Washington County residents exchange older models for new or less-polluting alternatives
Giselle Northy likes the new ductless heat pump that just replaced the old woodstove she and her husband Andrew relied on at their home in Aloha.
"It's nice being able to wake up in a house that isn't freezing," she says.
"We went through a lot of wood in the old woodstove. If you didn't mess with it every two hours, it would start to go out. It was a constant chore."
Raymond Dreyer of Beaverton, in contrast, just opted to buy a new cleaner-burning woodstove to replace one that was 25 years old.
"It had been a reasonably good stove and did the job. But it burned a lot of wood," Dreyer says. "This new stove is 85 percent efficient. I can tell it is economical with the wood, produces a lot of heat, and looks nice."
Northy and Dreyer are among the first beneficiaries of a new Washington County program that aims to replace older polluting woodstoves with cleaner alternatives, such as new woodstoves, pellet stoves and gas and electric heat.
Fine particles in woodsmoke that are one-30th the size of a human hair, known as PM-2.5 — can cause cancer and aggravate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
New woodstoves are more efficient and cleaner-burning, reducing air pollution and health hazards, and cutting down on wood costs.
Money is available on a first-come, first-served basis for about 200 qualifying applicants in the first year. Priority goes to households where woodstoves are the sole source of heat.
By early December, the county had received more than 200 applications for grants or rebates.
Grants are available to families who earn less than 80 percent of the median household income in the Portland area (or $58,650 for a family of four) and pay for the full cost of a replacement.
Rebates between $1,500 and $3,500 are available to anyone earning above 80 percent of the region's median household income and go toward the costs of a replacement. There is no income cap, so anyone who relies on an old wood stove for heat is eligible.
"It went a little faster than we expected, but it's great," says Tim Davis, a housing rehabilitation specialist with the county Office of Community Development. He is responsible for evaluating applications as part of the woodsmoke reduction program.
Davis says about two-thirds of qualifying applicants prefer new wood or pellet stoves, and the rest chose other options. About half qualify for grants, the other half rebates ranging from $1,500 to $3,500. The county pays the rebates to one of five contractors in the program.
Davis says the average cost of a new stove, pipe and cap ranges from $3,500 to $4,000, and for other alternatives, between $4,000 and $5,000.
About half the qualifying applicants are from Hillsboro, but Davis says applicants come from all over the county.
Eric Nielsen also is awaiting a ductless heat pump to replace an old woodstove in his home in Hillsboro. "It was difficult to heat the whole house and keep a constant temperature in the house," he says.
The first-year woodstove replacement goal is 50, of an eventual total of 700 over five years. Funding for future years is not yet determined.
Wendy Gordon, a county health and human services spokeswoman, said the target was chosen by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to reflect a desired reduction in particulate pollution from woodsmoke.
"It's going to take a few years," Gordon said, before state measurements determine whether the reduction is achieved.
Oregon began certifying woodstoves in 1983, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988. New federal standards took effect in 2015, but they affect only new woodstoves.
The county program has regional implications, because violations of federal air-quality standards anywhere in the Portland area can trigger restrictions on new industrial development in all three counties.
Also part of the county program is a color-coded alert system, adopted jointly with the city of Hillsboro, that advises residents daily when weather conditions allow safe wood burning or if air quality requires restrictions or even a ban on burning.
The advisories are posted from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. Gordon says that in its first season in 2015-16, there was just one "yellow" day and no red days.
To sign up for alerts, which can be delivered via phone call, email or texts, go to www.publicalerts.org.
To obtain more information: www.WoodStoveExchange.com