Problems and complaints
What to do if you have a complaint about a neighbor’s wood-burning appliance
The MPCA has limited ability to respond to individual wood smoke complaints. We encourage you to follow this process if you are having health or nuisance problems caused by a neighbor's smoky appliance.
1. Give your neighbor a chance to be a ‘good’ neighbor. Don’t get angry, most people are responsible and willing to help if asked in a polite non-threatening manner.
Calmly tell your neighbor what the problem is. You may find that your neighbor is not aware that they are affecting your property or your health. Give them a copy of one of the following documents:
- Use an EPA-certified wood stove
- Best burn practices (U.S. EPA)
- Smoke gets in your lungs - Outdoor wood boilers in New York state
2. Contact your local officials if talking to your neighbors does not yield a satisfactory result. You may want to consider asking other neighbors for support if they are also concerned about emissions from wood stoves.
Some townships, cities, and counties (in unincorporated areas) have zoning or public health nuisance ordinances that allow them to respond to wood smoke complaints. If this issue is perceived by the city or county to be a broad or ongoing problem, the city or county may be interested in adopting an ordinance that specifically addresses wood burning appliances.
Many Minnesota local governments have adopted ordinances addressing solid fuel heating devices (SFHDs) such as outdoor wood furnaces (also known as boilers). Call your city or township to find out if there is an ordinance or code for these boilers. The MPCA has also compiled a list of many such ordinances and copies of them. Call your city hall first or call the MPCA staff (see below) to see if we know of ones in your area.
Some have adopted ordinances to restrict backyard recreational fires. For example, some cities participating in the Green Step Cities program have passed wood smoke related ordinances. If wood smoke is perceived by your local government to be a broad or ongoing problem, you may be interested in adopting an ordinance that specifically addresses wood burning.
The Wisconsin DNR offers a model ordinance for outdoor burning for local government, including outdoor wood-fired furnaces, open burning and refuse burning: Open burning - Model ordinance for local governments
The U.S. EPA and the group, Northeast States for Coordinated Use Management, have also put together a useful set of model rules and regulations for outdoor wood boilers.
Model ordinances for solid fuel-fired heating devices (SFHDs)
MPCA developed model ordinances to address solid fuel-fired heating devices such as wood boilers or outdoor furnaces to assist local governments in addressing wood smoke complaints. They were also developed in response to requests from organizations and officials for ordinances that are easier to understand and enforce. Local governments can customize these model nuisance and zoning ordinances to meet your community’s needs. See this information sheet and the two ordinances to learn more about these model ordinances
- Introduction to model ordinances to control wood smoke from solid fuel-fired heating devices
- An ordinance to prohibit nuisances from solid fuel-fired heating device operation
- An ordinance for zoning for solid fuel-fired heating devices
The township, city, or county could consider a wide range of options such as restricting the locations of chimneys, banning certain kinds of appliances, and making requirements for chimney (stack) heights or set back distances from property boundaries.
Health effects of wood smoke
- National Ambient Air Quality Standards (U.S. EPA)
- Open Burning, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- Trash and wood burning (Wisconsin)
- Health effects of wood smoke (Washington)
- In-Field Ambient Fine Particulate Monitoring of an Outdoor Wood Boiler: Public Health Concerns — Philip Johnson, 2006
- Effect of Airflow Setting on the Organic Composition of Woodheater Emissions — Timothy Jordan & Andrew Seen, 2005
- Emission characteristics of modern and old-type residential boilers fired with wood logs and wood pellets — Linda S. Johansson et al 2003
- EPA - Emissions from Outdoor Wood-Burning Residential Hot Water Furnaces — Valenti, Clayton
- EPA- Residential Wood Combustion Technology Review Volume 1. Technical Report
- Low emissions from wood burning in an ecolabeled residential boiler — Maria Olsson et al. 2005
- Model development for spatial variation of PM2.5 emissions from residential wood burning — Yong Q. Tiana et al. 2004
- Assessment of Outdoor Wood-fired Boilers, 2006. Prepared by NESCAUM.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon size distributions in aerosols from appliances of residential wood combustion as determined by direct thermal desorption-GC/MS - Michael D. Hays et al 2003
- Residential Fuelwood Assessment, State of Minnesota, 2007-2008 Heating Season — MPCA, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S Forest Service Northern Research Station, and Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association
- What is Particulate Matter? — American Lung Association