more comfortably as they live comfortably. Which is the American and Canadian way.

--end quoted comment--
Nobody has said that ALL outdoor wood boilers are bad. What has been said time and time again in comments is that there are instances where they are inappropriate or need to be appropriately installed.

Anonymous said...

owb dont kill plant or wildlife i
have an owb 165 ft from neighbor have green healthy plants stove is
close to them.black bears deer turkeys. people have come to my home and never even thought my owb
was on. well its was. i have one of
those annoying neighbors who constantly complains out of 5 homes on my block she is the only
one to complain.

Anonymous said...

Commenting on the comment above mine; uneducated enough said, and has no respect for anyone's right. I am a professional in Public Administration ,however I do not work in the town I live. My neighbor installed a OWB last fall 50 feet from my house. He in turn killed my plantlife, ruined the exterior of my home, and oh by the way makes it smoke filled too. I in turn hired an environmental lawyer, and low and behold there is federal /state nuisance laws that protect rights of the people who have smoke blown onto their property. I am currently in court fighting this matter and in the end my neighbor will lose because he has violated my right to quiet enjoyment. I am not dead set against OWBs, If you don't infringe on someone elses rights and you have tons of land for an OWB more power to you. But when someone says "I don't care what you think, or if you have clean air" which is my case is where I fight back. I am an advocate for freedom of choice. If you feel it is your freedom to build/use and OWB all power to you, but you do not have the right take that power from your neighbors and your community.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the issue is with people's idea that they can burn everything and anything. greenwood, construction leftovers, junk mail. I know that a lot of people have had good experiences with OWB's, but as rural areas become sub-urban we have to start thinking of how we treat each other. I've done some research on OWB's and other wood gasification boilers. Each have benefits, OWB's are outside, have been around a long time, etc. but technology has brought it to the next level with wood gasification. If you can have the savings benefits with wood, but have the smoke issue greatly reduced I would ask, why not see what other technology is out there to improve the situation. Some gasification boilers I read about, Tarm http://www.woodboilers.com, Greenwood Technologies http://www.greenwoodfurnace.com . Wood is a great way to get home heat. You are in control not the gas man.

Anonymous said...

it wont be long before big oil has OWB's banned. Al Gore and other "envirometalist" does not want you independant of gov controlled services.Enjoy your tax free heat now because it won't last much longer.

Anonymous said...

Heated lawsuit over stove's wood smoke -ON
Published: March 25, 2008 at 11:23 AM
UXBRIDGE, Ontario, March 25 (UPI)-- A southern Ontario family has been ordered to disconnect an outdoor wood-fired boiler from wood doctor Truro in a legal fight with neighbors over the smell, a judge ruled.
The spat between the two families in rural Uxbridge, northeast of Toronto, began two years ago when Iain Pike spent $13,400 on the device, which he told the Globe and Mail newspaper lowered his home and garage heating bills by two-thirds.
Neighbor Robert Scott complained the smoke was causing him and his family health problems and he sued for $200,000 in damages.
Pike argued unsuccessfully in court that neighbors on the other side didn't smell smoke and said they even paid to be hooked up to the water heating system for their home, the report said.
In ordering the boiler shutdown, Justice Fred Graham of the Ontario Superior Court cited medical concerns under review in Canada and the United States.
Figures for Canada aren't available, but the newspaper said the number of boilers sold in the United States jumped from 195 in 1990 to 67,546 in 2005, the latest year of statistics available. http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2008/03...

Anonymous said...

