No burning fireplaces for Christmas Day

As Bay Area air quality regulators declared Wednesday the 18th no-burn day of the season, some Sonoma County residents are starting a new Christmas tradition: firing up realistic-looking ceramic gas-burning logs.

Gas and electric appliances are essentially the only heating options on Spare the Air days, said Bay Area Air Quality Management District spokesperson Lisa Fasano.

"Natural gas stoves and natural gas logs are okay," she said. "The reason they can be used is because they don't put out the pollution that builds up."

Clean-burning gas stoves, fireplaces and inserts are becoming popular with Sonoma County homeowners, especially when poor air quality renders wood fireplaces unusable, said Eleanor Butchart, owner of On Fire, a Santa Rosa fireplace store.

"Using gas produces zero emissions, and people like that," she said. "There is no particulate that can cause health issues."

Butchart served on a committee that recommended Santa Rosa adopt an ordinance requiring new homes be fitted with heating devices approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some wood-burning fireplaces meet EPA guidelines, but on hazy winter days the strict Bay Area air district rules don't allow burning of any solid fuels, including pellets or synthetic logs.

"It is unfortunate that the air quality board has a ban against wood burning in general," she said.

Wood-burning devices at Butchart's store are displayed next to pamphlets explaining wood burning regulations. District regulators can issue $100 fines for lighting up on a no-burn day. A second offense could cost $500.

Gas stoves cost slightly more than wood-burning models. A low-end gas stove at On Fire costs $1,575 while a comparable wood stove is $1,400. But there is savings in fuel costs with gas, Butchart said. It costs about half as much to heat with gas as it does with firewood.

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