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City considers ban on some home heaters

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wood-burning heaters like this one may soon be banned from use within the city of Greencastle. The stoves, that are installed outside the home, are seen as a cost-effective alternative to heating and are seeing increased use in the area.
An alternative method of home heating that is becoming more popular could soon be banned in the city of Greencastle if members of the city council give final approval of the plan next month.

On Tuesday night, members of the city council voted unanimously to approve the first draft of an ordinance prohibiting the use of so-called "outdoor hydronic heaters," also known as outdoor wood-fired heaters, within the city limits.

The devices resemble a small tool shed or outhouse and people typically burn firewood in them and use the heat to warm their homes.

There are a few homeowners in the city who currently use them, one of whom attended the council's meeting and said he chose to install the system at his home to save on heating bills. The new ordinance would not apply to him or anyone else who is already using one of these devices.

What the ordinance does prohibit is anyone, residential or commercial, from installing one of the burners in the future.

The reason why?

City Planner Shannon Norman and Fire Chief Bill Newgent said the smoke that these burners produce poses a health risk to humans.

Both Norman and City Attorney Laurie Hardwick said they have fielded concerns from homeowners living next to someone who is using one of these burners.

"My office has received several complaints," Norman said.

Fire Chief Newgent added his concern for the smoke.

"It is truly an air quality issue," he said. "It has caused some problems around the city."

Attorney Hardwick said residents who live near where these burners are used have complained that the owners are burning trash rather than firewood.

During the meeting, city officials talked about alternatives to a total ban on these types of heaters but agreed in the end that prohibition is the best option.

One alternative would be to require a taller chimney on the heaters, but Norman said the height required to allow the smoke to be released above surrounding structures wouldn't be practical given the size of the heaters themselves.

A second alternative, Norman explained, would be to restrict the time of year when these types of heaters can be used. But Norman said this wouldn't do anything to alleviate the smoke, which is at the heart of the issue.

City officials say other communities in the state are also dealing with this issue and have drafted similar ordinances.

"We believe it's only a matter of time for IDEM to step in and put rules in place for the entire state," Hardwick said.

Councilman Adam Cohen said he supports the ban and added his desire for the city to "be more aggressive" in regulating homeowners who currently use these types of heating methods. His comment came after the discussion of people burning trash in the heaters.

Councilman T.J. Smith said he has heard complaints from residents in his district, but the people he's talked to said they would prefer more regulations but not a total ban.

When the votes were cast, Smith voted against the ordinance while council members John Lanie, Jinsie Bingham and Cohen voted to approve it. Councilman Mark Hammer did not attend Tuesday night's meeting.

The council will have to vote at its May meeting to approve the ordinance a second time before it would take effect.

In other business, the city council:

* Approved the closing of Veteran's Memorial Highway, between Jackson Street and Cemetery Road, on May 3, from 9:45 to 11:30 a.m. The reason for the closure is to allow for the annual veteran's memorial celebration.

* Approved a noise waiver for DePauw to allow for Relay for Life at Blackstock Stadium. The waver will be in effect from noon May 3 to noon May 4.

* Approved closing of the streets around the Greencastle square to allow for "Fair on the Square" May 16-18. Streets will be closed beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday to 8 p.m. Sunday. Also they approved the closing of the south side of the courthouse square each Saturday for the weekly farmers' market. This begins June 7 and continues each Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Sept. 27.

* Approved a noise waiver for DePauw fraternity Phi Gamma Delta to host "Fiji Isle" on April 26 and 27. The waiver was approved for 9 p.m. April 26 until 1 a.m. April 27.

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I like the idea of using these but agree that they make terrible smoke. The smoke from these seems to be thicker, and heavier and lingers longer. Would a tall stack help these units?

-- Posted by Xgamer on Thu, Apr 10, 2008, at 5:13 AM

Well how about you people that want to ban these from use pay our fuel bills, or better yet, we can start sending our children over to your house to eat!!! The fuel companies are killing this country. The government lowers the interest rate to jump start the economy how about we lower gas prices $2 a gallon, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that that would jump start it immediately. We are having to decide between feeding our families and heating our homes, or going to work....wake up people, there has to be something that we can do. I'm tired of letting our government letting the big businesses run this country and people like us are losing our homes and starving our kids. This is what happens when you start taking GOD out of everything.

-- Posted by concern on Thu, Apr 10, 2008, at 12:41 PM

Bring back leaf burning and barrel burning in the alleys. There's nothing like the aroma of burning leaves. My grandmother burned leaves, my mother burned leaves and I used to burn leaves. My grandmother lived to be 88, my mother passed away at 93. It didn't seem to harm them. (Oh, also my grandmother smoked two packs of Viceroy a day.)


