Winter Means Spare The Air

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Expert advice on getting the chimney ready for winter

    Spare The Air days aren't just for summer. With the coming wintery cold, it's more important than ever to keep the air clean and breathable.

    The most frequent violation: burning wood. Although it's allowed on most nights, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces create tiny particulate matter that can accumulate over time in the air. Cold, stagnant air is particularly susceptible. The smoke can cause serious health problems for the very young, very old, and anyone with respiratory problems.

    The ban on fires extends to artificial logs and bonfires as well. Any kind of conflagration can cause hazardous pollution.

    The penalty for a violation is $400. But officials will often work with residents to help them understand the regulations, and tend to issue tickets only as a last resort with individuals who refuse to comply. They handed out only 8 last year.

    Neighborhood tipsters are a frequent source of complaints. In Marin last year, there were nearly 500 tips from clear-air vigilantes.

    The biggest challenge with Spare The Air days is finding out when they occur. Most people have no idea when one is declared. You can sign up for alerts via email or phone to find out when they're happening. And remember to hold your breath.