Outdoor wood boilers make a comeback in Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — After a local five-year moratorium ended, the Town Council voted Monday to allow the installation of outdoor wood boilers that meet state emissions standards.

The council banned the installation of outdoor wood boilers in 2007 after some residents complained of headaches, nausea and odors stemming from their neighbors’ boilers. According to Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a regional nonprofit association of air quality agencies, these outdoor wood boilers emitted carcinogens and more particulates, which can cause chronic lung conditions, than burning oil or gas.

Under the 2007 ordinance, existing wood boilers were grandfathered, but restricted to winter use, when people were less likely to keep their windows open, hang clothes outside to dry or spend time outside.

But the technology has come a long way.

According to Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emerson, boilers installed five years ago often emitted more than 0.6 pounds of particulate matter per heat output. Newer models have much lower emissions, between 0.32 and 0.06 lb/MMBtu.

These changes in technology and increased state regulation of the boilers prompted the Brunswick Fire Department to reconsider the ban.

Only one person spoke at Monday’s public hearing. Resident John Libby spoke in support of the new ordinance, telling the council he could heat his house with wood for a fraction of the cost of oil.

The new ordinance allows the installation of what are known as Phase II wood boilers, which emit less than 0.32 lb/MMBtu, with setbacks of 100 feet from the nearest property line or at least 140 feet from the nearest neighboring house.

For the cleanest boilers, those that emit less than 0.06 lb/MMBtu, setbacks are 40 feet from the property line and 80 feet from the closest house.

While the new outdoor wood boilers can be operated year round, the handful of old-style wood boilers left over from before 2007 are still restricted to winter operation.

Would-be boiler owners must obtain a Fire Department permit for $10, and Emerson recommended people visit the department before they purchase and install their boilers.

“The best recommendation is to make that call and to use a proactive approach and make sure we’re involved in the process ahead of time,” he said, “because the last thing we want to do is make enforcement actions because somebody was incorrect.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.