Montreal's wood-burning ban starts Oct. 1: What you need to know

As of Oct.1, 2018 fireplaces or wood-burning stoves that don't comply with the city's strict new emissions standards are no longer legal to use.

How do you know if your wood-burning stove or fireplace is legal to use after Oct. 1? It is certified to emit no more than 2.5 grams of fine particles per hour. 

Tempted to build a cozy fire to ward off that autumn chill in the air? Remember that as of Monday, Oct. 1, Montreal’s strict ban on wood burning outlaws the burning of any solid fuel in residences in all of Montreal’s 19 boroughs, unless the stove or fireplace is one of the newest, cleanest burning models (i.e. certified to emit no more than 2.5 grams of fine particles per hour).

Here are answers to some basic questions about the bylaw:

Why is the city of Montreal outlawing wood burning?

After vehicle emissions, wood burning is the most significant source of fine particle pollution in Montreal, and that stuff is seriously harmful to human health. We breathe those fine particles deep into our lungs, where they can do a lot of damage. Yes, humans have gathered around fires since time immemorial, but we also used to die a lot younger. Now we know better. Since 2013, the World Health Organization has classified the fine particulate matter in wood smoke as a carcinogen. According to estimates by the Institut National de Santé Publique (INSPQ), wood smoke causes about 900 premature deaths per year on the island of Montreal, more than 6,000 cases of bronchitis in children, 40,000 asthma attacks and almost 300 emergency visits to hospitals for other respiratory and cardiac problems. In 2011, a study by the INSPQ and Montreal’s public health agency estimated that neighborhoods that heat with wood have higher rates of hospital admissions for respiratory problems than those that do not. In 2011, Quebec’s public health institute and Montreal’s public health agency collaborated on a study to quantify the health impacts of wood stoves in Rivière-des-Prairies, where a large proportion of residential homes use wood for heating. They found an increase in asthma attacks and bronchitis, as well as increased aggravation of other respiratory symptoms and premature deaths. Cities around the world are coming to the conclusion that it makes no sense to allow wood burning in densely populated areas and are taking action to restrict it.

Hang on a second! I’m just learning of this! Do I have to board up my fireplace or rip out my wood-burning stove?

No. You don’t have to block or board up your fireplace or remove your wood-burning stove. But if it doesn’t meet the new standards — if it is more than a decade old, you can assume it does not — it is illegal to use it. To comply with the bylaw, you must let the city know that you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove by filling out an online form or by picking one up at your nearest Accès Montreal office. (You were supposed to do that by Dec. 22, 2015, by the way, but do it now. Better late than fined.) And even if you own a wood-burning stove or fireplace that complies with the new standards, you must still declare it to the city.

OK, so I’ve declared my non-compliant stove or fireplace to the city. What now?

You can either replace it with a new, certified device that emits less than 2.5 grams per hour, or you must stop using it, according to the bylaw.

But aren’t there exceptions? What if there is another ice storm and the power goes out?

Good question. There is an exception. If your power goes out for three hours or more, and if your wood-burning stove or fireplace is still in good working order, you can use it until the power comes back on, even if it doesn’t meet the new emissions standard.

My fireplace burns propane. Is that illegal now, too?

No. Propane or natural gas stoves and fireplaces are OK. You don’t have to declare them, and you can continue to use them. The bylaw applies to solid fuel burning appliances only, which means stoves and prefabricated or conventional fireplaces designed to burn wood logs, ecological logs, pellets or coal.

How can I tell if my device meets Montreal’s new standard?

If you own an EPA or CSA/B415 1-10 certified appliance or fireplace, you should have a certificate showing the number of grams per hour of fine particles that the appliance emits when in use. The magic number is 2.5 grams per hour (or less). You can check the EPA or CSA online lists to find out if your appliance is listed, but remember appliances sold before 2009 do not meet the 2.5 standard.

 

What if I just ignore the bylaw?

If you do not declare your wood-burning device, or if you burn wood in a device that doesn’t comply with the new rules, you are liable to fines of $100 to $500 for a first offence, up to $1,000 for a second, and up to $2,000 for subsequent offences.

OK but seriously, will I be arrested? 

The city does not have an army of inspectors to enforce this bylaw, so it is unlikely you will be fined if you use your non-conforming device. But if a neighbor sees or smells smoke coming from your chimney, they can call 311 to complain. The newest models do not emit much visible smoke or smell, so if someone sees smoke billowing from your chimney and complains, an inspector may well show up at your house and fine you. The city of Montreal has indicated it’s plans on using education and awareness more than coercion (i.e.  fines) to get people to co-operate with the new rules.

If you have more questions about the wood-burning bylaw, go to the city of Montreal’s site, ville.montreal.qc.ca, or call 311.

 

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Robert Clark

Robert Clark

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