(P.S. I don't care for yellow shirts. Can someone ban them for me? I find them repulsive and it offends me to see people wearing them. Please make citizens stop wearing yellow shirts.)

-- Posted by Dagnabbit on Thu, Apr 10, 2008, at 2:08 PM

what's wrong with you thoughtful, have you seen the powder blue shirts.

any new ideas or concepts to help the regular person some money, gov't will find some way to ultra tax it or ban it, give us a break......

-- Posted by gottokno on Thu, Apr 10, 2008, at 5:36 PM

Yes they do smoke quite a bit but they don't smoke all the time. When the water temp is high enough for the thermostat to close the damper door alot of smoke will build up inside the stove. Basically because with the damper door closed the stove isn't "breathing" and the smoke is trapped inside all the while the wood in the stove is mostly just smoldering. When the water temp falls and the thermostat opens the damper door to allow fresh air into the stove in order to kick the fire up and heat the water back up to max temp then that is when they put out alot of smoke. Normally after a few minutes the really thick smoke will clear out and as the fire inside gets hotter there will be very little smoke until the water temp gets up and the thermostat shuts the damper door and the process starts all over again.

We installed an outdoor wood burner several years ago and it's the best thing we have ever done here.

Since late last October when we fired up the stove for the winter until now we have spent about $150.00 to heat out home and the thermostat stays on 72* all winter. That 150.00 is what I spent on gas for the saw and truck, bar oil and getting saw chains sharpened. We are fortunate in that we live out in the county and can cut wood close to home.

Also, the stove also heats all of our water and we shut the power off to the water heater while the stove is going which saves us $35.00-$40.00 a month on our electric bill.

I can understand some peoples concerns about air quality in town where your neighbors are closer and the wind may not dissipate the smoke as quickly. But really, during the winter months when the stoves are in operation is everyone sitting around outside in the cold for the smoke to be a big problem?

Now if they try to do something about those of us out in the country with these stoves......well, they're gonna have a fight on their hands.

-- Posted by duallydriver on Thu, Apr 10, 2008, at 9:21 PM

You've got to be kidding. How did most of you live 40-50-60 years ago. Remember those days. I would like to request that you shut down all wood-burning fireplaces in the city of Greencastle. I don't like that smoke either. Who do these people think they are and is this all they have to do. Can you not concentrate on something of importance. If you're neighbor doesn't like your woodburning stove, tell them where they can go. As of today, it's still a FREE country. (Well sort of). Get off all of your high horses. (City Council) You should all try moving to a much larger county like Hamilton county and try to pitch your ignorant thoughts on those people. They would tell you where to go! You think this puts you at the top of the totem pole, but it really doesn't. You all couldn't make it in a big city. You would be the smallest fish in a very large pond.

-- Posted by cty-govt-a-muck on Fri, Apr 11, 2008, at 7:34 AM

It might just be a coincidence, but of course the CITY isn't going to allow these wood burners for the simple fact that everyone in the city limits is on a metered gas supply. Someone is probably getting a kickback from somewhere and don't want to see the gas revenue decrease. The smoke from these burners are no different than the smoke from a fireplace chimney-for granted there is some that burn trash in them and it is not recommended by the manufacturer. Nor is the smoke any more harmful than what those stinking diesel semis or the high performance diesel pickup trucks roll out of their stacks - jet black smoke by the way. Don't you think the manufacturers have done much better research than your average joe?? I think so!! If the smoke is stinking that bad then the homeowner is burning stuff they shouldn't be and the city needs to reprimand THAT owner and not penalize the rest of the people that are trying to save some money!! What is next, baning fireplaces from inside our homes- I don't so!!!

-- Posted by Rickets on Fri, Apr 11, 2008, at 8:12 AM

After succeeding in telling privatively owned businesses how to conduct their affairs it was inevitable that the next step is the attempt to control households.

-- Posted by DJ on Fri, Apr 11, 2008, at 10:55 AM

These units are a nuisance when used in proximity to neighbors and it is perfectly reasonable for Greencastle to ban them in the city limits. These units are dinosaurs that the EPA exempted from clean air efficiency standards. They are very inefficient, probably no more than 40% of the heat value of the wood is getting to the home. Smoke is volatile gases that have not been oxidized, which means they still have chemical energy that you are not able to take advantage of. These units will take much more wood (probably double) than an efficient indoor stove. The problem is not with burning wood. It is that this equipment is horrible! The only advantage to these systems is that they are outside and remove combustion from inside the home.

