Chapter 6 : Kilns > Thoughts On Installing A Gas Kiln

This is one comprehensive article and one excerpt from an article detailing one persons experience in New York City.

 

Zoning Laws and Permits for Gas Kilns:

First is John Baymore’s (slightly condensed) response to a question concerning installing a gas kiln in the city vs. installing a gas kiln in the country.  His response covers zoning laws and permits as they pertain to gas kiln installations.   Special thanks to John for his generosity and willingness to share this valuable information.

 

Text from http://www.potters.org/subject57367.htm

Originally posted on October 29, 1997

 

“The general, highly simplistic answer is that the more urban, the more regulations. The more rural, the more “easygoing”. You can extrapolate that also to the more urban, the more expensive to install and the more rural, the less expensive to install. 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 “paper pollution” generated.”

 

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.

 

There are sort of two general types of kiln installations. Legal and illegal. Both exist all over the country. As a professional, I tend to shy away from the illegal ones. In fact, I strongly advocate legal ones. Illegal ones can make it harder for others to get kilns in legally.  (NOTE: You may void your insurance claims with an illegal kiln installation.)

 

In some places potters just go ahead and put in the kiln. Don’t ask and don’t tell. If the town is pretty “laid back”, often you can get away with 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!

 

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 occurrence 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 “cease and desist” order, and the investment in the kiln suddenly goes kaput.

 

There are plenty of examples 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 British Thermal Unit (BTU) input per hour of the total peak draw of the kiln. And so on. [See kiln building section to better understand BTU's]

 

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 ridiculous 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.

 

If a town has had a “bad” experience with a gas kiln…that might just be that a prior installation received a lot of complaints from neighbors cause it was “unsightly”, or could have been because of something more germane like a fire…they will tend to look at 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.

 

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 or complaints or a fire or anything like that. Ask who in the town government 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 “tip your hand”, go 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 “non-conforming” business uses in near where you are considering. Ask for a copy of the zoning regulations 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 “pig in the poke” [meaning you have to buy, then they will tell you let you know if your proposal is reasonable], and THEN ask if you can do what you want.

 

In most “more urban” places you will first need at least a building permit 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 “sell retail” out of the location-you are then just a “manufacturing operation”.

 

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 marshal. This might all be one person.  It will certainly cause the local building codes to apply. (Luckily the local codes rarely SPECIFICALLY list regulations for gas fired kilns 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.

 

You can USE the lack of specifics on gas kilns in the code to your advantage. The more well conceived, 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 “impressive” 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.

 

By The Way… 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 occurred. An example of this is that the State of Massachusetts requires that all gas kiln installations be approved by the Massachusetts Fuel Gas Regulatory Board.  Which requires that detailed plans be submitted.

 

I am not an engineer…just a kiln builder of many kilns and with many years experience. On some jobs (quite urban) I have had to get a licensed engineer to officially stamp the plans that I designed and drafted. Not redrawn or redesigned-just stamped! The town would not accept them without a licensed 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 kiln.

 

Whatever you do, DON’T let them classify the kiln as an “industrial furnace”. You are a “quaint” artist, not an industrialist. There ARE lots of regulations for that industrial installation and they usually result in lots of very expensive toys.  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 on and so on. Yes…thousands of dollars per burner!

 

Speaking of emissions-It is little known that in many parts of the country you will need an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit to install and operate a gas fired kiln to be completely 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 dependent 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.  [See kiln building section]

 

Often it is a good idea to have something specific that you thought up for each of the local inspectors to “find” and get his/her 2 cents input into. If you “feed” them something that you know will be cheap and you would have done anyway, then they won’t go looking for something on their own that will end up costing you thousands. And they will feel that they have done their job, because 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 “short”, and mention that somewhere 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. There is a bit of an “art” to doing this.

 

Locations:

“Residential A” (only housing in this area) or whatever the local “powers-that-be” call it in the particular 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 against this installation. It often is perceived to lower their property value in an exclusive residential area.

Residential B (some light business use like hairdressers, lawn mower repairs, and the like) is easier than Residential A.

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 the kiln as an “industrial furnace” which brings down all sorts of (expensive) code requirements.

 

One approach to getting in a gas kiln is to start off with a nice unobtrusive electric kiln. Move into town and make yourself a “cultural asset”. Volunteer to do demos at the local schools. Get involved with the 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.)

