Program Allows Summit County Residents To Trade In Wood Burning Fireplaces For Natural Gas Insert

Oct 19, 2018

Credit courtesy of Summit County

The Summit County Health Department and their partners are launching a campaign to encourage residents to phase out their wood-burning fireplaces.

The coalition just received a grant of $120,000 from the EPA to help in the effort.

A couple of years ago, the Snyderville Planning Commission restricted wood-burning fireplaces in all new construction.

However, the county’s Environmental Health Director, Phil Bondurant, said regulation isn’t always the best approach. They are launching an effort to educate and encourage. Bondurant said the county’s air might not be as bad as it is along the Wasatch Front. But they should start now, to avoid a worse situation in the future.

He said the campaign is a partnership with the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and the local branch of Habitat For Humanity. It began last spring.

“Habitat For Humanity approached us and said hey we have an opportunity here do you have any thoughts or ideas? From that the collaboration really took off. We came up with this idea of how we can use an environmental justice grant to improve air quality in Summit County. The idea is that we’re going to engage the community. We have a very active community when it comes to air quality and the idea is that through our partnerships and leveraging the contacts that we have we’re going to have the community help us improve air quality by exchanging solid wood burning fire places for gas appliances. Not only is it a more efficient and effective means of heating a home but its also going to improve our air quality and reduce the pm2.5 that we see throughout the winter months where we typically and use our wood burning fireplaces.

It is even the case, he said, that wood-burning fireplaces can suck the heat out of a room.

“With the design of a wood burning fire place you have to have a flue system that actually takes the smoke out and with the smoke goes some of the heat. With that it creates a venturi effect where it actually pulls the air up the fire place flue. It definitely heats a room but it’s not as efficient as it could be. With the gas fire place there’s no byproduct. There’s no smoke that comes off there’s none of the pm2.5 that comes off so the insert can actually have a fan blower behind it that as that heat is generated through the combustion of the natural gas, can project that into a room. You’re actually having the opposite effect as a fire place is pushing the smoke up a flue and out into the atmosphere, the gas fire place is pushing the heat into the room so, it’s more efficient and effective of actually heating the room.”

He said they don’t know how many current wood-burning fireplaces they have in the county, but they want to replace as many as they can with natural gas inserts.

“All of the gas burning fire place inserts are EPA certified. What that means is that they’re clean burning, they don’t put off any by-product to contribute to pm2.5. Those are the inserts that we’re going after. We’re going away from the traditional brick and mortar fire place setting that goes in and putting in this gas system that still has the cosmetic appeal. When you visually look at it gives you that look of a fireplace but it has some other features that allow you to really maximize the heat that comes out of that fireplace.”

The County Board of Health has funded two major air monitors, one located in Coalville and one at Quinn’s Junction.

“What that does is it monitors ozone and pm2.5. We monitor ozone during the summer and pm2.5 during the fall and winter. What we’ve noticed over the past 5-7 years is that our pm2.5 we’ve never approached any type of EPA levels that indicate that we have an air quality problem. But we do see spikes and we do see gradual incline over that timeframe. Traditionally those spikes occur obviously around forest fires. If there’s a fire there’s not much we can really do about that, but that particular matter is still in the air.”

He said that typically they detect pollution spikes during the winter holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.

“We see a spike in pm2.5 about 12-24 hours after those holidays. What that is indicating is that individuals are enjoying the ambiance of their fire place which is consistent with the mountain community. We enjoy that appeal but we’re seeing that pm2.5 spike meaning that those fire places are emitting pm2.5 into the air. The reason there’s a delay is because it takes time for that to reach a concentration that can actually be measured by our machines. Our machines read out every hour, and we start to see that gradual spike and it builds up to a point where it hits a spike and sometimes it levels off and then drops a few days later and sometimes it’s just a peak and then it goes back down to a valley.”

There are also the so-called “purple monitors” which can be placed with individual residences, whether in the county or in Park City limits. Bondurant said the county has purchased eight more of those.

Bondurant said the EPA grant is seed money, and hopefully they can pursue other grant funding in the future.

He said they’re scheduled to present the program to the county council on October 31st. They plan to have a website for the initiative up by November 1st.