Wood burning neighbour is killing me HELP!

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Wood burning neighbour is killing me HELP!

My neighbour uses a wood stove to heat his house. Thick wood smoke comes from the chimney 24-7. It is 30 feet from my house. I've just moved in (dec 15th) and my breathing has been very bad. I have asthma and have had to increase my meds, altho I am still not breathing well. I live in southern ontario, in a large municipality, that has no bylaws about wood smoke from inside a home. I dont know what to do. The smoke is ruining me.

I feel like a person has the right to do as they please in their own house, but I also think I have the right to be able to breathe. Wood smoke is a real problem for me. I have never sneezed and coughed so much as I do living here. I just don't understand why some people think it's ok to burn wood 24/7 in a city where your neighbours are close by. 

If I played loud rock music even for a few hours my neighbours would call the police and complain and they would come out and make me stop, or give me a ticket. There are things you just can't do when you have neighbours. Why is thick wood smoke allowable? It pollutes the whole street but seemingly people are "allowed" to carry on.

Does anyone have any experience with such an issue? Any advice on what I can do?  The occasional winter fire is one thing, but wood heating in a large city is just rude and inconsiderate. I am surprised the city has no bylaw, but they dont. And please dont respond with "move" because I just bought this house and now that the economy has turned I won't find another mortgage anytime soon. 

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

You should talk to a lawyer.

As [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuisance]Wikipedia[/url] correctly indicates, you may have a cause of action to sue your neighbour. Whether that is a practical solution, however, is another question. 

Under the common law, persons in possession of real property (either land owners or tenants) are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their lands. If a neighbour interferes with that quiet enjoyment, either by creating smells, sounds, pollution or any other hazard that extends past the boundaries of the property, the affected party may make a claim in nuisance.

Legally, the term "nuisance" is traditionally used in three ways:

1) to describe an activity or condition that is harmful or annoying to others (e.g., indecent conduct, a rubbish heap or a [b]smoking chimney[/b])
2) to describe the harm caused by the before-mentioned activity or condition (e.g., loud noises or objectionable odors)
3) to describe a legal liability that arises from the combination of the two. However, the "interference" was not the result of a neighbor stealing land or trespassing on the land. Instead, it arose from activities taking place on another person's land that affected the enjoyment of that land.

The law of nuisance was created to stop such bothersome activities or conduct when they unreasonably interfered either with the rights of other private landowners (i.e., private nuisance) or with the rights of the general public (i.e., public nuisance).

A public nuisance is an unreasonable interference with the public's right to property. It includes conduct that interferes with public health, safety, peace or convenience. The unreasonableness may be evidenced by statute, or by the nature of the act, including how long, and how bad, the effects of the activity may be.

A private nuisance is simply a violation of one's use of quiet enjoyment of land. It doesn't include trespass.

To be a nuisance, the level of interference must rise above the merely aesthetic. For example: if your neighbour paints their house purple, it may offend you; however, it doesn't rise to the level of nuisance. In most cases, normal uses of a property that can constitute quiet enjoyment cannot be restrained in nuisance either. For example, the sound of a crying baby may be annoying, but it is an expected part of quiet enjoyment of property and does not constitute a nuisance.

Chimney smoke is not supposed to bother neighbours, except occasionally. Proper chimney design would ensure that the smoke was carried away without creating a nuisance. There may be a structural problem or a violation of the building code.  





yes, I'm going to call a lawyer on monday. The fire dept went out to look at the stove and chimney, and they say it meets code. The chimney is about 25 feet off the ground, but the smoke is only carried into my yard and house, and I assume other people's too. Maybe if it was 50ft high, but that wouldn't be practical. I think most people only occasionally burn wood, so it is not a big deal. These people are burning 24/7 and it is a large stove to heat the whole house. So a lot of wood too.


I'm surprised the municipality does not have a bylaw about nuisance smoke. It seems utterly stupid to have to make this a private legal matter, when if this guy was burning in his backyard and the smoke was entering my yard the fire dept could make him stop. Why it is different bc he is using a stove inside his house makes no sense to me. The smoke is the same. Both are outside (in terms of the smoke). 


