The Utah Department of Environmental Quality on Monday began accepting applications for rebates from dozens of Utah County residents who want to convert their wood-burning stoves or fireplaces to natural gas or propane devices.

The effort is part of the Wood Stove and Fireplace Conversion Assistance Program, which the DEQ and Utah Clean Air Partnership launched in October 2018 “to incentivize residents” to convert to environmentally friendly appliances and reduce wintertime pollution.

“Wood-burning stoves are a significant source of air pollution — pollution that negatively impacts individuals’ personal health and the environment,” Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership, wrote in a blog post about the program. “Particles that make up the smoke and soot from wood-burning stoves can cause breathing difficulties and sometimes permanent lung damage for those who inhale the smoke.”

This is particularly an issue in winter months, according to Carter, who wrote that “smoke from wood-burning stoves gets trapped with other air pollutants resulting in health-threatening inversions.”

“In fact, wood-burning stoves can cause a mini-inversion within neighborhoods,” wrote Carter, who noted that “swapping an old, uncertified” wood stove for an EPA-certified stove can reduce fine particulate emissions by 60%.

“Under this five-year program, thousands of wood stoves will be replaced with cleaner burning devices, resulting in much less pollution along the Wasatch Front and in the Cache Valley,” Carter said. “And that will help all of us breathe a little easier in the winter.”

The program is made possible by three grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that “are designed to help areas in the country that do not meet a specific national ambient air quality standard,” according to Joel Karmazyn, a Utah Division of Air Quality environmental scientist and coordinator of the Wood Stove and Fireplace Conversion Assistance Program.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the DAQ will accept applications from Utah County residents and will grant 54 awards to residents who are eligible to receive exemptions on their federal tax returns.

While the conversions can cost upwards of $4,000, low-income homeowners are eligible to receive $3,800 from the DEQ, while other homeowners can receive up to $2,800.

“They are expensive, which is one of the reasons that we give a very generous financial incentive for low-income individuals,” Karmazyn said in an interview Monday.

By 11 a.m. Monday, 39 Utah County residents had already registered for rebates to convert their appliances, according to Karmazyn.

“It’s an extremely popular program,” he said. “People have known about it for a long time.”

The program does not apply to rental and commercial properties and is limited to one award per household, according to the DEQ.

Additionally, award recipients must use a vendor approved by the Utah Division of Air Quality, and the wood stoves “must be removed and recycled by the program vendor.”

New homeowners are not qualified and homeowners must “have a 12-month history of burning” fireplaces or stoves that provide a “significant amount of home heating.” Gas fireplaces and retroactive projects are not eligible.

Beginning in February, the DEQ will issue awards to 79 households in Cache County.

To learn more about the Wood Stove and Fireplace Conversion Assistance Program, visit http://deq.utah.gov/air-quality/wood-stove-conversion-assistance-program.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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