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Council puts furnace issue on the back burner

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:02 PM

Council voted to ban installation of any more exterior furnaces in the city for up to one year while it studies possible regulations or a complete ban in the future.

Exterior furnaces now in operation aren't affected by the new ordinance, which will take effect as soon as Mayor Sue Lesch signs it today.

Skip Wilde was the only council member to oppose the ordinance.

Lesch said the discussion over exterior furnaces has already benefited the city. "There has been some improvement...and some education," she said. "Some of our owners are better informed. There's some self-policing going on."

But Mike Patterson, who owns an exterior furnace at 24 Chatham St., said people with exterior furnaces can't afford to make improvements with the threat of a possible ban looming over them.

He said he is willing to extend his stack by 15 feet if it would keep smoke away from his neighbors, but can't afford to invest another $500 to $600 in the unit in case council decides in the next year to ban all exterior furnaces.

"That puts me in a dilemma," he said.

In recent weeks, homeowners have told council the initial investment for an exterior furnace runs from $6,000 to $8,000.

Vicki Patterson, also of 24 Chatham, said exterior furnaces should not be treated any differently from fireplaces. "If you're going to regulate it, you need to regulate all the smoke," she said. "I think the whole health and safety issue has been overblown."

Another exterior furnace owner, Marlene Butts, of 327 W. Main St., agreed. She showed pictures of her furnace with little smoke coming out and pictures she had taken around town with much more smoke coming from fireplace chimneys.

Butts said she is an insurance claims adjuster and believes exterior furnaces are safer than internal combustion units. "I've handled a huge number of fires that resulted from indoor burning," she said. "What you're telling me is I have to bring combustion into my house.

"Deeming one type of wood burning as evil...I don't understand it," she said.

Safety-Service Director Dale Sheppard presented information to council at last week's work session claiming the smoke from exterior furnaces has much more dangerous particulates in smoke because of the way the units burn.

As an insurance adjuster, Butts also brought up the question of liability. "If you tell people they have to bring fire into their house if they want to use a woodburner... what is the liability the city undertakes?" she asked.

Council members said they have questions, too, and that's why they want time to study the conflicting research from both sides of the issue.

"This is just a moratorium so we can study further," Tom Stoll said. "I do have concern about the takings. A lot of people have, in good faith, put these things in."

Council did take Stoll's suggestion to amend the ordinance before voting on it. He said the original wording showed prejudice against exterior furnaces. Council voted to remove the word "credible" from a description of information presented against exterior furnaces and changed the phrase "real hazard" to "potential hazard."

Stoll also said some of the complaints residents had made about smoke and odors from exterior furnaces could be handled under existing city ordinances concerning nuisances and obnoxious odors. "Those ordinances could have been enforced before," he said.

Mike Hemenway, who sells exterior furnaces, brought more information to council supporting safe use and reasonable regulations. He said Central Boiler, the company producing the furnaces he sells, will send a representative to talk to council.

"We'll take them," said Steve Euton, council president. "We're going to continue to talk about this."

In other business, council voted to:

Re-appoint Bill Kalfs to the planning and zoning committee.

Look into the idea of adding beet juice to road salt. Councilman Dwight Tkach said he had heard news reports that some cities are making salt go further by adding beet juice, which makes salt stay on the road longer. "We'll take a look at that," said Lesch.

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