Tisbury may limit outdoor furnaces
After discussing the pros and cons of outdoor wood-burning furnaces (OWFs), Tisbury board of health members will consider possible restrictions on their use and schedule a public hearing in April before drafting any regulations.
At a meeting Tuesday, the health officials looked at a proposed OWF regulation under consideration in Petersham. The commissioners decided it would be a good example to follow and will have town counsel review the language.
The OWF debate started last month, when Larry Gomez, owner of Greenwood Bed and Breakfast, and Henry Stephenson, a Tisbury planning board member, complained about smoke and pollution from OWFs in operation in their neighborhoods to Tisbury's selectmen.
Since neither the town nor the state has regulations governing OWFs, the selectmen said there was little they could do. Mr. Gomez and Mr. Stephenson then took the issue to Tisbury's board of health.
An outdoor furnace consists of a shed containing a wood-fired boiler to heat water that is piped into a home for heat, hot water and sometimes swimming pools or hot tubs.
The growing popularity of outdoor furnaces as an alternative heating source has created controversy regarding the effects of the smoke and pollution they produce. Unlike indoor wood-burning stoves, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not yet regulate OWFs.
At the board of health meeting last week, Tom Pachico, a health inspector who also serves as a selectman, told the commissioners that in researching OWF regulations, he learned that the state of Massachusetts is planning to set manufacturing standards for them but is leaving local regulations up to the towns.
Mr. Pachico provided copies of the proposed Petersham OWF regulation to the commissioners for their review. Larry Gomez and Henry Stephenson, Vineyard Haven residents who oppose the use of OWFs, presented the commissioners with their version of a draft regulation that would ban any new units in Tisbury and place restrictions on those already in operation.
"The problem is none of us knows much about them," said Jim Pringle, board of health commissioner. While Mr. Pringle said he had nothing against requiring a permit for the OWFs, he was concerned about the wording of Mr. Gomez's and Mr. Stephenson's draft regulation because "it makes it sound like you couldn't even use an outdoor grill."
The proposed regulation would ban any new units in the town and require existing OWFs to be located at least 500 feet from adjacent property with a smokestack at least 10 feet higher than any structure within a 500-foot radius. If the OWF could not be relocated, it would have to be modified to use oil, natural gas or another non-polluting energy source approved by the board of health. Cutting or splitting logs for fuel would be restricted to daylight hours and no more than two hours per week.
Peter Goodale, Mr. Gomez's neighbor, and Jeff Baker, Mr. Stephenson's neighbor, who both own and operate OWFs at their homes on Greenwood Avenue and Midland Avenue respectively, also were given the opportunity to make their case before the commissioners.
Mr. Baker said his outdoor furnace offers the safest, most cost-effective way to heat his home. Regarding emissions data for OWFs, Mr. Goodale pointed out that studies offer contradictory data. Both men agreed that requiring a permit and regulating stack height for OWFs would be reasonable.
Mr. Pringle assured Mr. Baker, "You're not breaking the law but there is obviously a problem." He said the board of health wants to be fair. "We know you guys have made a considerable investment," he said.
Mr. Stephenson said that he and Mr. Gomez want the operating units brought up to an acceptable standard, to the same level that the Environmental Protection Agency requires for indoor wood-burning stoves. The other issue to address, he said, is that OWFs operate year-round. He suggested prohibiting use of the units during daylight savings months, when people want to be outside enjoying their decks and yards.
Mr. Pachico said the problem with restricting use of OWFs during the non-heating season is that they are used to heat hot water year-round.
Commissioner Herb Custer recommended that the board of health discuss the issue further and then hold a public hearing sometime in April before drafting any regulations. The date will be advertised.