Toby Fourre

Here in BC, you can lay a complaint at the Ministry of Enviroment.  Most municipalities have rules too.  It sounds like this guy has a very dirty system.  Put the pressure on your government to make this guy clean up his act.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

yes, I've seen that article. Short of legal action there's little that can be done unless a bylaw exists. Again, making something like this into a private legal matter is stupid... there should be a bylaw. Why waste a court's time and lots of money. If your neighbour plays loud music you call a cop, you dont go pay a lawyer to try to prove you are seriously impacted by the nuisance. It's ridiculous really, but what can you do? Complain to useless city officials, I guess.

Toby Fourre

XXX wrote:
Complain to useless city officials, I guess.

Does your Province have environmental laws which supercede the Municipality's?  Might be worth a phone call.  


Also, find your local fire inspector.  Sometimes they can tie the guy up with requirements that make it very difficult to continue using the burner.    


A smokey fire means usualy that there is incomplete combustion in the firebox.


I would talk to the neighbour, point out the problems the smoke causes you and that he is wasting energy by having a smokey fire. His/her woodfurnace is very likely to big for his/her house. You could maybe make a deal with them on the assumption that the extra capacity they have in their woodstove could possibly heat your home too. Thereby very likely reduce the smoke in the neighbourhood, since the firebox would be working close to capacity. It gives you a degree of control that you now do not seem to have.


I have an outside woodfurnace/boiler. It is about 80ft from the house. It produces some smoke when I load it up with a new supply of wood. It lasts usualy five to ten minutes till the fresh wood has adjusted to the fire. Then it clears right up. Mind you my nearest neighbour is about half a mile away from our home. And it is rather rare to be able to smell smoke in our home. For one I try to keep a slight positive pressure in the house with respect to the outside and secondly the wind carries it about ninety percent of the time well away from the house.


you'd think provincial laws would supercede... but in the case of open burning, the province's fire code says it is NOT allowed anywhere, without a permit. But, the city has created a bylaw allowing it. So...  a way around it.

There is no law about fireplaces or woodstoves,  altho some municipalities have created bylaws prohibiting their use. Very few have done so, tho. Most people want to be able to enjoy the occasional fire in the winter. I have no issue with that, occasional use is no big deal. It's the constant 24/7 and the obvious large amount of wood being burned that is the problem

I am going to ask around and see what some of my other neighbours think. Maybe if a few of us band together and ask these people to be more considerate, they will choose another heating source, and use the wood stove only occasionally. 

 And, on that last note about the local fire inspector, the fire dept went out and took a look at his setup and says it's all ok. So that's a done deal.

Toby Fourre

Many years ago, a classmate went to work as a tradesman for a business in California.  The owner turned out to be irritating, to say the least.  So, my friend got fed up and started a union which eventually spread throughout the State and tied up that whole industry.  He got even.


I tell you this with a moral.  Start bagering your local officials, including the elected ones.  Organize, or join an organization with like minded individuals.  Get the TV cameras on this guy.   Take videos of the smoking stack and post them on Youtube.  (Becareful not to make false claims.)  Put this guy on the defensive.



Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

These things are showing up all over SW Ontario. They are filthy and they do smoke and that is the design. They are advertized as burning anything and a lot of people do.

Under Ontario's environmental laws and so-called 'environmental bill of rights" you do have options but almost all will involves a lawyer. In the meantime, you might talk to your neighbours and consider putting a resolution before your counicillors. These things put out far more smoke than any fireplace and their out to be strict zoning requirements.



XXX wrote:

My neighbour uses a wood stove to heat his house. Thick wood smoke comes from the chimney 24-7. It is 30 feet from my house. I've just moved in (dec 15th) and my breathing has been very bad. I have asthma and have had to increase my meds, altho I am still not breathing well. I live in southern ontario, in a large municipality, that has no bylaws about wood smoke from inside a home. I dont know what to do. The smoke is ruining me.


Does anyone have any experience with such an issue? Any advice on what I can do?

This is a very tough one.  I had a similar situation where my neighbor used wet charcoal to build a bar BQ, and created a smoke cloud for about 4 hours.  It was like the fog blowing through SF, except a lot harder on the lungs.

In my case, I made it clear to the landlord that I needed a guarantee that this incident would not be repeated.  They imposed a "no bar BQ" rule on the neighbor.  The neighbor moved. 