IN late July,while attending a neighbor's childrens party(I live in a Development)but in the Country.Some people started saying ...Look at all the smoke in your yard....By the time we got to my yard...the smoke was gone but you could smell it.Didn't think too much about it since,we do get fog at times that settles at the back of the woodline of my yard.And, with the trees,which is a tree preservation area and we are not to cut any trees down,I didn't realize that the neighbor that lives in the hollow below my property had a Wood Burner. Not until, Fall when leaves fell off of the trees,then we could see the smoke and smell it! In the Fall, I had opened all of my windows,it was a beautiful Fall day with no rain in site,I decided to run into town to get groceries,my mistake! When I walked into my home,it smelled so bad,I didn't know what to do except light candles to get rid of the smell. So, now what has me really annoyed is,this so-called neighbor who has this stupid wood burner about 200ft. from my property line has it going and I am enjoying?? the unhealthy benefits.I have to have my windows closed and locked because if the window should slip down from the top,I get smoke smell so I lock them to prevent this. IT is now Winter so everything is closed up,although I do enjoy some fresh air in the bedroom but not anymore due to the inconsiderate neighbor.Plus I keep smelling smoke and narrowed it down to the bathroom Air Vent! Its coming thru there too,and then I also went to take out a dryer sheet from my Dryer(which is located in the Basement)and when I opeden that door it smelled of SMOKE! I stuck my head in but I really wanted to know if that smell was smoke and if it was in there(Dryer was off so I wasn't in any harm)and it was! The dryer vent is outside the basement door. Now, this smell is traveling up to my home and coming into MY home thru anyway it can.We can see the smoke rising to the beautiful blue sky from my kitchen. I cannot stand cigarette smoke and now I have to deal with wood smoke.I walk everyday and if he has that wood burner going ,I come in smelling like I was camping in the woods! Disgusting!! And, try to get help from the local politicans is a real joke! I moved to the Country to have fresh air and peace and quiet,a dream of mine for 35 years and now, that dream is literally going up in smoke!!! So, you Disgusting people who just have to try and save a few bucks by having your wood burners....I feel so sorry for you,because ,maybe,someday in the future,you just might wonder why your health is failing...I think I know the answer to that one!!

Victoria said...

I have similar problems as the above poster, but in conjunction with the OWB, I have wood stoves on our road, some of which burn 24/7! We can't open windows on beautiful spring or fall days. In the winter, the smoke is so thick outside, and if there is no wind, it hovers around our house and seeps in. I recently spent over 25,000.00 in home improvements, including new doors, windows, roof, whole house air cleaner AND individual room air cleaners, just because some inconsiderate people want to burn wood. What should also be addressed is the environmental damage wood burning causes. We are covering our nation with soot - black carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. There is no excuse or reason to burn wood - especially in OWBs. There is a new thing: Econoburner that is featured at fairgrounds in June 09. Great huh? The stove and wood industry is pushing this on all of us. Write to local and federal officials. Obama, EPA, senators, council persons, everyone you can think of - just keep bombarding them with letters. Get neighbors to write too. Sign my petition online: http://www.woodsmokefreeny.com We had to fight big tobacco, and we're going to have to fight big business now - and unfortunately some officials who obviously have deals with stove lobbyists. Keep at it. We'll eventually win. PS. CT is declaring wood smoke a Public Nuisance! ;)

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...


I completely sympathize with your situation. There are ways to reduce the pollution put off by wood stoves and wood boilers including adding catalytic converters. There is no question that wood smoke could be a public nuisance under certain conditions.

With that said, even though burning wood releases CO2, it is considered carbon neutral because the wood comes from trees that were recently living that were pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere to get the carbon to build their cells. Thus, the CO2 was free in the atmosphere within the very recent past anyways.

The carbon that is of concern is the releasing of "fossil" carbon, that is carbon that has been locked out of the atmosphere for thousands to millions of years (e.g. coal, oil, etc.).

Victoria Valentine said...

Hi Ken
I have to take exception with wood being carbon neutral. People think because wood is natural, it's ok to burn it. I've never heard about pre-burned trees co2 causing any problems. To be fair, I have to research that. But I do know that wood smoke is a major cause of air pollution and black carbon; we're talking about smoke filled with many toxic chemicals that cause disease - much as tobacco smoke. I'd much rather breathe the fresh air in and around forestlands than breathe putrid owb or wood stove emissions. Wouldn't you rather live with open windows and clean sweet air than be locked in a stuffy house with closed windows because of neighbors' wood smoke? Please read the many facts on www.burningissues.org
It's a responsible website that contains pages of valuable information for everyone.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...


There is a difference between the carbon soot and other particulates released by the burning of wood being pollution, which it is, and the burning wood being carbon neutral.

The reason burning firewood is considered carbon neutral is because trees typically aren't all that old. The carbon in the tree that is converted into CO2 as part of combustion came from CO2 that the tree pulled from the atmosphere to begin with in the very recent past thus it has no net impact on overall CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Also, if the tree were to do its natural thing, die and decay much of the carbon would be released back into the atmosphere as CO2 anyways.

Again, in regards to climate change, the concern is with the massive release of fossil carbon that took millions of years to be locked away but has been released back into the atmosphere in massive quantities over the past hundred years or so.

With that said, I will agree that the smoke from wood stoves is a public nuisance and potential health hazard under certain conditions like yours. In sparsely populated areas, the burning of wood for heat in most instances won't cause problems. In urban or suburban settings the heavy use of wood as the primary heat source, like with outdoor wood boilers, would cause a serious problem for neighbors in some instances.

