Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District

Learn Before You Burn - Top Tips for Cleaner Fireplace Burning   en español (PDF)      


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Top Tips for Cleaner Fireplace Burning   en español (PDF)      

Chimney sweep cleaning chimneyCheck your chimney!  See below.

Every year, starting in in the fall, the District receives complaints from people oncerned about breathing smoke from their neighbors’ fires.  Sometimes people are not even aware that they have been causing anyone discomfort. The District has found that many people are willing to adjust their burn times or contact their neighbors before burning so they can close some windows—IF they know their smoke is affecting someone. If you are being affected by a dirty fireplace visit this page about the complaint process.

When you make a fireplace fire, first, check out our tips to minimize your smoke. Then, take a walk outside. Look and see where your smoke is going. If your smoke is headed towards a neighbor's house, knock on their door. Ask if your smoke is bothering them and let them know they can call you if it does in the future. Usually two neighbors can work out a solution that works for both—but only if they are aware and talk. Be a good neighbor. (For information on District's role with fireplace burning see section below.)

Breathing wood smoke reduces lung function, aggravates heart and lung diseases, and can trigger asthma. Take some of the steps below for the sake of your health and safety—and that of your neighbors. Another danger during the winter months is carbon monoxide poisoning. See this page for more information.

  1. Don’t burn trash. Don’t burn: plastics, chemicals, wrapping paper, magazines, or colored or coated papers (including newspaper inserts, junk mail, etc.). Also don’t burn charcoal, coal, or holiday greens. Burning trash can cause toxic chemicals to go into the air, and into your lungs.
  2. Be a good neighbor and notice your smoke. Build small hot fires rather than large smoldering ones. Use dry, seasoned hard woods. Hard woods provide more heat and they are denser so they burn more slowly and evenly, producing less smoke. Avoid "roaring" fires. They can start chimney fires and can lead to overheating of wall or roof materials.
  3. Save your fireplace or woodstove for special occasions. Fireplace fires are not a very efficient way to produce heat. The safest way to heat your home, and the cleanest for the air, is through a central heating system.
  4. Use a gas log if you can. Never burn wood in a fireplace that was designed for a gas log. Decorative fireplaces are not built to handle wood fires. Burning wood in one of these fireplaces is asking for trouble, and could create a dangerous situation.
  5. Clean your chimney. How long has it been since your chimney was cleaned? A dirty chimney full of creosote is a chimney fire waiting to happen. Schedule regular maintenance by a professional chimney sweep.
  6. Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or other fuel to light or relight a fire because the vapors can explode. Never keep flammable fuels near a fire. Vapors can travel the length of a room and explode.
  7. Do not allow small children near the fireplace. Keep children away from the fire. Their clothing can easily ignite. Warn the entire family about this hazard. Warn children about the danger of fire, never let them play with fire, and review with them the “Stop-Drop-and Roll” drill they learned in school.
  8. Never leave a fire unattended. Make sure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house.
  9. Be sure no flammable materials hang down from or decorate your mantel. A spark from your fireplace could ignite these materials and cause a fire. Keep flammable and combustible materials such as carpets, pillows, furniture or papers, logs and kindling at least 3 feet away from the fireplace area. Be sure the Christmas tree is not close enough to be ignited by a spark. Keep the area near the fireplace clear of materials like papers, books, toys, etc.
  10. Make sure you have basic fire safety equipment. Keep a type ABC extinguisher near the fireplace, install a screen that covers the fireplace opening, equip your house with smoke  and carbon monoxide detectors, and use a spark arrester on top of your chimney.

Chimney Sweep cleaning

District Role

The District has not adopted any rules or regulations to ban or limit the burning of wood or other solid fuels in a fireplace, wood stove, or other wood-burning device. However, wood-burning appliances and fireplaces in homes and restaurants may be the cause of public nuisance complaints. The California Health and Safety Code and District regulations (including Rule 303, Nuisance) prohibit emissions of air contaminants that cause nuisance or annoyance to a considerable number of people, or that present a threat to public health, or damage to property. If complaints are received, District inspectors will investigate to determine compliance with Rule 303. To avoid the potential for a nuisance situation to occur, we recommend that new construction projects consider limiting wood-burning appliance and fireplace installation and install natural gas-fueled appliances and fireplaces in areas where nearby residents could be affected by smoke.

For more information, see the Environmental Protection Agency BurnWise site.  Also see Smoke and our Health on this website, or download the California Air Resources Board "Wood Burning Handbook" (PDF file) here:

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