Normally, wet wood will create a lot more smoke than dry wood, when it burns.  It's probable that the neighbor is not using really dry firewood, and you get to breathe the results.

 If you could convince the neighbor to build some fires using sun-dried /kiln-dried firewood, it would give you a chance to see what effect that has.

If I was your neighbor, I would use dry hardwood in the fireplace, and I would consider adding another 10 feet to the chimney, or moving it.  I suspect that would be a lot easier on your lungs.

One other "fire detail" is that hardwoods, like oak, burn about 200 degrees hotter than softwoods, like pine.  Smoke from an oak fire will go racing up the chimney that much faster, and will be many meters in the air before it begins to waft sideways. 

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George Victor

Burning wood is a country option, not for cities. Period.

Bookish Agrarian

There is no way, as Bubbles points out, that an indoor wood stove or fireplace insert should be producing that much smoke if it is being used properly and is properly installed.  An indoor wood furnace is much different than an outdoor one, which is designed to take green wood for instance.  Even a large wood indoor wood furnace should not produce the kind of smoke you see from the outdoor ones.  FM is right people burn all kinds of stupid and dangerous stuff in those, but indoor ones are designed differently due to the way they heat.

We heat mostly with wood supported by an oil boiler.  We heat with wood through a fireplace insert (high effciency) and an old traditional cookstove in the kitchen.  Even with two fires going, beyond the faint smell of wood smoke you would not be able to see much coming from our chimney's.   And that is including the cookstove which is probably 50 or more years old, at least.  It is no where near as effcient as even the worse woodstove model in some ways.  But then I can't bake a pizza in them either so there are trade offs.

It might be installed to code, but something is wrong with your neigbours stove and/or burning material.  He is wasting money big time.  The only time with interior wood burning you might have smoke near the ground is if there is a thermal inversion, and that if pretty darn rare.  Something isn't right.  A positive approach might be best, but I guess that depends on the kind of neighbour they are.

Cracklin Rose

I, too, live in Ontario and had the same problem. It's pathetic that this is happening to you and I totally understand your frustration and loss of respect for those in power that could make change but choose to bury their head in the sand.... or, snow in this case.

Do NOT move! What your neighbor is doing, is trespassing onto your property. I want to talk to you about this.

There are people who can guide you through solving this.

Visit my site at: http://woodburnersmoke.net

Also, go to http://burningissues.org where you will find answers and information about the dangers of wood smoke to both health & the environment.

George Victor

The houses of the future, independent of all fuels emitting carbon, will have to have a heat recovery ventilator to change the house air. That means the air outside the house will have to be free of toxins.

Toby Fourre

George Victor wrote:
The houses of the future, independent of all fuels emitting carbon, will have to have a heat recovery ventilator to change the house air. That means the air outside the house will have to be free of toxins.


So true.  I know two people who nearly died when someone idled a diesel utility truck under the air intake to a building they were working in.  


But -- where do you think municipal bylaws come from? You have to bring the issue to the attention of your councillors and mayor, along with the relevant city staff.

If you can show that other cities have restrictions around smoke, or these type of stoves in particular, then you have a pretty good crack at getting them to pay attention. Letters to the editor of your local newspaper are always a good place to start. Do your research first; the websites Cracklin Rose links to above look like a great resource. You could also check with the Lung Association etc and see if they have anything to suggest, or anyone else they can put you in touch with who may already be doing education or advocacy on this kind of issue. If you have a local citizens group, talk to them too and see what they say.

This won't necessarily solve your problem right away, although it might, but in the long term it is hugely gratifying to know that you have helped to improve your community for others.

Short term, you could try talking to the neighbour and it's probably a good idea to at least put them on notice that you are having this problem. Consider whether it might be better coming as a request from just you (or a sympathetic mutual friend) at the outset, rather than the whole neighbourhood; you could always go to the collective action, along with a firmly worded "cease and desist" letter on legal letterhead, as further steps down the line, to show them that you're serious and you're not going away.

Also, if you don't end up talking to a lawyer right away, you might want to go to a doctor regularly and document your breathing difficulties and increased meds use for future reference if it ever does eventually go to a lawsuit situation.


Did some googling, couple further comments:

- You could call Public Health and inform them of your problem, see if they can send someone out, or if they have anything else to suggest.

