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Wood-burning fair slated at ball park Oct. 27

| October 21, 2005 12:00 AM

A "Burn Smart Fair" is being planned for Thursday, Oct. 27, at the city-American Legion ball park to share information on proper wood burning techniques for maximum heat and efficiency with minimal pollution.

The fair is scheduled for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and representatives of the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association will be on hand to provide demonstrations with operating stoves. Topics will include proper starting and operation along with firewood selection, collection and storage.

The fair is geared toward participants in the Libby-area woodstove changeout program along with others who are considering a new stove purchase or just want to learn more about proper operating procedures for modern woodstoves, said county sanitarian Ron Anderson.

"Even the new high-efficiency stoves, if you don't use them correctly, you're going to waste wood energy," Anderson said. "You're still going to create pollution if you don't use them as they were designed to be used."

Compared to old stoves, which required plenty of clearance, had large fireboxes, a chimney damper and produced a lot of smoke, new stoves have smaller fireboxes and internal baffles, burn hotter and produce less pollution while reducing firewood use by about one-third. The reduction in smoke and creosote results in less pollution and a lower likelihood of chimney fires.

Users shouldn't expect to get 16-hour burn times out of new stoves with smaller fireboxes and higher burning temperatures. Peak efficiency is usually achieved with burn cycles of eight hours or less.

Adding a log every hour in the attempt to produce a steady heat output isn't recommended, because wood burns best in cycles. A cycle begins when a new load of wood is placed on the coal bed and ends when that wood is reduced to a similar-sized coal bed.

To produce low heat output in mild weather, small loads of wood should be placed in a criss-cross fashion. Higher heat output in cold weather can be obtained by using larger loads of wood placed compactly in the firebox.

The objective is to prevent wood from smoldering, because smoke is waste resulting from poor combustion, Anderson said.

Anderson also stressed the importance of proper firewood seasoning. Wood should be stacked in an open area and exposed to the sun and wind for the summer. Green wood will not season properly in a wood shed or in deep shade. Wood should be stacked on rails to keep it off the ground and should not be left directly on the ground for more than a day or two or it will attract bugs and mold.

Wood should be covered to keep moisture off but shouldn't be sealed up so tightly that it won't dry, Anderson said.

For burning, wood should be cut into pieces at least 3 inches shorter than the stove's firebox. Lengths of 14 to 16 inches are recommended.

The stove changeout program is intended to reduce air pollution under tightened federal standards for particulate matter. Studies show the primary ingredient in the Libby area to be wood smoke. The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, which represents the woodstove industry, donated 300 stoves for the program along with related equipment and cash. A $100,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency is helping to pay for stove installation.

Under the changeout program, area homeowners who meet low-income requirements can have their non-EPA-certified stoves replaced with new EPA-certified models at no cost. Landlords who rent homes to qualifying families can also participate in the program but must make a $500 co-payment.

Income requirements were recently relaxed. Maximum income levels are $17,456 for a household of one person, $23,419 for two people, $29,381 for three, $35,344 for four, $41,306 got five and $47,269 for six. Eligibility is also restricted to the core of the area not meeting air quality standards, loosely described as the area bordered by the ends of the four-lane section of U.S. Highway 2 on the west and south, by the Kootenai River on the north and by Libby Creek on the east.

To apply, eligibility must be established first by verifying income at he fuel and energy assistance office, the public assistance office, Head Start, and — for seniors — at the Libby Senior Citizens Center. Those agencies can provide a signed form letter validating income, which is all that is needed. Enrollment in assistance programs isn't required.

Once eligibility is established, application forms can be picked up at the agency providing the verification or at the county annex along Mineral Avenue.

Next year, the changeout program will enter its second phase, encompassing households that do not meet low-income requirements. While details have not been finalized, the stoves won't be free but will require a co-payment.

More information on the changeout program is available by calling program coordinator Jerry Marquez at 293-7781 extension 212 or emailing jmarquez@libby.org .