Every year, starting in in the fall, the District receives complaints from people concerned about breathing smoke from their neighbors’ fires. Sometimes people are not even aware that they have been causing anyone discomfort. The District has found that many people, if they know their smoke is affecting someone, are willing to adjust their burn times or notify their neighbors before burning so appropriate precautions can be taken. If you are being affected by a dirty fireplace, see our complaint process.
Wood smoke contains the following air pollutants:
- Particulate matter, fine particles that can get into our eyes and noses, and can stay trapped in sensitive areas of our lungs;
- Cancer-causing substances, including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic organic matter;
- Carbon monoxide, which reduces the blood’s ability to supply oxygen to tissues;
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and hydrocarbons, both involved in the formation of ozone, a principal component of smog.
Breathing wood smoke reduces lung function, aggravates heart and lung diseases, and can trigger asthma. During periods of poor air quality (especially wildfires) or poor air circulation, we recommend you do not use your fireplace at all. Households with sensitive individuals should talk to their doctor before using a wood-burning fireplace or stove.
For more information on the health impacts of smoke, and those most at risk, see About Smoke and Health. Another danger during the winter months is carbon monoxide poisoning. See Carbon Monoxide in Your Home for more information.
If you choose to use your wood burning fireplace or stove, take some of the steps below for the sake of your health and safety, and that of your neighbors.
Top Tips for Cleaner Fireplace Burning en español (PDF)
When you make a fireplace fire, first, check out our tips to minimize your smoke. Then, take a walk outside. Look and see where your smoke is going. If your smoke is headed towards a neighbor’s house, knock on their door. Ask if your smoke is bothering them and let them know they can call you if it does in the future. Usually two neighbors can work out a solution that works for both – but only if they are aware and talk. Be a good neighbor. (For information on District’s role with fireplace burning see section below.)
A dirty chimney is full of flammable creosote. Schedule regular maintenance by a professional chimney sweep.
Burning trash can cause toxic chemicals to go into the air. Don’t burn: plastics, chemicals, wrapping paper, magazines, or colored or coated papers (including newspaper inserts and junk mail). Never use flammable fuels in or near your fireplace – the vapors can explode.
Burn only dry, well-cured wood. Hard woods are dense, which burn more slowly and evenly. As a result, they produce more heat and less smoke. Small hot fires are better than large smoldering ones. Avoid “roaring” fires – they can start chimney fires and can overheat wall and roof materials.
Remember, a fireplace fire is not an efficient way to produce heat. Use your heater for heat and your fireplace for special occasions.
A gas fireplace or a fireplace using an EPA-certified insert will create less pollution than a typical wood burning fireplace or stove.
Decorative fireplaces are not built to handle wood fires. Burning wood in one of these fireplaces is asking for trouble and could create a dangerous situation.
Keep children away from the fire. Their clothing can easily ignite. Warn the entire family about this hazard. Warn children about the danger of fire, never let them play with fire, and review with them the – Stop-Drop-and Roll – drill they learned in school.
Make sure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house.
A spark from your fireplace could ignite these materials and cause a fire. Keep flammable and combustible materials such as carpets, pillows, furniture or papers, logs and kindling at least 3 feet away from the fireplace area. Be sure the Christmas tree is not close enough to be ignited by a spark. Keep the area near the fireplace clear of materials like papers, books, toys, etc.
Keep a type ABC extinguisher near the fireplace, install a screen that covers the fireplace opening, equip your house with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and use a spark arrester on top of your chimney
The District has not adopted any rules or regulations to ban or limit the burning of wood or other solid fuels in a fireplace, wood stove, or other wood-burning device. However, wood-burning appliances and fireplaces in homes and restaurants may be the cause of public nuisance complaints. The California Health and Safety Code and District regulations (including Rule 303, Nuisance) prohibit emissions of air contaminants that cause nuisance or annoyance to a considerable number of people, or that present a threat to public health, or damage to property. If complaints are received, District inspectors will investigate to determine compliance with Rule 303. To avoid the potential for a nuisance situation to occur, we recommend that new construction projects consider limiting wood-burning appliance and fireplace installation and install natural gas-fueled appliances and fireplaces in areas where nearby residents could be affected by smoke.
Also, see our Wood Smoke Reduction Program which offers incentive funding for residents to remove or replace their existing wood-burning fireplace or stove.