Tag Archives: Air Quality

School district tightens air quality restrictions for recess, practices

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 15, 2010:

The school district recently tightened air quality guidelines that govern when students are allowed outside for school-related activities.

Recess and practices should be moved inside or canceled when particulate matter levels are 176 micrograms per cubic meter or higher, levels deemed unhealthy by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

“Clearly we want kids to be physically active and we want them to be able to get exertion with good air quality,” said superintendent Pete Lewis.

The borough scales air quality into six levels, with level one being “good,” level six being “hazardous” and level three being “unhealthy.” The school district shifted its ranges about 20 micrograms lower in November to match the borough.

When particulate levels are between 81 and 175 micrograms per cubic meter for one hour — unhealthy for sensitive groups — recess should be limited and athletic coaches should give athletes extra recovery and keep extra water and cell phones handy. Between 176 and 300 micrograms — unhealthy for everyone — recess and all practices should move inside. Competitions can be held outside with extra precautions. Above 301 micrograms — very unhealthy for everyone — all outdoor activity, practices and games should be canceled.

High particulate levels usually coincide with cold temperatures.

Sufferers testify about ills of wood smoke

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Thursday, December 9, 2010:

School counselor Dawn Brashear enjoyed good health until about two years ago.

That was about the same time residents near her school, Woodriver Elementary School, began installing outdoor wood boilers.

Now Brashear has chronic sinus problems, including a cyst, that doctors tell her is related to breathing air pollution.

Woodriver school is located off Chena Pump Road in west Fairbanks and lies in one of the community’s multiple air pollution problem areas.

Brashear was one of more than a dozen people who testified Wednesday before the Air Pollution Control Commission, an advisory panel to Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins.

Air quality warnings should reflect changes in altitude

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 7, 2010:

As part of the continuing discussion about improving air quality in Fairbanks, the borough and the state should be developing a new system to communicate health warnings  to the public.

The blanket warnings still in use are not accurate for every part of the community.

We need a monitoring system that recognizes that the pollution levels on the valley floor in Fairbanks and in North Pole are higher than in the  hills.

In addition, in the neighborhoods with heavy localized smoke, the current system doesn’t reflect how bad the problem is for some residents.

The generalized pollution reports offer  a misleading image of air conditions, typically repeated by the news media without scrutiny. The state does post a notice on its website about these limitations, but a better system would go a long way to educate people about air quality.

Continue reading: Air quality warnings should reflect changes in altitude

Proper venting is more than blowing off steam

Q: My sewage vent on my roof gets clogged with ice when it gets really cold outside. This creates a sewage smell in my home. A cap of snow often forms on top of the vent.

I wonder if this snow contributes to the icing, either directly or by slowing down the exit of warm air. What can I do?

Sewer vents can ice up when condensation and warm air coming up through the vent meet the cold air outside. Finding a solution to this problem can be cumbersome because of its reoccurring nature, plus the fact that you have to climb on your roof in wintertime.

Simply applying an open-sided cap runs the risk that condensation might form on the underside of the cap and worsen the problem as air is now forced to take a less direct path to the atmosphere.

Another tactic is to hang a copper tube on the edge of the sewer vent.

Soldering a copper tee across the top of copper pipe will ensure that it will rest across the top of the vent and not fall in.

The theory is if the copper should extend far enough down the vent and get into the heated space, then it is conductive enough to stay warm and keep the vent thawed out all the way to the top.

However, this tactic has mixed results. This tip also requires that the vent pipe go straight down to the heated space, which is not always the case.

If you have an accessible attic, the first, and usually easiest, fix for a freezing vent would be to wrap a thick layer of fiberglass insulation around the pipe all the way to the roof deck.

This approach solves the problem most of the time.

It will keep the escaping air warmer and cut down on crystal build up inside, and possibly melt any snow that collects on top, too.

If the portion of the pipe on the cold side of the roof is really tall, you may try cutting it down so it is closer to the roof flashing, to limit the amount exposed to the exterior.

Note that the city of Fairbanks building code requires a that the top of the pipe be at least 10 inches above the penetration in the roof.

It is possible ice crystals forming inside the pipe are also serving to support the snowfall. If the vent has a two inch diameter, consider upsizing it. Current code requires a three-inch minimum stack vent.

On some occasions it may even be necessary to go to four inches.

Another method is to purchase a non-frosting vent cap.

These are well-insulated caps that use a heating element, similar to heat tape, to help warm the top of the vent and keep it free of ice.

These caps can be purchased online.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote awareness of homerelated issues. If you have a question, e-mail the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at akhomewise@cchrc.org.You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Inversion spurs air quality alert for Fairbanks

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Thursday, December 2, 2010:

Air pollution spiked to unhealthy levels Wednesday, prompting the borough to urge residents to avoid exercise and to cease wood and coal burning when possible.

The air quality advisory is in effect until 5 p.m. today when weather conditions are expected to change, improving the air.

Tiny yet harmful airborne particles reached a density of 56.4 micrograms per cubic meter of air by Wednesday afternoon, according to the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s air quality index.

Levels above 35.5 micrograms are deemed unacceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The air began deteriorating early this week. On Tuesday, the borough issued an advisory judging the air unhealthy for sensitive groups, namely young children, older people and people with heart and lung afflictions.

