Montreal bylaw on wood-burning stoves comes into effect today

New rules ban wood-burning fireplaces and stoves that emit more than 2.5 grams of fine particles per hour.

New rules ban fireplaces and stoves that emit more than 2.5 grams of fine particles per hour

There are close to 50,000 wood-burning units in Montreal, of which close to 48,000 have already been registered, the city says. (Pat Wellenbach/Associated Press)

Fireplace owners, you've been warned. Beginning today, the city will be cracking down on homeowners in its 19 boroughs who haven't complied with new rules barring the use of some wood-burning stoves and fireplaces.

The city's bylaw, passed by 2015, bans units that emit more than 2.5 grams of fine particles per hour.

During smog alerts, no device of any kind is permitted to burn wood.

The city's spokesperson, Philippe Sabourin, says Montrealers have had plenty of time to comply with the bylaw. The city also sent letters warning homeowners about the new rules, he said.

"If your fireplace isn't registered yet you should do it quickly otherwise you could be exposed to a fine between $100 or $500 for the first offence. More than one offence, we can send a fine of up to $2,000," Sabourin said.

Sabourin says city inspectors will be making the rounds to ensure fireplaces are up to code.

Tens of thousands of units registered

There are close to 50,000 wood-burning units in Montreal, of which close to 48,000 have already been registered, Sabourin says.

He said people with older, heavier-polluting units don't have to throw them out — they just cannot use them, unless there's a power outage lasting more than three hours.

According to the city, smoke from burning wood accounts for nearly 40 per cent of fine-particle pollution, second only to transportation emissions. It's a major cause of winter smog.

The answer to the problem doesn't lie in eco-friendly logs or the type of fuel; the build and burning efficiency of the device determine the emissions.

The city says smoke from burning wood accounts for nearly 40 per cent of fine-particle pollution. (CBC)

But if you think the use of fireplaces is going to burn itself out, you'd be surprised.

Normand Hamel, the president of Accent Poêles et Foyers Rosemont, says his company has never been busier.

Just last month, he said he had a nearly $500,000 bump in business.

Natural gas and electric models are becoming more popular, Hamel says, and people aren't shying away from new, more energy efficient wood stoves, either.

"For the last month the majority of the people are changing [to] wood," he told CBC News.

People who don't want to get rid of their units also have the option to upgrade them.

Fireplace companies like Hamel's can install inserts, which run anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000.

Normand Hamel, the president of Accent Poêles et Foyers Rosemont, says natural gas and electric units are becoming more popular. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Still, Hamel said he thinks the city's regulations are too severe and unfairly punish fireplace owners.

He gave the example of a customer who spent around $7,000 on a fireplace about four years ago. At the time, it was one of the best units on the market, emitting 3.5 grams of fine particles per hour.

That customer will now have to spend several thousand dollars more just to bring it up to code, Hamel said.

Setting an example in Montreal

André Belisle, president of the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, says Montreal is setting an example for other Quebec municipalities to follow.

He says pollution from fireplaces boils down to a health issue.

"You would be surprised how many calls we receive every winter from all kinds of people, from all over Quebec, saying they just can't breathe because there's just too much smog out there," he told CBC News.

Belisle says the provincial government should offer financial incentives for people to switch to cleaner stoves.

He says air quality in Montreal and beyond has improved over the past years, but he says that's largely because of the closure of coal-fired plants in Ontario and the northeastern United States.

He said he expects the new bylaw to make the air even cleaner.


Montrealers can register their wood-burning fireplaces or stoves on the city's website, here.