New law keeps wood boilers at a distance

With a growing number of people using them and a nearly equal amount of people complaining about them, the state has set new standards for outdoor wood boilers.

A new state law requires homeowners who use boilers that are installed as of this month to consider the distance between the devices and their neighbors. Newer models will also have to meet tightened emission standards starting next year.

The state, with the help of municipalities, will also curtail or shut down existing boilers if they continue to choke neighbors with black smoke, the Department of Environmental Services said.

“We would wake up in the middle of night coughing and have to go around our home and close the windows,” said Hanover resident David Cole, an attorney who won a temporary court injunction to stop his neighbor from using a wood boiler.

While pleased the state will tighten emissions standards for the boilers, Cole thinks it’s still not enough.

Even when considering the impending emissions standards, a wood boiler will still release a large amount of soot, Cole said. And he doubts municipalities will enforce the law, citing his town’s supposed reluctance to deal with his neighbor.

But Pam Monroe, a DES compliance bureau administrator, said state officials hope the new law will make wood boilers less problematic.

The use of wood-fired boilers has increased with the prices of home-heating oil and other energy sources.

A boiler typically sits in a small shed outside a house. It heats water and carries the energy through pipes to warm the building.

But neighbors of those who use them find fault with the smoke released into the air. The boilers produce a thick, black smoke that aggravates lung conditions and ruins clothing, they say.

The American Lung Association has also weighed in. Donald Mahler, a doctor and state ALA board member, wrote in a Concord Monitor opinion piece that wood boilers emit 10 times more particles than the accepted standard for wood stoves.

In a nutshell, the new law will phase in the tougher standards, with the idea that phasing in the changes will make it easier for users, manufacturers and sellers.

Owners of existing units don’t have to move the boilers, but if they are deemed a nuisance or health hazard, the state or municipality will “abate” the problem or require the boiler be shut down if the problem can’t be remedied, DES said.

A boiler purchased and installed between now and January that doesn’t meet federal emission standards must be no closer than 200 feet from a neighboring building. It must also have a permanent stack at least two feet higher than the peak of roofs of buildings within 300 feet.

As of 2009, any wood boilers sold must meet the federal particulate emission standard of 0.6 pounds per million BTU input or .32 pounds of MMBTU output. These boilers must also meet the 200-foot distance and 2-foot stack requirements.

And as of 2010, all units sold must meet the .32 pounds standard. These boilers can be installed somewhat closer to a neighboring property line – no closer than 50 feet – with the thinking that they will be less polluting.

Rick Devoid, manager of Northwood Power in Enfield, said the new standards shouldn’t harm his business’ sale of wood boilers.

The burden of improving the devices is on the manufacturers, he said.

Northwood Power sells wood boilers “faster than they get in” because of climbing energy costs, Devoid said. “If (homeowners) have access to wood, they’re very economical. The return on them is less than a year,” he said.

But Cole said that aside from creating environmental and health risks, wood boilers are inefficient. Whereas an oil burner wastes about 15 percent of its energy in a chimney, a wood boiler loses about 55 percent, he said.