The air grew progressively worse on Wednesday, air quality technician Jim McCormick said.

Fairbanks borough regulations fading on wood smoke ordinance

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sunday, November 21, 2010:

A new air quality measure by the Fairbanks borough mayor scales back regulations on wood smoke emissions but maintains a prohibition on the installation of old, dirty stoves.

The regulations on smoke emissions were set to go into effect next fall.

The ordinance on Monday goes before the Air Pollution Control Commission, an advisory panel to Mayor Luke Hopkins.

Hopkins said he wants rules on the installation of uncertified stoves to continue because the ballot proposition prompting his new air quality ordinance referred to the use of home heating devices and not their installation.

“We are still limiting the stoves so that we don’t keep digging ourselves in a hole,” the mayor said.

Emissions from increased wood burning in the borough include a tiny but toxic particulate known as PM 2.5, and the federal government has put Fairbanks on notice to reduce levels of PM 2.5 by 2014.

Fairbanks borough requests state subsidies for heating change-outs

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Monday, November 22, 2010:

Hundreds of residents are showing interest in subsidies to upgrade to cleaner-burning home heating systems, according to the borough. So the Borough Assembly last week asked the state Legislature for $5 million to keep things rolling.

The incentive program, started with $1 million of federal seed money, is a response to chronic air pollution in Fairbanks. Health and air pollution officials from the local level to the Environmental Protection Agency have various interests in stamping out chronic wintertime air pollution. Studies consistently point to wood-fed heating as a major culprit.

The seed grant, from the 2009 federal recovery act, will mean hundreds of new heating systems, but Mayor Luke Hopkins said Friday many more people are expected to apply. 

What to do about moisture levels in your wood fuel


By CCHRC Staff

The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: Where can I get information on the moisture content of wood for burning in my stove?

Freshly cut wood can be very wet and can contain up to 80 percent moisture.

In terms of moisture for wood burning, 20 percent or less is ideal.

Fortunately, Fairbanks is a fairly dry climate, and if wood is cut in the spring, split, stacked and covered, it should be dry enough to burn by the fall.

However, do not cover a woodpile with tarps that drape over the sides.

Wood should be stored in a woodshed, or covered with a spare piece of plywood, roofing tin, or anything that will allow air to flow through the pile.

Also, stack the wood on pallets to avoid exposure to ground moisture.

The bottom line is, the drier the wood, the cleaner and more efficiently it will burn.

The more moisture in the wood, the less energy will come out of it as heat because the moisture has to be burned off as steam first.

Excessive moisture also creates problems with creosote.

Burning wood with a moisture content of 25 percent or higher the amount of pollution increases in the form of harmful particles exiting the chimney.

A moisture meter can identify how wet wood is.

Moisture meters are handheld devices with prongs that stick into the wood. They can be purchased locally or online and consumer models are relatively inexpensive.

Alaska HomeWise articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, e-mail us at akhomewise@cchrc.org.You can also call the CCHRC at (907) 457-3454.

Nissan Will Sell 500,000 Electric Cars a Year by 2013, Says Chief

From The New York Times,  Tuesday, November 16, 2010:

On the eve of the market debut of the Nissan Leaf electric carCarlos Ghosn, chief executive of the Renault-Nissan alliance, said the only constraint on sales for the next three years will be how many battery packs the factories could churn out.

Deliveries of the Leaf are scheduled to start next month. Mr. Ghosn, speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday afternoon, did not say just how many he expected to sell in the first three years. He said, however, that the Leaf would hit 500,000 units a year in three years. Mass production, he explained, would lower costs enough to make the car a sales success without subsidies sooner than once expected. He said he once thought that number was a million cars a year, but now believed it was from 500,000 to 1 million.

“We’re going to have to put some efforts into selling the car, but the kind of spontaneous demand is going to be driving the sales for the next three years,” Mr. Ghosn said. “There is such a curiosity about the car and attention to the car.”

He predicted that 10 percent of the world car market would be electric vehicles by 2020. “There is no doubt in the minds of anyone in the industry that this is going to be a big factor in the industry,” he said.

Continue reading: Nissan Will Sell 500,000 Electric Cars a Year by 2013, Says Chief

Experimental vegetable oil kiln helps UAF potters stay environmentally friendly

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Monday, November 15, 2010:

Art students huddled around a 2,400-degree grease fire behind the university experimental farm in 13-degree weather on Thursday. A big tank of vegetable oil fed the flames inside a fire box and heated their pottery within one of Fairbanks’ newest artistic achievements — a vegetable oil-fired kiln.

A University of Alaska Fairbanks ceramics class designed and built the kiln during the summer at “kiln city,” an outdoor clearing between the reindeer pens and the university ski trails. Kiln City also contains four wood-fired kilns.

Few universities have vegetable oil kilns because they are a relatively new concept and take up lots of space. Most use indoor electric kilns.

The kiln, which was paid for with a $6,000 grant from the university sustainability committee, will lessen the carbon footprint of ceramics and offer a new aesthetic to artists. The experimental design also tests how the technology fares in cold weather.