Peninsula residents can weigh in on contentious plan to require fireplace upgrades in for-sale properties 

click to enlarge Proposed amendments to an ordinance would require homeowners to replace older wood-burning stoves or fireplaces with newer, less-polluting equipment before selling their homes. - ROBERT F. BUKATY/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Robert F. Bukaty/AP File Photo
  • Proposed amendments to an ordinance would require homeowners to replace older wood-burning stoves or fireplaces with newer, less-polluting equipment before selling their homes.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has proposed tightening restrictions on fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, a move that has drawn protest from Peninsula homeowners and Realtors.

Since 2008, it has been illegal to burn wood in a stove or fireplace on any day when a winter Spare the Air alert has been issued. The proposed amendments to the ordinance in question would require homeowners to replace older wood-burning stoves or fireplaces with newer, less-polluting equipment before selling their homes.

In cases where a building lacks central heating and the occupant claims an “only source of heat” exemption for wood burning, the air district proposes requiring them to have Environmental Protection Agency-certified stoves and to register them.

Daly City Councilman David Canepa, who sits on the board of directors of the air district, said he has received numerous phone calls from homeowners who say the possible changes could force them to spend thousands of dollars on retrofits.

Paul Stewart, a spokesman for the San Mateo County Association of Realtors, said the mandatory upgrades could add $4,000 to $25,000 to a home’s asking price, and the air district could stop a home sale from going through if the work was not completed. And the burden on landlords would be even greater, Stewart noted, because upgrades to rental properties would be required regardless of whether those properties were for sale.

The potential costs of the upgrades are not the only concerns of homeowners, said Realtor Carole Fogelstrom. She explained that the inspection and registration requirements could force residents to give government inspectors access to their homes. Once that happens, Fogelstrom said, the inspectors could notice any code violations or nonpermitted renovations, even if they are not related to the inspector’s original purpose for being there, and issue costly citations.

But air district spokesman Tom Flannigan said the proposed changes are especially important to those who are disproportionately affected by poor air quality, such as the elderly and residents with asthma or other respiratory illnesses.

Wood-burning, open-hearth fireplaces are “terribly inefficient,” said Flannigan, because they allow lots of heat to escape through their chimneys while simultaneously pulling cold air from a home’s extremities.

Flannigan added that newer EPA-certified wood stoves are 80 percent less pollutant than their older counterparts, and gas-burning fireplaces are so efficient that their carbon footprint is just 1 percent of their wood-burning equivalents.

For home sellers who can’t afford the switch to a gas or electric fireplace, Flannigan said permanently disabling the fireplace is a less costly option. And he said his agency might explore potentially using grant money to help low-income homeowners defray the costs of any mandated equipment replacements.

The air district is holding a series of workshops around the Bay Area to solicit comment from members of the public before finalizing changes to the rules.

Peninsula residents can share their opinions at the next workshop at 6 p.m. Monday at the Redwood City Public Library’s Downtown Branch, 1044 Middlefield Road.

Canepa said he has not taken a position on the proposed rule changes, but he encourages people to attend the meeting.

“It is absolutely critical that people come to this workshop to weigh-in and voice their concerns,” Canepa said.

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