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 (American Gas Association, now CSA-Canadian Standards Association-both of which are recognized as authorities on the safety of manufactured kilns that are sold) certification.  [Manufactured kilns that are certified will specify that detail in the literature about the kiln]  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 agree to the installation. You will then have to put the kiln in according to all the manufactures recommendations. That certification tells the inspectors the unit is “OK”.

 

If you MUST have a gas kiln, do your homework BEFORE moving to a locale. This criteria needs to be part of the decision of WHERE to move, remember that 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 that when their kiln “dies” they’ve been told they can’t replace it and no new installations are allowed in town).”

 

John Baymore is a potter, kiln designer and consultant who can be reached at:
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way, Wilton, NH 03086 USA
Phone: (603) 654-2752  and (800) 900-1110
www.JohnBaymore.com

 

 

From John’s letter above there are a few things to consider:

Before you by a place that you are considering to be your home/studio

1. Talk to local potters to understand their experience with installing gas kilns

2. Go to the town offices and ask about zoning

  • look at maps for the specific location you are considering.
  • ask about business uses for that location
  • disclose all realities so they know what you are thinking
  • get a copy of the zoning regulations and building code (if applicable)

3. If possible, get a ruling from the zoning board before you buy, but this is not always possible

4. You may need a business permit before you can get a building permit.  If so, there may be both a local and a state permit required.

5.  Before discussing your kiln installation with the local inspectors, have all of your information, including your own background information in an impressive, well-organized presentation format.  You want them to trust your credentials and knowledge, as theirs may be a little shaky on gas kilns.  (if you do not have the required information, to ensure a safe installation, you should acquire this knowledge.)

6.  With the building permit, you can discuss the kiln installation with the local inspectors, which may include the building inspector, gas inspector and the fire marshal.

7.  All local building codes will apply.

8.  Working within the structure of zoning laws is for your protection and to ensure harmony within the local environment.

 

Concerning installing a gas kiln in New York City

“Lessons from a City Kiln” by Marc Leuthold and Sarah G. Wilkins

“…In planning to install a gas kiln, Neil knew it would be a challenge to comply with the city’s complicated and strict combustion regulations. New York requires that all combustion equipment be certified for use within the five boroughs. Commercial producers of boilers, stoves and water heaters go through an expensive procedure to have their equipment certified. Afterward, identical equipment can be sold without question. However, for one-of-a-kind industrial equipment, such as a kiln, certification can cost upwards of $6000 for independent laboratory testing.

Regulations dictate that one must hire an engineer to assure that plans are filed and codes are properly carried out. The engineer Neil hired determined that the floor of the 100-year-old building would not collapse when the 6800-pound kiln was delivered to the second floor. The engineer’s fee was $2500, and the filing fees an additional $300.

A certain kind of chimney was specified as well. It was required to extend beyond the roof line of the top story. Fortunately, the building is small by New York standards and only goes up four floors.

For the combustion system, a $600 filing fee was submitted to the Department of Buildings, Materials and Equipment Acceptance Division. In order to avoid testing fees, the kiln manufacturer went to great lengths to help us, assembling laboratory reports for each component of the burner system to prove safety claims. Combinations of components are used in the design of burner systems, from gas valves to computer controls, and since the manufacturer purchases parts for burner systems from several other manufacturers, the compilation was a complex task.

Once the plans were approved by the city for a total of $4900, a licensed plumber was hired to install a 2-inch gas line from the street to the kiln, approximately 180 feet away. Because Manhattan has very low gas pressure, no one could guarantee that the kiln would reach temperature. Anxiety was somewhat alleviated by the news that boosters could be added later–for thousands of dollars more, of course.

Delivery of the new equipment had to be thought out very carefully. Although the width of the kiln was determined by the width of the freight elevator door, the actual weight was just too heavy for the old elevator. Professional riggers were hired for $3000 to deliver the kiln to a specific location on the second floor.

It proved to be a day’s work for four expert movers. Two I-beams were suspended from the third floor inside the elevator shaft. The kiln hung from them in a sling of massive chains, then hand-powered winches moved the kiln upward at a snail’s pace–1 centimeter for each pull. Once in place, the kiln was made fully functional, and has worked well ever since.”

 

Excerpt from: Leuthold, Marc and Sarah G. Wilkins.  “Lessons from a City Kiln”.  Ceramics Monthly 46 (January 1998): 61-2.