FAIRBANKS — The number of people who heat with wood in the Fairbanks North Star Borough is slowly rising, a new study shows.
Researchers called 300 area households last winter and asked a series of questions, mostly regarding home heating habits.
They found the number of borough households using wood heat has gone up about 7 percent since 2006.
A breakdown by area shows wood heat is more popular in North Pole than any other ZIP code.
Borough administrators are using the survey results to help decide where to steer funding for a wood stove replacement program. Future studies will be used to gauge whether the local air pollution control program is working.
“There are a lot of older homes,” borough air quality specialist Jim Conner said. “They need new stoves.”
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation commissioned the study, which was prepared by Sierra Research Inc. of Sacramento, Calif.
The study estimates there are more than 9,000 fireplaces and wood stoves in use in the borough’s non-attainment area, a domain that stretches from the Tanana River to the Goldstream Valley and from North Pole to the Old Nenana Highway. Researchers estimate 90 outdoor wood boilers occupy the non-attainment area.
The study found the average amount of home heating oil burned per household has dropped since 2006: from 1,099 gallons to 818 gallons.
And those who heat with natural gas have seen their gas bills more than double during the last four years, the study shows.
The increase in wood stove usage correlates with a rise in air pollution.
Last month, the Borough Assembly approved an air pollution control plan, putting limits on chimney pipe emissions and the types of stoves that can be installed in the borough.
“What we want to see is the number of uncertified devices drop,” Conner said.
The borough is using federal grant money to help residents purchase new, cleaner-burning wood stoves. The borough is gearing up to begin accepting applications by the end of the month.
Applicants will be prioritized based on where they live and the type of their stove.
Conner said people replacing outdoor wood boilers, believed to be some of the biggest polluters, will receive priority treatment. Residents of North Pole, Hamilton Acres and University West also will be among those whose applications will rise to the top of the list, he said.
“We are trying to get those neighborhoods cleaner,” Conner said.
The borough is preparing ads about air quality to run on the radio and in print, Conner said. The borough also will have an air quality booth at the Tanana Valley State Fair.
“We’re thinking about a mass mailing,” Conner said.
The air quality specialist estimates it could cost the borough $12 million to $20 million to swap out every old, smoke-belching stove.
Interest in the change-out program has been steady since the assembly approved it, officials said.
“Every day, there’s a couple of phone calls,” air quality technician Todd Thompson said.
Officials plan to provide applications online, Thompson added.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7544.
Estimated number of home heating devices in the Fairbanks North Star Borough population core:
• Central oil furnaces: 21,130
• Wood-burning devices: 9,240
• Natural gas: 1,370
• Pellet stoves: 370
• Coal heating: 340
• Outdoor wood boilers: 90
Source: 2010 Fairbanks Home Heating Survey