- Is this a new stove? In that case, it may be subject to federal guidelines mandating EPA-approved products. Apparently these reduce emmissions by 94% over conventional stoves. Not sure what the enforcement mechanism is but it's something to look into; you could check with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment for more information.

- If it's an older stove there are supposed to be change-out programs that your neighbour might be eligible for.

- It's interesting to remember that wood-burning appliances increase your home insurance rates significantly, assuming they are declared to the insurance company. If on the other hand the insurance company is not aware of the stove, your neighbour may be uninsured for fire, which would void their mortgage. That could give you some further material to potentially talk about somewhere along the line.

- There is an industry group, Hearth Products Association of Canada, that might have someone to talk to you or some good information they could send you.

Good luck, and happy new year.


That insurance angle.

Insurance companies are generally fine with wood burning furnaces. While few will insure where radiant [space] wood heaters are the primary osurce of heat.

If it is a wood furnace then they must either be burning a lot of bark or something like that; or they are continuoulsy burning at a low burn/heat.

Constatnt ow burn/heat will also put out a lot of smoke/emissions even if it happens to be an EPA approved radiant/space heater. Seems unlikely to me that this is the problem if the smoke is always thick.

But it the smoke is sometimes thick and sometimes not then you could explore this with the neighbour. Low burn is ineffient and it is in their interest to shortn the time that is happening. [Better to let it go out or nearly out and restsrt.] Lots of smoke also definitley means they are clogging the flue... which is unsafe and means that much sooner they have to get the flue cleaned.

Pay attention to how much of the time [and when typically] the smoke is thick. And you must be able to see outside what is going to be burnt- even if you cannot see it all the time. If you don't know what to look for, describe it here [post pictures if you can].

You can nad should discuss those factors with the neighbour, but its good to observe what you can to check against what they say.

Is it possible this is an old sawdust burner? I know of none still around anywhere, and they only ever existed where there are sawmills. But even with far less waste from mills today, you could easily heat a house with the sawdust from even a small mill.

 Mills anywhere around- even very small ones- would also be the source for a lot of bark. While I've never tried it, I am pretty sure you could mix a very high proportion of bark into modern furnances or radiant heaters that otherwise would put out low emmissions.

 As has been noted, people could be burning anything. Plain garbage. Literally. But the thick smoke makes me think we are talking a lot of bark, sawdust... or constant low burning.

If they are burning bark or sawdust you could try converting them to what I do a lot of: burn chopped up pallets. Cheap AND normal low emissions.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

KenS, if this is an outdoor wood furnace, as I suspect it is, then it smokes incessantly and heavily. This is common with all of these and while it is possible the smoke levels can be reduced, the smoke levels nevertheless are still much thicker than with indoor furnaces or woodstoves or fireplaces. They are becoming a curse in rural areas.

Coming home somedays the smoke from these things can be seen choking small hamlets or groupings of homes. Seriously, if I lived near one I would consider doing something I might regret.


I don't think anyone has said it is an outdoor, and it sounds to me like it is not.

And good indoor wood furnaces and EPA rated heaters do have higher emissions if they are always low burning. Although that would not usually mean thick smoke, it would be just as irritating even when the smoke was less obvious.

Or like I suggested: that the neighbours are burning a lot of bark in a stove/furnace that is perfectly good.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

I don't think anyone has said it is an outdoor, and it sounds to me like it is not.

Perhaps the original poster can clarify, but the reason I believe it is an outdoor furnace is because of this comment from the original post: "Thick wood smoke comes from the chimney 24-7. It is 30 feet from my house."

If in a rural area, that's pretty close. So I'm thinking something that looks like this:

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

I was all excited to see Frustrated Mess posting again, especially after reading that thread about those regulars gone missing, and this dates back to January 2009. I'm confused and disappointed.


laine lowe wrote:

I was all excited to see Frustrated Mess posting again, especially after reading that thread about those regulars gone missing, and this dates back to January 2009. I'm confused and disappointed.

Heh, me too!! It happened because a spammer posted, then when a mod deleted that, the original thread still showed up in Active Topics.

Anyway, I sent FM a PM (hee) asking him to pleeeze come back and visit. Who knows, one can only try!



Good seasoned wood burned really hot creates little smoke.  Just educate your neighbour to open up that damper!