Yucky smoke from neighbor's chimney makes my home stinky. Please help.
October 26, 2007 7:53 PM   Subscribe

What can we do to stop our smelly neighbors?

We live in a rural-suburban area in the south. Our across-the-road neighbor keeps their fireplace burning 24/7 beginning in October and throughout the cooler months and into March-April. Even on days when it's 60-65 degrees outside, they'll have their fireplace going full blast, with smoke constantly puffing into the air. Seriously, sometimes it looks like their house is on fire, there is so much smoke. It permeates the air around our home and gets inside through our air vents. It's not a clean smoky smell, either (if there is such a thing).

So basically, all winter long our home/clothes/hair smells like burnt hot dogs. And that description is putting it lightly; it really is a terrible odor. And it seems to be getting worse every year (we've lived here 7 years). It even draws us out of our sleep in the middle of the night sometimes when the smoke gets especially strong. We've tried burning candles and oil warmers, but that is only temporary and does not help that much anyway. We've also tried other odor-eliminating measures, to no avail.

Besides being ultra-annoying, it surely can't be healthy to breathe in all of that smoke for several months out of every year, right? Is there anything we can do to stop this? Are there air quality control laws we can cite? Do they need to have their chimney swept/cleaned and would that even help the problem? How would you suggest we handle this dilemma?

Thanks in advance for any advice. Our noses and lungs thank you, too.
posted by susiepie to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
It probably has nothing to do with the chimney, and more to do with what it is they are burning.

I used a wood burning stove for years, the worst "smell" was when I was using some kind of artificial log in it...it had an oily, odd smell to it... When I used wood it was basically a clean wood burning smell..

There are other fuels they could be using as well that could produce odors that you find objectionable. You might want to just ask them what they burn... there may be a solution in changing the fuel they are using...

As far as laws are concerned, that would probably be a local issue, check with your city/county/whatever to find out if it is regulated in some manner...

You may be out of luck on this one... a fluke of air movement patterns and such..

hope you can work it out...
posted by HuronBob at 8:24 PM on October 26, 2007

Depending on where you live, there may be air quality rules which limit how much and what kind of smoke anyone can emit on an ongoing basis. If there are, it seems likely that your neighbor is violating them.

Here's a link to get you going.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:30 PM on October 26, 2007

You could consult a local attorney about the possibility of a nuisance lawsuit.
posted by dcjd at 8:50 PM on October 26, 2007

is it a fireplace? or is it a wood burning stove? (or coal?)

the difference is important, because if it is a wood stove, they could be reling on it for heating their house (they could be using a fireplace like that as well, but it's very inefficient).

the house I grew up in had this deal, where the electric company could turn off the part of our electric supply that ran our electric heaters (usually in peak usage periods). In return we got a discount on our bill. we relied on a wood stove for our heat when that happened.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:52 PM on October 26, 2007

Find your state office responsible for air/environmental quality as a starting point.

You might also see if you can turn them on to fires that burn from the top down. They are more efficient, cleaner burning, and leave less crap in the chimney.
posted by Good Brain at 9:54 PM on October 26, 2007

I'm guessing it's a wood stove, not a fireplace. Wood stoves can have the air supply choked down very low, resulting in a smoky, slow-burning fire. Sometimes this is done in an attempt to make the fire last longer -- it does last longer, but puts out far less heat, more ash, more creosote in the chimney, and usually fills the area around the house with smoke that sinks down to ground level.

If this is the case, your neighbors need to be educated about how to run their wood stove. I'm not sure how to bring this up tactfully (or not) in a way that will get results.

Other possibilities: They are burning trash or some other less than ideal source for heat. There are some types of wood that smell particularly awful when burned, most of which don't put out much heat. They might burn better wood if "your cousin" has to "move suddenly" and can't use all this wood, perhaps you could use it? But this won't help if they aren't using the stove properly.
posted by yohko at 10:17 PM on October 26, 2007

It's probably a "wood burning furnace", a somewhat more complex beast than a simple wood stove (although that's a possibility as well). Our city had to regulate them after a local entrepreneur began installing them right in built-up neighborhoods:

Commissioner Yeomans asked for clarification on what units we’re targeting with the proposed ordinance banning outdoor wood burning furnaces. Cantrell stated were only banning outdoor wood burning furnaces because the technology of these units is unique in that the burner is continuously working and the short stack on the unit emits smoke that doesn’t always rise up above the roofline. The City has received a complaint from a resident within a new subdivision area regarding an outdoor wood burning furnace on an adjoining property that is causing significant problems for them as the smoke emitted from it is flowing into their air intake. These types of units should not be in urban environment and there aren’t many situations in Janesville where you can locate one of them 500 feet from another residence therefore banning them seems to be the best action to take. Commissioner Voskuil asked if an individual would have the ability to come back to the City Council and ask that the ordinance be changed to allow them and Cantrell stated that this could be done. Cantrell said that the City needs to move forward with the amendment at this time because permits are being issued for outdoor wood burning furnaces and complaints are coming in regarding them. The current units will be grandfathered but nonconforming and units will not be able to be replaced.

Though you're in a rural area, someone has authority over zoning and building codes, either your town/township or your county. Talk to them first and determine whether your neighbor's furnace even complies with existing law.

By the way, one of the factors seems to be chimney height. Among the offenders was someone who vented theirs out the side wall of the house. This is permissible with current ultra-efficient low-emission gas furnaces -- you basically no longer need a real chimney and can use PVC. But even that smells a little.
posted by dhartung at 10:34 PM on October 26, 2007

For christsakes walk over there and see what the hell they are burning. They are your neighbors after all. March over there and tell them that whatever the heck they are doing is stinking up the whole frick'n 'hood and that you're willing to help them find a solution so long as they are chill and willing to make adjustments. Otherwise you'll have to crack the ordinance whip on them which means they are going to have to go from burning trash to stay warm to freezing their rednecks asses off.

Do it right now. Walk over there and be all like, "What the french toast? What are you guys burning trash or something? You're peeling my wallpaper off over here goddammit!"
posted by wfrgms at 11:46 PM on October 26, 2007 [7 favorites]

You should google "waste oil heating", too. (Don't believe everything they say about how it doesn't smell. A home made "we don't need all these safety devices, just send it all out the chimney" burner stinks horribly.) I hope your conversation with your neighbors goes well, but I would seriously be prepared to lawyer up--right now they're saving a lot of money by pretending that they don't have neighbors, and just in my experience most of the people who use crazy heating systems have strong feelings about rules, regulations, and fighting to the death to stick it to "The Man".
posted by anaelith at 6:26 AM on October 27, 2007

Sounds like they could use a high-efficiency wood burning stove. It may be the compromise that will help you both out - they'll burn less wood, heat their home more cheaply, and there won't be much smoke.
posted by Dasein at 10:15 AM on October 27, 2007

BTW, that link also gives information on fireplaces and fireplace inserts that would help, in case they are using a fireplace, rather than a stove.
posted by Dasein at 10:21 AM on October 27, 2007

Further, if you can reach a compromise, you can search here for someone qualified to install a new stove or fireplace insert.
posted by Dasein at 10:29 AM on October 27, 2007

They're not burning...bodies, are they?
posted by agregoli at 7:21 AM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

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