The Chimney Sweep Logo
The Chimney Sweep Online Fireplace, Woodstove, Gas Stove and Barbecue Shop


Is My Non-Approved Woodstove Grandfathered In?

Q: We have an old Fisher airtight wood stove that has heated our home for nearly 20 years. Our new neighbors have complained about our smoke, and are threatening to call the EPA and get us busted. Isn't our stove grandfathered in somehow? If not, how do the Feds determine that our fire is too smokey, and what can they do to us if it is?

Sweepy A: Federal regs affect only wood-burning appliances that are manufactured or sold for new installations. While it wouldn't be legal to manufacture, sell or install a smoke dragon like your Fisher today, your existing installation would be "grandfathered in" so far as Federal EPA emissions regulations are concerned (as long as you don't try to sell it or install it elsewhere).

But that doesn't necessarily mean you're off the hook with your neighbors. Many states have their own air quality regulations for existing woodstove installations. If your neighbors ever decided to sic the smoke cops on you, it would be your State EPA they would call in, not the Feds.

I'm not familiar with the regulations and policing policies of every state, but here's what would happen if you lived in Washington State and someone complained about your woodstove emissions: the Air Quality Officer responding to the complaint would observe your wood smoke emissions for 20 minutes ( in case you've just added a fresh load of wood to your fire ), then measure the opacity of the smoke coming out of your chimney. Opacity tests show how much light is obscured by smoke or other particulates in the air. A clear pane of glass would register zero percent opacity, while a brick wall would score 100 percent. If the officer determines that the smoke coming out of your chimney exceeds 20% opacity, he can issue a warning, or fine you. The complaint call would put you on the officer's "drive by" list for spot-checks in the future, and subsequent opacity violations would be met with escalating fines.

I know you probably love your old Fisher, which has heated your house for two decades and undoubtedly paid for itself many times over in fuel savings, but you must prepare yourself for the likelihood that it won't pass the opacity test. Woodstoves of that vintage are criminal air polluters by today's standards, belching out thick plumes of lung-clogging particulate emissions often registering over 90% opacity. Your Fisher, all by itself, spews out more airborne particulates than twenty EPA approved woodstoves.

Maybe you should consider doing a favor for your complaining neighbors (and your other neighbors on Planet Earth), and spend some of the fuel money your Fisher has saved you over the years on a new, EPA approved model. Your new stove would burn about half the wood, deposit about one tenth the creosote in your chimney, and liven up your living room with a stay-clear view of the fire. And your neighbors would be hard-pressed to tell, by looking at your chimney, whether you had a fire going or not!

Yellow Book Icon       Home Button