For air pollution reasons, in urban and suburban areas there needs to be regulations and/or zoning ordinances that limit the impact of the pollution from outdoor wood boilers, pellet stoves, etc. on neighbors, particularly if they are used as the primary heat source. Individual rights to do things like use outdoor wood boilers end where they have an adverse impact on the health and/or well being of others.

Paul S said...

I have a neighbor who has been spoken to by several of his neighbors that the wood fired boiler is creating a nuisance and health hazard. He is beligerant and is not willing to work with any of us. We then went to our Township supervisors who went and talked with him with no success. I have called the police several times when the smoke enveloped our home. What can I do? I would like to introduce an ordinance in our town that would outlaw wood fired boilers and have considered suing the neighbor as he is creating a health hazard and nuisance. I have tried to be reasonable but with no success. Any suggestions?

Unknown said...

Heated lawsuit over stove's wood doctor smoke -ON
Published: March 25, 2008 at 11:23 AM
UXBRIDGE, Ontario, March 25 (UPI)-- A southern Ontario family has been ordered to disconnect an outdoor wood-fired boiler from wood doctor Truro www.wooddoctorfurnace.com/ a legal fight with neighbors over the smell, a judge ruled.
The spat between the two families in rural Uxbridge, northeast of Toronto, began two years ago when Iain Pike spent $13,400 on the device, which he told the Globe and Mail newspaper lowered his home and garage heating bills by two-thirds.
Neighbor Robert Scott complained the smoke was causing him and his family health problems and he sued for $200,000 in damages.
Pike argued unsuccessfully in court that neighbors on the other side didn't smell smoke and said they even paid to be hooked up to the water heating system for their home, the report said.
In ordering the boiler shutdown, Justice Fred Graham of the Ontario Superior Court cited medical concerns under review in Canada and the United States.
Figures for Canada aren't available, but the newspaper said the number of boilers sold in the United States jumped from 195 in 1990 to 67,546 in 2005, the latest year of statistics available. http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2010/02...

Unknown said...

Wood Doctor ,Wooddoctorfurnace, WoodDoctor owned by Outside Heating Systems Ltd. Arthur Turple Truro
Registered Mail
A significant number of cash donations were received from corporations,but the corresponding donation receipts were issued to individuals .
-A check dated December 7,2004 was received from Outside Heating Systems Ltd - { Wood Doctor } for $22,500 , but the donation receipt (#1105) was issued to Arthur Turple.
The Canada Revenue Agency revokes the charitable status of The Millennium Charitable Foundation
Ottawa, Ontario, January 12, 2009... The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has revoked the charitable registration of The Millennium Charitable Foundation, a Toronto-area charity. This revocation was effective January 10, 2009.
On April 2, 2008, the Minister of National Revenue issued a notice of intent to revoke the charitable registration of The Millennium Charitable Foundation, in accordance with subsection 168(1) of the Income Tax Act. The letter stated, in part, that:

smoked out in mahopac said...

question on public administrator comment 7/15/2007 who hired an environmental attorney. can you tell me who or how I can find one in upstate NY? it seems we have to go that route because the town is talking the talk but not walking the walk. MM

Anonymous said...

People against owbs The same people who cried about cigerette smoke and then went and sat in a smoke filled bar a til closing.The same people who idle their car for and hr. The same people who stand in the wood smoke around a campfire.The same people who follow a deisel truck down the roadand breathe his exhaust.The same people who dont have to worry about money or how much it cost to heat their homes.I sure wish it was wood filling up the gulf.The just dont have anything else to do but whine.

Ken (EnvironmentalChemistry.com) said...

I'm not sure if your are trying to be ironic or not, but there is a distinct trend in the items you choose to compare to OWBs. They all pose public health hazards and have been subjected to strict limitations/regulations in recent years.

Smoke filled bars
Many locales, like here in Maine, now ban smoking in public settings like a bar. Not only because the smoke poses a health menace to patrons but because it creates an unhealthy work environment for employees. One should not have to choose between having a job and protecting one's health.

I personally love the smoking ban because prior to the ban I never went to bars as I could not tolerate the smoke. I also avoided many restaurants and other public venues for similar reasons.

Idling cars for extended periods
This again is banned in many locations (e.g. entrances to buildings like airports. In fact just this morning I noticed a "no idling" sign in the park and ride I took my wife to so that she could car pool to work with a colleague. When I lived in Alaska, many merchants, especially grocery stores, went so far as to provide electrical outlets in front of parking spaces for engine block heaters so that customers could turn off their cars without risk of their engines freezing while inside shopping.

