Thursday, October 14, 2010

This is Why Amherst has a Reputation...

We're having a wood stove installed in our house, and because I'm a Good Gumby, I'm jumping through the Official Rules and Regulations that Keep Us Safe.

So I read up on wood stoves on the Town website, and find out I need to pass a "Woodburning Device Operator Examination" from the Amherst Board of Health.

I have an embarrassing confession: several years ago I operated a woodburning device without being properly licensed (our house on Butterfield Terrace had a wonderful German ceramic woodstove). I should've been fined $50 the first time I did it and $200 every other time.

That'll teach me. I've read the Town Bylaws (well, except the Zoning Bylaws, I'm not that big a masochist). I guess I was supposed to read all the Health Board Regulations, too ("ignorance of the law is no excuse", after all).

Anyway, the Woodburning Device Operator Examination is open-book multiple choice, and I expect I'll be properly licensed soon.

What really prompts me to write this is my experience trying to get a permit for the woodstove from the inspections department. Two weeks ago I sent them an email asking what I needed to do... no reply ("we're switching email systems and haven't fully converted everything yet...").

So on Friday I walk in and ask what I need to do. I'm given a form with the sections I need to fill out helpfully highlighted and am told to fill it out and come back with a check for $30.

Which I do on Tuesday. Which is when I'm told that the form isn't enough, they need to know all the manufacturer clearances and dimensions and how tall the stovepipe and what the heat-shields on the wall will be made out of and so on. And I shouldn't really be filling out the permit application, my contractor should be. But I can if I really want to and am willing to be a daredevil risk-taker.

I have an idea: lets get rid of Town inspections. My insurance company has the right incentives-- it doesn't want my house to burn down, but it also wants to keep me as a happy customer. Let insurance companies inspect wood stove installations. If they don't answer their email and then give me the runaround I can fire them and hire their competition.

And maybe they'd offer a discount on my insurance for taking their version of the Woodburning Operators Examination.


Anonymous said...

Not sure why you're blaming Amherst for adhering to, and enforcing, state building codes, which it is legally required to do.

If you're getting poor responsiveness from town officials, that's one thing, and worth complaining about. But the fact is that the town has the responsibility to enforce state building codes, including those having to do with wood stoves. Wood stove permits aren't something Amherst dreamed up to make your life more complicated - lots of other towns do the exact same thing.

Gavin Andresen said...

Two things bothered me: the poor responsiveness.

And the wacky Health Department regulation.

State regulations don't require a Wood Burning Operator's License.

(I got my Wood Burning Operator's License in the mail a couple of days ago; I'm a little disappointed, it's not a laminated card I can carry in my wallet.)