John Baymore on wed 29 oct 97
This is a question for all of the potters with gas kilns. Do all of you
live in the country where there is usually a minimum of zoning laws?
Anyone living in the city or the suburbs with a gas kiln? We're thinking
of moving and this is a concern for me--don't want to get stuck in an area
where I could not build a gas kiln.
I have been doing kiln design and installation work for potters and
institutions for about 20 years so I deal with this ALL the time. This
type of discussion is the first part of the consulting process. First of
all, it is VERY hard to generalize on this type of thing. The specifics of
the situation matter a LOT. I am also assuming you are in the US....
don't know anything about the rest of the world. That being
The general, highly simplistic answer is that the more urban, the more
regulations. The more rural, the more =22easygoing=22. You can extrapolate
that also to the more urban, the more expensive to install and the more
rural, the less expensive to insatll. You can also add, the more urban the
longer the process takes and the more paper it takes, and the more rural
the faster and less =22paper pollution=22 generated =3Cg=3E.
Putting in a 40 cubic foot gas kiln in Boston on natural gas is a lot
larger project and more costly than putting in a 40 cubic foot gas kiln on
propane in downtown Wilton, NH. Done both =3Cg=3E.
There are sort of two general types of kiln installations. Legal and
illegal. Both exist all over the country. As a pro ..... I tend to shy
away from the illegal ones =3Cg=3E. In fact, I strongly advocate legal =
Illegal ones can make it harder for others to get kilns in legally.
In some places potters just go ahead and put in the kiln. Don't ask and
don't tell. If the town is pretty =22laid back=22, often you can get away =
this even though you have a backhoe in to dig the foundation and concrete
trucks and so on. Often the kiln is there for years with no problems.
Unless there is a complaint the kiln merrily fires away. Keep the
neighbors happy..... give em' pots=21
But there are downsides to such an installation that have to be considered
before just doing it. For example, if there were a fire or explosion from
the kiln and it was not a legal installation, the insurance carrier could
disallow any claim. Such an occurance could open you to civil or criminal
charges if there was injury or property loss to someone else. If suddenly
the town found out and had a real problem with it, daily fines accrued over
the years could come to a tidy sum. At the least, suddenly the town could
issue a =22cease and desist=22 order, and the investment in the kiln =
There are plenty of this type of installation around. Lots have gotten
away with it for long periods. You have to decide how much of a gambler
you are to take this approach. It works for some.
Regulations vary from state to state and town to town. Some also depend on
whether you are a business or are doing this as a hobby. Some depend on
the fuel you intend to use. Some depend on the BTU input per hour of the
total peak draw of the kiln. And so on.
Most of the regulations you might hit are well meaning in intent. They are
generally intended to make the installation safe and to not cause hardship
on others. Sometimes you get an overzealous official that gets rediculous
and tries to throw the book at it....... but that is rare. If you are not
a really well versed pro in the area of kilns and combustion, then much of
this regulation stuff is probably a good idea to follow. Yes... I have
seen propane kilns plumbed with old garden hose and pipe clamps run to
rusty homemade burners that have been there without problem for years......
but it is NOT a good idea and it is depending on the vast knowledge of the
particular potter, constant attention to detail, and a darn good dose of
If a town has had a =22bad=22 experience with a gas kiln......... that might
just be that a prior installation recieved a lot of complaints from
neighbors cause it was =22unsightly=22, or could have been because of =
more germane like a fire............ they will tend to look on new ones
more skeptically. If they have never had a gas kiln in town, they might be
conservative cause they don't know anything about it. The BEST and easiest
places are towns that have gas firing potters merrily being upright,
wonderful citizens =3Cg=3E.
Your first research should be to find other potters who live in the town
who already have gas kilns. They can be your best allies. Talk to them.
Find out what they went through to get the kiln in, and also how long ago.
Find out (tactfully) if there were any problems..... complaints or a fire
or anything like that. Ask who in the town govt. was helpful and who was a
problem. Find out what permits they needed and how easy it was. Ask what
they were MADE to do that they didn't intend at first. Find out specifics
on that aspect. Get all the prior info you can. Arm yourself well.
Once you have done some basic research and are ready to =22tip your hand=22,=
to the town offices and ask generally about this subject. Look at a
zoning map at the property you are considering. Ask about business uses.
Look for other =22non-conforming=22 business uses in near where you are
considering. Ask for a copy of the zoning regs and read them carefully.
If it specifies a building code, get a copy of that too and read the
sections that could apply.
Sometimes you can go to the zoning board before you buy a place to get a
ruling.... but often you have to buy the =22pig in the poke=22, and THEN ask=
you can do what you want.
In most =22more urban=22 places you will first need at least a building =
as if you were putting in a new bathroom or constructing a new outbuilding.
If you are a business, not a hobby, this permit may have to FOLLOW getting
a business permit for the location. There may be both a local business
permit and a state permit. This may be true even if you don't =22sell
retail=22 out of the location....... you are then just a =22manufacturing
This building permit will then open up the kiln installation to the local
inspectors.... often including the building inspector, the gas inspector,
and the fire marsahll. This might all be one person =3Cg=3E. It will
certainly cause the local building codes to apply. (Luckily the local
codes rarely SPECIFICALLY list regs for a gas fired kiln....this is of
GREAT use.) None or few of the inspectors will have ANY experience with
gas kilns. But they will all have to approve the installation at some
level. Remember that no matter how much of a front they put on, they will
be looking for any help that can get so that they can look like they know
what they are doing with this darned kiln thing =3Cg=3E.
