When David Carr saw how much heating his house was costing him every year, he realized he had to get creative. But what he calls a creative solution, his neighbors call a nuisance.


When David Carr saw how much heating his house was costing him every year, he realized he had to get creative.

But what he calls a creative solution, his neighbors call a nuisance.

Carr is one of three Milford homeowners who use an outdoor wood furnace to heat his entire house. He says it’s the only affordable way to keep his house warm. But complaints from surrounding homeowners have the city council on the verge of passing a law that would ban the furnaces completely.

“We moved here about 10 years ago,” Carr said. “After a few years we’d spent some $30,000 on oil. The furnace has been a godsend.”

It’s a simple system. The furnace is about the size of a small shed, with a two-story chimney reaching up from the roof. When it gets cold, Carr tosses in some firewood and switches on the heat. The wood burns, and hot air from the fire is channeled through his house, just like it would be from an oil furnace.

As a heater, the furnace worked like a charm. Oil seems to get more expensive every year, but firewood is still cheap — sometimes free. But it doesn’t burn clean. It pumps all the smoke from the wood it burns straight into the nearby air, and neighbors have started to complain.

“Whether your windows are shut or not, your house smells like smoke,” neighbor John Webb said. “Your curtains, your carpet, your bedding — everything smells like smoke, all winter long.”

Carr’s neighbors say they can see why the technology is attractive, but it doesn’t work when other houses are so close by.

“The neighbors are too close,” said Shirley Thoms, who lives near the Carrs. “It’s not well-suited for city living.”

The rising number of complaints led to a proposed ban on the furnaces that will go up for a vote at Milford’s June 27 city council meeting. In its current form, the law would make the “construction and operation” of wood-burning furnaces illegal as soon as it goes into effect. Furnaces that have already been built — like Carr’s — would be allowed to continue operating, but only for a few months. The law says they “must be removed” no later than August 31 of this year.

Carr said if that happens, he’ll have to go back to paying thousands of dollars a year to heat his home. The house is big — three stories tall, built with nine fireplaces just to keep the whole thing warm in the days of wood-burning heat.

He added that he made sure to get an OK from the city before installing the furnace in the first place. He said he checked with Brad Denehey, the city’s building inspector at the time, who took a month to research state and local laws on the subject before giving the Carrs the go-ahead.

“He said, ‘Dave, I can’t stop you,’” Carr said. “So I went ahead and put it in.”

Carr said his furnace doesn’t create any more smoke than if he started up the fireplaces inside his home.

“It burns wood, and it puts out smoke,” Carr said. “There ain’t no difference.”

He’s even built the chimney higher than standard, he said, to keep the smoke out of their neighbors’ eyes and homes. But the complaints have kept coming.

“The house dwarfs the furnace, and that causes a downdraft,” Webb said. “It would be a different thing if the smoke was able to get up into the atmosphere the way it’s supposed to, but it can’t. You can see how the chimney is black almost all the way up because the smoke falls down. A chimney that’s working, it wouldn’t look like that.”