Monday, March 6, 2017

Heating Safety Smoke Check - 2017 Draft 1

With the EPA de-funded this year, do we need stop-gap measures to alleviate public safety issues formerly regulated or enforced by EPA?

What if we could use intelligent rules of thumb instead of elaborate or expensive experimental mandates?

If you have never seen fire burn this clean, and my team can build this fox stove in a morning with a shovel, you might have something more to learn about fire.

Here's a proposed rule set for community self-regulation of solid fuel heating:

Safety check:
1) Not more than 20 minutes of visible smoke.  A concerned neighbor can document this with a cell phone camera; trained responders can learn to distinguish problem smoke from clean steam/exhaust in about 20 minutes.  Photo or video evidence of unacceptable smoke in violation of the 20-minute standard, verified by a trained smoke reader, triggers an inspection request.
(This is not just about air quality, it's about creosote and chimney fires.)

2) Safety inspection - this could be done by a chimney sweep, fire investigator, or any peer-qualified local inspector who can read smoke sign and building details at an expert level.  (Elected or appointed civil servants are not intrinsically qualified to judge expertise, but may conduct background checks and other due diligence).
- Chimney(s) safe and operable, no signs of past or future chimney fires
- Heater(s) safe and operable, no signs of over-fire, under-fire, or ill repair
- Clearances appear adequate (if not, mark with 165 F calibrated crayon)
- Operator demonstrated acceptable skills and practices for <20 minute standard of clean, safe fire
(check night-time burn practices if applicable)

If any points do not pass initial inspection, schedule a follow-up inspection in 40 days, or before the start of the next heating season.

3) 40-day Follow-Up Inspection: Repeat initial inspection, with special attention to previous problems.  Because operator practices may have changed, re-inspect all points to ensure no new problems have inadvertently been started.

4) Repeat Offenders / Non-compliance / 3rd strike
Operators not able to safely heat with solid fuels may be a danger to themselves and others.  Yet keeping one's family warm in the winter is a basic human right.

Communities need to find their right balance on the local level.  Encourage voluntary compliance, create incentives for good practice, and carefully work on effective tough-love policies: when to engage social services, cease-and-desist orders, fines or cost-of-response billing, or prosecute criminal non-compliance using existing laws and rules.


Building professionals, fire professionals, home-owners, and community safety volunteers:  What do you think?  Could this work?

Comments welcome below, or email erica at ErnieAndErica dot info.
Please include the phrase "Smoke Check" in the subject or body of your email.

For a wealth of detail on the why/how/resources behind my proposal:

I'm also thinking of putting together some excerpts from our book and other good sources about what exactly is involved in building a good chimney, safe wood stove installation, etc.  Welcome offers from other authors for good references.

What do you think?