Niles council in favor of ban on outdoor wood boilers

Should Niles residents be allowed to use outdoor wood boilers within the city’s residential areas?

The consensus from the Niles City Council, speaking on the topic during a committee meeting of the whole Monday evening, was no.

“I can’t understand why anybody would want to have the wood fires because you could actually really kill your neighbors,” said councilman Scott Clark. “The smoke isn’t the problem — the particulate matter is the problem.”

At issue is a proposed ordinance restricting the use of outdoor wood boilers, also known as exterior wood burning furnaces, in all of the city’s zoning districts except industrial zones.

A first reading of the ordinance also took place during the council’s regular meeting Monday.

City Administrator Ric Huff said the concern is how smoke from the boilers would affect neighbors in tight-lot spacing in the city.

“If someone puts one of these in the backyard and you live next door and the wind is blowing the right way, the odds are that the smoke from this burner is going to blow right on your house,” Huff said.

Outdoor wood boilers are typically the size of a large doghouse with a short chimney. The fire box is surrounded by a water jacket that is heated by the fire and pumped into the home to provide heat.

Niles Fire Chief Larry Lamb said outdoor wood boilers burn somewhat cool because of the water jacket, creating more particulate matter, which can be hazardous to a person’s health.

Mayor Michael McCauslin said these boilers are great for rural settings but not for urban settings.

“I don’ think it is this council’s desire — nor would I want any part in — restricting what people can do in their own home,” he said, “but I think we do have an obligation to make neighborhoods safer.”

Councilman Daniel VandenHeede said the city’s utility department is currently using an exterior wood boiler, but the location is in an industrial zone.

Diane Powers, of the city’s building safety division, said there is an outdoor wood boiler on Clay Street, but it’s the only known one in the city’s residential area. Powers said she’s received about 20 inquiries into installing outdoor wood boilers over the past five years. She’s denied each request without pushback.

“I’ve never been challenged on it yet,” she said.

If the ordinance passes, residents already in possession of an outdoor wood boiler would be grandfathered in, Huff said.

The city placed a moratorium on the installation of the units in February 2011.

Violating the ordinance would result in a municipal civil infraction, meaning a possible fine, but no jail time.