Seasonal ban on wood-burning fireplaces in Metro Vancouver begins 2021, violators face $10,000 daily fine

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      Nowadays, most fireplaces are powered by gas, but there are some that use wood.

      Wood-burning fireplaces and similar appliances like stoves affect air quality, which is a major concern in the Lower Mainland.

      Because of this, the Metro Vancouver regional government is moving forward with regulations to control wood burning inside homes.

      Starting in 2021, it will be illegal to use wood-burning fireplaces and stoves between May 15 and September 15.

      Violators could be fined $10,000 for each day in contravention.

      The prohibition is the first phase of a three-stage implementation of rules that will eventually phase out appliances that do not meet emission standards, with a few exceptions.

      “The phased requirements would start with restrictions on the use of wood-burning appliances in the warm season and culminate in requiring the use of cleaner wood-burning appliances and other low-emission technologies in urban areas, except during emergencies and for low income households or where wood-burning appliances are the sole source of heat,” Roger Quan, director of air-quality policy and climate change, wrote in a report.

      Quan added that residents in “remote, off-grid locations” can use their devices between May 15 and September 15.

      On March 13 this year, the climate action committee adopted recommendations in Quan’s report.

      Burnaby councillor Sav Dhaliwal is a member of the committee, and he also chairs the board of Metro Vancouver.

      Dhaliwal expects the Metro Vancouver board to approve the regulations when it meets on March 27. 

      Dhaliwal explained that wood-burning appliances are a significant source of fine particulate matter, which poses risks to people with respiratory and heart issues.

      “People with asthma and other issues have a difficult time when you have wood-burning appliances nearby,” Dhaliwal told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      This doesn’t mean that all wood-burning fireplaces and stoves will be illegal.

      “It’s just the old-fashioned fireplaces that will be phased out,” Dhaliwal said.

      In his report, Quan pointed out that smoke from residential indoor wood burning is the “most significant source” of fine particulate matter in the region.

      Indoor wood burning contributes more than a quarter of fine-particulate-matter emissions, and it’s also the “second top source of toxic air pollutants”.

      “Exposure to wood smoke is of particular concern in densely populated urban areas, due to the proximity of a single smoking chimney to multiple neighbours,” Quan noted.

      Quan reported that the annual health-related benefits from reducing the impacts of fine particulate matter from residential indoor wood burning are estimated to be “between $282 million and $869 million”.

      Moreover, Quan wrote that wood smoke also contributes to climate change.

      According to Quan, wood smoke contains black carbon, which he described as a “climate forcer” that has a “high global warming potential”.

      The second phase of the regulations begins on September 15, 2022, with Metro Vancouver requiring the registration of clean wood-burning appliances in designated urban areas.

      To be certified as clean, a fireplace or stove has to have a particulate-matter emission rate that does not exceed 4.5 grams per hour.

      Masonry heaters, which are site-built or –assembled and made of materials like stone or brick, are also considered clean burning devices.

      Phase two will likewise require users to declare that they are using “best burning practices”.

      Based on a document attached to Quan’s report, best burning practices mean operating a residential indoor wood-burning appliance in a way that produces “no visible emissions except during the starting of a new fire for a period not to exceed twenty minutes in any four hour period”.

      Compliance with best burning practices includes using only “clean, seasoned wood or wood products, manufactured firelogs, or wood pellets”.

      For starting a fire, one must use only “non-glossy, uncoated, uncoloured paper”.

      In a 2017 presentation, Julie Saxton, an air-quality planner with Metro Vancouver, reported that there are about 100,000 fireplaces and stoves in use in the region.

      According to Saxton, the regional government receives between five to 25 complaints per month about wood smoke during winter.

      The third phase starts on September 15, 2025, when nonregistered devices in urban areas will no longer be allowed, except in low-income households.

      The implementation of the last phase will be deferred in the Village of Lions Bay until 2032.

      “The Village of Lions Bay has expressed a commitment to collaborating with Metro Vancouver on a focused outreach and education program to reduce wood smoke emissions in Lions Bay, in response to broad concerns amongst their residents about the implications of restrictions on wood-burning appliances in a community without access to natural gas,” Quan wrote in his report.