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Council bans outdoor furnaces, but one woman just loves hers

November 03, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The Greencastle Borough Council unanimously voted Monday to ban outdoor furnaces in the borough in a move members say was in the interest of preserving the health, safety and welfare of its citzens.

The council began debating the matter in September when Borough Manager Ken Womack suggested writing the furnaces out of the borough's code before any popped up in town.

"In an urban environment, these things are just not suitable," Womack said.

Open burning has been on the agenda for months as the council considers a ban that would assuage citizen complaints of odor and pollution.

Action on the ban remains in limbo while the council considers how to dispose of brush and yard waste if open burning is banned, Womack said.


In the meantime, furnaces jumped to the front of the queue when Womack suggested that the council at least act to prevent outdoor home heating sources before cold weather arrived.

Few members of council were familiar with the furnaces before Womack raised the issue.

"I know that they are quite smoky," Councilman Craig Myers said. "They are not really borough-worthy things."

Womack said the federal Environmental Protection Agency has not regulated what it terms outdoor wood-fired boilers. Likewise, the Air Pollution Control Act limits EPA authority to regulate household heating sources, Womack said in his policy briefing summary.

For some of Franklin County's rural residents, the furnaces have proven to be a clear solution to home heating.

Wendy Scott of Zullinger, Pa., uses an outdoor furanace to heat her four-story historic stone farmhouse off Scott Road.

"There is no way I could afford to heat four floors of this old house with electric heat," she said.

Sitting less than 100 feet from her back porch, the outdoor furnace put in by Scott and her husband, Georg, many years ago heats water that circulates into her home and pumps warm air through the vents.

Unlike on Scott's 90-acre farm, setbacks in the borough of Greencastle posed problems for the council when it debated the furnaces.

Because of the close proximity of homes in the Borough of Greencastle, Womack said the smoke, soot, fumes, odor and air pollution associated with the constant burning feature of the furnaces poses a health risk.

From the day Scott lights her furnace, she said it will burn continuously until warm weather comes back in the spring.

"The beauty of it is that on these mild days, I only have to fill my furnace every three days," she said. "In the heart of winter, I fill it every day."

While Scott's nearest neighbor is more than 10 acres away, she said she opposes an outright ban of the devices within a nusiance ordinance.

"Should there be some regulation, some discussion? Sure," she said. "But an outright ban of them as a nuisance, no. They can be regulated and maintained."

Still, she said she understands why in the close quarters of a borough, the smoke could, based on where the furnace is placed, become a nuisance.

"I would not want to be the neighbor when that smoke catches the wind," she said. "The smell of fresh burning wood is one thing, the smell of cresote is another."

Some council members expressed concern about residents burning substances other than wood in the furnaces.

Scott said her furnance is designed to only burn wood, but the manufacturer makes models that will burn other materials, including corn. However the list of what cannot be burned in Scott's furnace is longer than that which can be fed into the fire.

"There is a list of what you absolutely cannot burn in this furnance," she said. "It's, honestly, to avoid blowing the thing up."

Build-up of cresote, a sticky, highly flammable tar-like substance that forms when wood is burned, is a concern with the outdoor furnaces, she said.

Scott said she has to clean her furnace annually to avoid forming dangerous levels of cresote, she also has to empty five gallons of ash each week.

There is one benefit to having her heat source outside that Scott said she would not trade.

"I never have to worry about a chimney fire burning down my home," she said. "If a chimney catches fire in a borough, that could wipe out an entire row of houses. With these you eliminate that risk."

Outdoor furnaces like Scott's come with built in safety features.

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