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Sole-Source Conversions Good for Air Quality, Homeowners

This week’s blog is from 2015 and highlights the popular woodstove exchange program. Last week, The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released the 2020 registration schedule for the overwhelmingly popular grant program to convert operating wood-burning fireplaces to cleaner-burning natural gas or electric. Online registration will take place across the Wasatch Front and Cache Valley. The schedule is posted on the DEQ’s webpage, stoves.utah.gov. Thousands of dollars in grants are available for homeowners who wish to participate in the wood smoke reduction program. Conversion from wood to gas heating can reduce emissions by as much as 100 times less.

By Joel Karmazyn

Old wood-burning stove

Old wood-burning stove

Most of us take for granted the luxury of heating our homes with natural gas. But did you know that some homeowners along the Wasatch Front and in Cache Valley heat their homes solely with wood or coal?

This situation is a contributing factor to air pollution within Utah’s PM2.5 nonattainment areas because solid fuels such as wood or coal are more polluting than other sources of heat. Under our air quality rules, residents who use wood or coal as their sole source of heat are exempt from the burning restrictions we put in place during wintertime inversions. This exemption ensures that residents can heat their homes, but it doesn’t address the high emissions that come from these heating sources.

Enter the 2014 Utah State Legislature with a win-win solution.

Last year, the legislature provided the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) with $500,000 to install central-heating systems in homes that are currently heated solely by wood or coal and are registered with DAQ as a “sole-source residence.” The legislature provided this funding to help homeowners and improve air quality along the Wasatch Front and Cache Valley.

The best part? The state pays the entire cost to install a natural-gas, propane, or electric central-heating system. The money is available to residents listed on DAQ’s sole-source registry and is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Residents must sign up with the registry to participate in the program. The registry — and the funding — is only available to homeowners living in nonattainment areas of the state who meet the requirements for sole-source heating. For a home to qualify as a sole-source residence, it must use a solid-fuel burning device as the only available source of heat for the home aside from small portable heaters.

Our office, through State Procurement, has contracted with American Heating and Cooling for the sole-source conversion project. Tom Sanders from American Heating and Cooling and I first inspect residences to assure that the home meets the legal definition of a sole source. We then proceed to design a conversion project that is agreeable to the homeowner. Many sole-source homes lack ducting, a significant obstacle that often leads to some “creative” designs!

Here’s an example of what we do. The wood stove pictured at the beginning of this article was located in the basement of a log cabin in a residential neighborhood in the Wasatch Front and provided the sole source of heat for the cabin. The sole-source conversion project included the installation of a high-efficiency (96 percent) natural-gas furnace. The project required some creative ducting to direct heat to all parts of this multi-level cabin, but we were able to successfully install a system that satisfied the needs of the homeowner and reduced the emissions into our airshed from the old wood stove.

natural-gas furnace

Funding allowed us to replace the wood stove with a natural-gas furnace

This work is extremely gratifying for all of us at DAQ. Not only are we able to decrease  solid-fuel emissions — both gases and particulates — that lead to poor air quality during inversion periods, but we are also able to provide financial assistance to homeowners who may be unable to afford the costly upgrades necessary to convert from solid fuels to cleaner-burning forms of heating.

Help us spread the word! We still have funding available for sole-source conversions. Be sure to let your friends and neighbors who may qualify as a sole-source residences know about our program. To ensure that everybody who qualifies is registered, our sole-source registry has been reopened until June 1, 2015. Homeowners can apply to be included in the registry by filling out the application form located on our website. Remember, only a true sole source can be placed on the registry. Feel free to contact us at (801) 536-4400 if you have any further questions.

joel-pic-1I am an environmental scientist at the Utah Division of Air Quality, where I am responsible for policy and planning of minor-source emissions. I enjoy traveling, hiking with my dog, and working in my vegetable garden.