PASADENA - The nights of curling up with a good book in front of a crackling fire are numbered in Southern California.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District board voted unanimously Friday to outlaw all wood-burning fireplaces in newly built homes within a year. The prohibition applies to all new homes constructed in the district, which includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The new rules also apply to fireplace additions and remodels, which will be required to be converted to gas-burning models.

In addition, homeowners with existing wood-burning fireplaces will be forbidden from using their chimneys on days in which air pollution exceeds healthy levels during the winter season starting in November 2011.

The AQMD's decision was aimed at reducing the large quantities of particulate matter emitted by the area's more than 1 million wood-burning chimneys, said agency spokesman Sam Atwood.

"Those 1.4 million households with wood-burning fireplaces that use them emit on average about 6 tons of (particulate matter) per day," Atwood said. "That is more than four times the amount emitted by all power plants in our four-county region."

During the winter, those fireplaces emit as much as 13 tons of particulate matter per day, Atwood added.

Low-income households and homes where wood-burning stoves are the only source of heat are exempt from the new rules, as are houses above 3,000 feet in elevation.


The Building Industry Association of Southern California, which represents about 2,400 companies, opposed the rule changes, said spokeswoman Julie Senter.

"We believe consumers should have a choice and today's wood-burning fireplaces are much cleaner than those built 30, 20 or even 10 years ago," Senter said.

But she commended the board for pushing implementation of the new rule out to a year - from the six months originally proposed.

"That gives our builders time to react and make any adjustments to their new home communities," she said.

Senter said the association did not do a cost analysis of the rule's impact on home builders, saying many new residences already feature dual gas and wood-burning fireplaces.

Atwood said the AQMD estimates the cost of converting a wood-burning fireplace with a gas log kit at $500, depending on the configuration of the fireplace and the availability of a gas line.

But he said home builders could actually make up for the extra cost since gas-only fireplaces do not require full masonry chimneys to vent the smoke.

Commercial wood sellers are also targeted by the new regulations. Starting this summer, they can only sell seasoned wood with a moisture content of less than 20 percent from July through February.

"Anybody can buy a device for not very much money to test the (moisture) content," Atwood said.

The restriction won't be a problem for Holiday Firewood on Corson Street and Altadena Drive in Pasadena.

"All our wood is always dry; our customers wouldn't buy it otherwise," said employee Jesus Aguirre, whose company supplies firewood for residences, as well as restaurants and institutions such as Caltech.

Aguirre added that the company would buy a testing kit if required by law.

The new rules also do not apply to charcoal or wood barbecues. But they do apply to outdoor fireplaces, as well as manufactured logs like those marketed by Duraflame and other brands.

Those found burning wood during prohibited days face up to $500 fines and mandatory conversion to a gas fireplace, depending on the number of violations per winter season.

The AQMD would notify residents of non wood-burning days through the media, postings on its Web site and (800) 288-7664 number and possibly e-mail notifications, Atwood said.

The AQMD has also put aside $500,000 for a pilot program to provide $250 for homeowners to convert their wood-burning fireplaces to gas. The program could be expanded in the future, Atwood said.

Aguirre, the wood seller, said he's not worried about a drop in business because it will take a long time to completely phase out wood fireplaces.

"They will never completely get rid of them," he said. "Some people just prefer burning wood."

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306


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