You can USE the lack of specifics on gas kilns in the code to your
advantage. The more well concieved, professional, and specific your
installation proposal is, the more likely the officials will be to assume
that you are knowledgeable and an expert in the field. Put together an
=22impressive=22 documentation of your background, as well as the detailed
plans for the installation. Give references and quote names. You need to
become the expert. So that they will take YOUR advice on what constitutes
a safe installation.
BTW.... if you don't really know this stuff well, invest a little and get
help in this presentation. You might only get one shot at it. Not only
will it make the permitting issue easier, it will make sure that the
installation IS safe.
Some locales DO have specific regulations on gas kilns written. This comes
from prior experiences mainly...... lots of kilns installed or some sort of
a problem having occured. An example of this is that the State of Mass.
requires that all gas kiln installations be approved by the Mass. Fuel Gas
Regulatory Board. Requires detailed plans submitted.
I am not an engineer...... just a kiln builder of many kilns and many
years. On some jobs (quite urban) I have had to get a licenced engineer to
officially stamp the plans that I designed and drafted. Not redrawn or
redesigned .... just stamped=21 The town would not accept them without a
licenced engineers approval. This is a simple review, a (hefty) fee paid,
and a rubber stamp (actually....an embosser). But it had to be done or no
Whatever you do, DON'T let them classify the kiln as an =22industrial
furnace=22. You are a =22quaint=22 artist =3CBG=3E, not an industrialist. =
lots of regs for that industrial installation and they usually result in
lots of very expensive toys. =3Cg=3E You'll end up with all sorts of
electro-mechanical combustion equipment, and someone is going to probably
want to discuss effluent emissions. For example on one natural gas
installation I was involved with in a very urban setting, to light the kiln
you flipped switches in the correct order at a remote panel to start the
combustion air blower, self-check the electronics, check the main gas
pressure and main air pressure, and then a solenoid pilot gas valve opened,
spark ignition lighted it, an ultraviolet sensor proofed the pilot flame,
then a hydrostatically operated gas valve automatically opened for each
main burner, and so on and so on. Yes...... thousands per burner=21
Speaking off emissions. It is little known that in many parts of the
country you will need an EPA permit to install and operate a gas fired kiln
to be completly legal. Call the local EPA office to find out if the place
you are considering is one of these. Some of what applies here is
dependant on the size and use of the installation. Remember ...... you are
an artist potter, not a factory. You'll need to know the total BTU input
of the kiln.
Often it is a good idea to have something specific that you thought up for
each of the local inspectors to =22find=22 and get his/her 2 cents input =
If you =22feed=22 them something that you know will be cheap and you would =
done anyway, then they won't go looking for something on their own that
will end up costing you thousands =3Cg=3E. And they will feel that they =
done their job....cause they recommended something that you should do, and
you did it. Ask their opinion on something they can relate to like a
clearance, not some pottery-techno aspect that they will freak over. Maybe
suggest a value that is a little =22short=22...... and mention that =
you read that someone recommends more than that. Then ask what the
inspector thinks........ (more is always better ????). You'll get the
higher number, which you were going to do anyway =3Cg=3E. There is a bit of=
=22art=22 to doing this =3Cg=3E.
Residential A (housing....period) .......or whatever the local =22powers =
be=22 call it in the particualr locale......., is the hardest place to get a
gas kiln in (legally). If the zoning doesn't at least allow home based
businesses with a permit, you might be in for a long battle. Expect the
neighbors to be agains this installation. It often is percieved to lower
their property value in an exclusive residential area. Residentail B (some
light business use like hairdressers, lawn mower repairs, and the like) is
easier than A. Less =22NIMBY=22 factor. Residential /Agricultural is
generally far easier and should be the target. Commercial and Industrial
are usually a piece of cake, but carry their own problems at times in other
areas like the classification of teh kiln as an =22industrial furnace=22 =
brings down all sorts of (expensive) code requirements.
One approach to getting in a gas kiln is to start off with a nice
unobtrusive (NIMBY clean, inefficient, resource depleting......just had to
say that =3Cg=3E) electric kiln. Move into town and make yourself a =
asset=22. Volunteer to do demos at the local schools. Get involved with =
scouts. Donate pieces to the local charities. And so on. After you have
become a solid contributor to the town, THEN approach them about the gas
kiln with complete documentation and plans. This often works in places
that might be difficult straight off. But if the gas kiln is 100 percent a
necessity..... this is a gamble. It is no guarantee. Just an educated
tactic. (Also a nice thing to do anyway =3Cg=3E)
One possible solution to allay fears of kiln is to go with a commercial
unit rather than site built. This will be more expensive per cubic foot,
but it might make a kiln possible at all. Look for a kiln with AGA
certification. (Guess who that is?....check CM ads.) That means that it
is certified by the national standards overseer, and that certification MAY
be what gets the local gas and building guy to buy into the insatllation.
You will then have to put the kiln in according to all the mfgr.s
recommandations. That certification does the CYA thing for you, and tells
the inspectors the unit is =22OK=22.
If you MUST have a gas kiln, do your homework BEFORE moving to a localle.
That criteria needs to be part of the decision of WHERE to move. Rural IS
easier. There are some places (few) that actually and specifically
prohibit any new gas kilns (Concord, MA is an example I, have been told by
a former kiln client...... when their kiln =22dies=22 they've been told they
can't replace it and no new installations are allowed in town).
Hope all of this is of help. Best of luck in your move.
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA