In 2008, the Air District passed a rule that makes it illegal to burn wood on days when a Winter Spare the Air Alert is in effect. This regulation was adopted to protect public health.
The fine particles in wood smoke are about 1/70 the width of a human hair. They can bypass the body's natural defense systems in the nose and throat, enter the lungs and the bloodstream, and cause serious health effects. High levels of fine particle pollution can make breathing difficult, aggravate asthma, and cause premature death for people with heart or lung disease.
During winter months, wood smoke is the largest source of air pollution in the Bay Area, accounting for more than one-third of fine particulate matter pollution. On cool, calm days when there is an inversion layer of warm air acting as a lid over a layer of cold air, wood smoke can build up at ground level to unhealthy concentrations.
When these conditions are expected, the Air District will call a Winter Spare the Air Alert.
Winter Spare the Air Alerts can be called between November 1 and the last day of February.
On a Winter Spare the Air day, the Air District's wood-burning regulation makes it illegal indoors and outdoors throughout the Bay Area to burn wood, fire logs, pellets, or other solid fuels in a fireplace, woodstove, outdoor fire pit, or other wood-burning device. This regulation applies to both households and businesses like hotels and restaurants.
First-time violators will be given the option of taking a wood smoke awareness class, online or by mail, or paying a $100 ticket. Second violations will result in a $500 ticket and subsequent ticket amounts will be higher.
Avoid getting a ticket with these easy steps.
Never miss an alert by signing up for Winter Spare the Air Alerts. Customize your alert for text, email, or phone call.
Winter Spare the Air Alerts will also be posted to the Spare the Air and Air District websites and social media pages. Many local radio and TV news media also broadcast the alerts.
Besides making wood burning illegal on Winter Spare the Air Days, there are other provisions in the Wood Burning Rule.
Wood-burning devices are prohibited in new buildings constructed in the Bay Area. Gas-fueled fireplaces and logs, gas inserts, and electrical fireplaces are permitted.
Any resident who begins a chimney or remodeling project that costs more than $15,000 and requires a building permit may only install a gas-fueled, electric, or EPA-certified device. Residents whose sole source of heat is a wood-burning device are required to use an EPA-certified wood- or pellet-fueled device that is registered with the Air District. Open hearth fireplaces no longer qualify for an exemption.
In addition to prohibiting burning during Winter Spare the Air Alerts, the Wood Burning Rule places a year-round prohibition on excessive chimney smoke. Smoke is in violation when it obscures objects viewed through it by more than 20 percent. A violation can result in fines.
The burning of garbage, plastics, or other harmful materials in fireplaces and woodstoves is also prohibited year-round.
Only burn clean, dry wood in short, hot fires, and look for the “seasoned” label that the Wood Burning Rule requires from suppliers. Seasoned wood has low moisture content and burns more cleanly. Before purchasing, installing, or operating a wood- or pellet-burning device, check that the device is EPA-certified.
While fires for cooking are not prohibited during Winter Spare the Air Alerts, consider public health and be mindful of air quality on these days. Consider using a gas or propane barbecue rather than a wood or charcoal-fired cooking device.
The Wood Burning Rule does not completely ban fireplaces and wood stoves or completely prohibit wood burning in the Bay Area. It also does not require the replacement of existing fireplaces or woodstoves when a house is sold.