Fireplaces in Marin – To Use or Not to Use?

As the days get shorter, and chillier, and the holidays loom or zoom on the horizon, many of us dream of curling up in front of a real fire. The wood crackling, the reflection of the flames on the walls, the bronchial cough of the neighbor three doors down….wait , what ?

As romantic and cozy as it sounds, there is another reality to burning wood. Be it in fireplaces, wood stoves, or outside in the yard (hmm… that sounds dangerous). It is pretty, but far from harmless, and the Bay Area recently took steps to address the potential ill effects on the community at large. Did you know that since 2007 no new wood burning fireplaces can be installed in San Rafael. Marin County does allow EPA rated and Pellet Stoves to be installed – but check your city. Wood burning releases fine particle pollution into the immediate area, and this is linked to respiratory issues, as well as lung and heart problems (and heart attacks).These particles can pass through the lungs and into your bloodstream. Not good – even the new EPA regulated fireplaces put out fine particles. Its a challenging choice for many of us. The new thought is that setting a fire in your lovely fireplace it is similar to smoking cigarettes.

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The regulations adopted previously in July 2008 appear to have had their desired effect, and reduced to amount of fine particle pollution, so the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board of Directors voted at the end of October to keep going on that path. The new amendments to the air district’s wood burning regulation include stricter regulations on permitting visible emissions, requiring that all Bay Area wood heater manufacturers and retailers comply with EPA standards, requiring buildings to replace wood-burning devices or fireplaces not certified by the EPA, stopping wood burning devices from being installed in new buildings, and requiring all properties to disclose the health hazards of fine particles from wood or solid fuel-burning heat sources. For a great overview on why these regulations were thought to be necessary, what they mean and how they will affect our residents, click San Rafael Patch Article.  Also…….      

  1. Don’t Burn Your House Down: Many of us in Marin have 1950’s brick fireplaces that should be checked prior to burning anything in them- don’t burn your house down – call Jeff at Wittens Chimney at (415) 331-854 for a good inspection.
  2. When Can You Burn Wood – if you are going to at all? check out

• Call – 1-877-4NO-BURN
• Check the Winter Spare the Alert status at or
• Listen for Alerts on local radio and TV news media

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