Diesel exhaust
In recent years Federal regulations have greatly reduced the amount of pollution trucks can emit. In particular great strides have been made in reducing emissions via new cleaner fuels.

When I drive down a road I shouldn't have to be putting my health at risk because of the exhaust coming from other vehicles I have to share the road with. Also my health shouldn't be put at risk in my own home because of the exhaust emitted by trucks that drive in and around my community.

Campfires do not compare to OWB because one has the choice to avoid the smoke from a campfire, and it is generally transient in nature. If, however, someone's neighbor installs an OWB next door there is nothing the individual can do to avoid the smoke from their neighbor's OWB.

Oil vs OWB
This isn't an either or proposition, because there are other ways to heat one's home (even with wood). Pellet stoves burns very cleanly for instance. Even wood stoves tend to burn more cleanly than OWB.

As the gulf oil spill has shown us oil can do tremendous damage to our environment, but OWBs also poses a very real health hazard to a neighborhood. If one lives in a very remote area and are very isolated from their closet neighbor, maybe the OWB isn't a nuisance, however, often times this isn't the case.

If one of my neighbors installed an OWB, there would be no way I could avoid the smoke. It would reduce my ability to fully use my own yard because I'd be forced indoors anytime the smoke from their boiler was blowing in my direction. It would also lower the air quality inside my home thus putting my health at risk. If one wants to use an OWB then it must be done in a fashion that doesn't negatively impact others.

Energy costs
Most of us, especially those of us who live in cold climates have to be concerned about home heating costs. Personally I'm doing everything I can to reduce my energy footprint and to reduce my total household costs. This includes: having weatherized my home; replacing our old inefficient oil boiler with an ultra efficient propane boiler; replacing fixtures with water sense fixtures and replacing appliances with energy star models as we renovate; driving fuel efficient cars; choosing local hydro electric for our electricity supplier. Eventually we want to add solar hot water and electric to further offset our energy needs. My hope is to reduce our total household energy purchasing needs to as close to zero as possible, all without causing a negative impact on my neighbors. There are many things one can do to reduce heating bills cost effectively, without having a negative impact on ones neighbors as OWBs do.

Outdoor Wood Furnace Guy said...

Boy ...what a touchy subject, huh?

I'm the former owner & CEO of Spirit Boiler Corporation, manufacture of the Spirit / Elite Heat 4868P outdoor furnace. I sold the rights to that particular furnace to a larger company when the EPA's voluntary emissions program was enacted. But during that process, I gained a lot of extra knowledge during hours of testing at an accredited EPA testing facility.

I have to, respectfully, disagree with much of what is being said here about outdoor wood furnaces.

I agree with the statement that most outdoor furnaces are inefficient smoke factories that are more effective at wrecking relationships with the neighbors than they are at effectively heating homes.

However, most of that can be attributed to poor design and operator fault.

Just like shopping for an automobile, one should educate themselves before making such a huge investment. There are outdoor wood burning furnaces available that solve all these issues I read about. And, when ran appropriately, can provide just the right solution to some heating issues.

But, sometimes an indoor gasification unit would be a better choice. your location, the type of wood you have available and diversity all play a part in that decision.

That's exactly why I've come back to the industry after 2 years

...to make a positive contribution towards helping people make better decisions on their outdoor wood heating systems.

Most situations are fairly easy to solve, and it almost always results in a cleaner burning, more efficient way to do things.

For example; putting less of a load of wood in the fire box and allowing it to burn harder not only reduces emissions, but it also increases heat transfer efficiency by widening the gap in temperatures between the water temp and fire box temp. The greater the difference, the higher the efficiency.

I welcome contributions to my blog that can help people solve their outdoor wood burning furnace issues. But please limit it to your questions or facts. I want to keep it pure outdoor wood furnace truth, as to not cause a greater confusion than already exists in the industry.

Dirty Aviston said...

I live in the Village of Aviston , Illinois . Aviston has a population of approximately 1,300 and is located approximately 35 miles directly east of St. Louis. I have a neighbor that uses one of those NASTY Outdoor Wood Boilers (OWB). I have posted 19 videos of this OWB in action on YouTube.com: just search DirtyAviston.

wood burning stoves said...

Outdoor wood furnaces may pose some risk to health but it also has no doubt offers a solution to a cheaper heating needs, so hopefully instead of totally banning it,the government can find a better way of using it by setting standards and mandates.

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