The understanding of gasification and combustion is to the point that a similar unit could be built that would achieve a high efficiency level and not cause excessive pollution, but since there is no standard for this size equipment we are forced to the lowest common denominator and end up with 19th century technology. High efficiency units would cost significantly more to buy, but would provide lower life cycle costs due to much lower fuel consumption.

Greencastle Schools has a corn burning unit (which is less economical now due to high grain prices) which shows an overall acceptance and promotion of biomass heating in the city. They have worked very hard to get this unit to the point where it does not significantly pollute the air. One outdoor boiler likely pollutes more than this corn boiler that heats an entire school.

I don't blame folks for wanting a cheap alternative to propane and gas. Burning wood is a great idea, but please choose a high efficiency unit that doesn't choke your neighbors!

-- Posted by letsbereasonable on Fri, Apr 11, 2008, at 1:27 PM

I must agree with letsbereasonable. These units are highly problematic in terms of wasted energy from the fuel source and in health related issues stemming from the excessive particulate matter that they emit. It will likely only be a matter of time before the production of these units is banned entirely in the United States, meaning that all warranties and service agreements associated with them will likely be terminated as well. The city council is probably saving many homeowners from making a bad decision on purchasing one of these units without knowing the fate of the company that provides the service to them.

The fact is that under the current system all windfall profits and savings are going to the companies that knowingly produce these outdated, substandard units and the homeowners who use them to heat their houses to the detriment of the health of their neighbors. However, I do not blame those who currently own and use these units. It's really unfortunate that they been lured into purchasing these units and now have to live with the consequences of doing so.

Anyone who is concerned about the city's motivation for passing this bill should probably contact them directly. The city, like all good governing bodies, is very transparent in its actions and must take responsibility for them.

As far as the costs of energy, we need to consider the impacts of our energy consumption holistically. Our prices are actually very low today for almost all energy sources compared to worldwide averages. According to very basic microeconomic theory, the only way to bring the market price of energy down is to increase the supply or reduce the demand. Since increasing supply is limited by availability, political unrest, and scientifically agreed upon environmental concerns, the only reasonable option is to reduce demand. Anyone who is really concerned about the prosperity of our nation and the world and not just themselves has the patriotic duty to do so.

-- Posted by imwiththatguy on Fri, Apr 11, 2008, at 2:23 PM

horrible equipment? i dont know everything about them like some however i know someone that heats a 2 story home, swimming pool and a 40x80 pole barn just with a handful of wood a day....and so it smokes....what about the chimneys of houses when burning wood in the ole fireplace...

-- Posted by justmoveonwillya on Sat, Apr 12, 2008, at 4:02 PM

Some folks should do a little research before spouting off about inefficiency and emissions. Just because it's not your "cup of tea" you think that no one should have one?

If I lived in town and this ordinance was passed then I would also demand that every single inside wood stove and fireplace also be banned. Include the corn boiler at the school in that ordinance. I drove past on Veterans highway one evening a few weeks ago and smoke with a burnt corn smell was blowing across the highway. We can't have that can we?

BTW, the smoke drifting through the neighborhood from your barbecue grill offends me, ban that also.

The cigarette smoke smell from my neighbor sitting on his back porch and smoking offends me too, ban him from smoking outside in his own backyard.

Really, where does it stop? Have to agree with gottokno, someone makes an investment to save them money down the road and the government will tax it to death or simply ban it.

-- Posted by duallydriver on Sun, Apr 13, 2008, at 9:53 AM

I've actually done plenty of research in this area. The idea of energy efficiency and personal energy independence are very important to me. The issue with these units stems from the fact that they limit the temperature inside the combustion chamber in order to use liquid water as a heat transfer medium. Limiting the temperature of combustion limits the overall thermodynamic efficiency of the heating cycle. Further, lower temperatures of combustion allow organic molecules from the wood to be emitted as a gas along with small bits of particulate that are ejected through the smokestack.

A fireplace may or may not be a better option depending on the unit being used and how it is installed. The fireplace, however, has two advantages over the hydronic heaters. First, it uses air as a heat transfer medium and also radiative heat transfer. Neither of these limits the temperature of combustion of the wood, making the combustion more complete and more efficient. Secondly, fireplaces typically exhuast through a chimney which reduces the ability of particulates to be fully emitted and raises the emissions higher into the atmosphere where they are less likely to be a local health threat.

The fact is that we as people are constantly doing things to our own beneift which cause adverse effects on those around us. One of the functions of government at all levels is to recognize those adverse effects and develop policies which best optimize the resulting collective action of the people. This task is always very difficult, but apparently the city government believes that limiting these units makes Greencastle a better place to live than allowing them. I'm sure that they would welcome any solid evidence to the contrary.

-- Posted by imwiththatguy on Sun, Apr 13, 2008, at 8:44 PM

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