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Woodstoves: Will They be Outlawed?
An overview of EPA woodstove emissions regulations

Q: We'd love to install one of your beautiful wood stoves, but my husband is concerned about upcoming EPA emissions regulations. He says he has heard that wood burning is going to be outlawed soon, and doesn't want to shell out good money for a stove we can't use. Are you aware of any pending legislation that will make burning wood illegal?

Sweepy A: We get this inquiry fairly often, and it is a sad example of how the news media trades on sensationalism. When the EPA first started looking at woodstove particulate emissions, the front pages were emblazoned with headlines screaming, WOOD STOVES TO BE OUTLAWED!! When the regulations which specifically allow wood burning were subsequently passed, the story got maybe one paragraph on page 23. People are still talking about the headlines, and that's where your husband most likely got his mistaken impression.

The fact is, EPA woodstove regulations aren't upcoming; they're ongoing. When cleaner burning woodstove technology first emerged in the mid-80's, the EPA announced a four-year, two-phase plan to incorporate this technology into every new woodstove to be sold in the US. The regulations pertaining to woodstove exhaust are very similar to those that apply to automobile exhaust. Older technology cars may remain on the road and old technology woodstoves may remain on the flue, but any new car or woodstove sold must comply with current emissions standards. As the old-technology cars and woodstoves die off and are replaced with new-technology models, air quality is automatically improved.

Here's a brief description of the history of EPA woodstove emissions legislation:

1970's: Spiraling fuel prices cause consumers to turn to airtight woodstoves as an economical heating alternative. A typical airtight woodstove of this vintage emits 40-60 grams of particulates into the airshed every hour, and airborne wood smoke particulates become a problem in rural areas where woodburning is prevalent.

Early 1980's: State and Federal EPA offices set up air testing stations to study woodstove particulates. Several States pass legislation limiting woodstove emissions: some areas institute "burn bans", which limit or prohibit woodstove use during periods of high airborne particulate pollution.

Mid 1980's: Motivated by existing and pending emissions regulations, woodstove manufacturers develop and introduce new, "clean air" reburn designs which dramatically reduce particulate woodstove emissions. There are two designs that prove effective: Catalytic woodstoves reburn the exhaust gases by causing the exhaust gases to come into contact with a catalytic converter element, similar to those used in automobiles; non-catalytic designs cause the exhaust gases to reburn in a secondary burn chamber located at the top of the firebox. The public shies away from these newfangled critters, which are a little more complicated and slightly more expensive than the older, more familiar high emissions designs. The EPA decides that a slight nudge will be needed to speed up implementation of the new technology, and legislation is drafted regulating wood-burning heater emissions on a national level. Because catalytic converters become less effective over their 3-5 year lifespans, it is decided to hold new catalytic-equipped woodstoves to a lower emissions standard*. Wood furnaces, site-built masonry fireplaces and wood cookstoves are exempted from Federal EPA emissions requirements (a complete list of exempted appliances can be viewed on the EPA's website by clicking here).

July 1, 1988: The EPA's Phase I regulations go into effect. All woodstoves manufactured after this date must emit fewer than 8.5 grams of particulates per hour (5.5 grams/hr if catalytic equipped), and are to be exempted from local "burn bans". Existing inventories of non-approved woodstoves may continue to be sold until 1990.

July 1, 1990: All woodstoves sold at retail after this date must comply with Phase I emissions regulations.

July 1, 1990: Phase II regulations go into effect. All woodstoves manufactured after this date must comply with Phase II limits of 7.5 grams/hr (4.1 grams/hr if catalytic equipped). Existing inventories of Phase I approved woodstoves may continue to be sold until 1992.

July 1, 1992: All woodstoves sold at retail after this date must comply with Phase II emissions regulations.

1992-2000: EPA approved woodstove owners report a dramatic decrease in fuel usage. Chimney Sweeps notice a tremendous decrease in creosote formation in flues venting EPA approved stoves. As the number of homes being heated with "clean air" woodstoves increases, areas that had experienced numerous "burn ban" episodes each Winter due to wood smoke pollution back in the 1980's report no such incident days whatsoever.

July 1, 2000: Latest Revision of the Clean Air Act: in the spirit of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", Phase II woodstove emissions standards remain unchanged.

January 1, 2011: To encourage the changeout to clean-burning woodstoves, the IRS offers a tax rebate to consumers who purchase EPA approved models in 2011.

January 1, 2013: The IRS extends the tax rebate to include stoves purchased in 2012 and 2013.

As you can see, the EPA woodstove emissions legislation was never designed to outlaw woodburning. The intent was to cause a gradual changeout of the old 40-60 gram "smoke dragons" for the new, environmentally friendly models. And within a decade, the program proved to be an unqualified success: the EPA estimates that these higher efficiency woodstoves save the nation $29 million annually by reducing wood use and the need for chimney cleanings.

The Future: EPA air quality studies continue, and woodstove design engineers just can't seem to stop tweaking their reburn designs, so it is possible the EPA will introduce even stricter woodstove emissions regulations, perhaps modeled after Washington State's limit of 4.5 grams/hr (2.5 grams if catalytic equipped). Even if the 4.5 gram standard goes nationwide before your husband finally lays his fears aside and gets a woodstove, tell him not to worry, he'll still have a good selection to choose from: all the woodstoves and wood-burning inserts we sell already burn clean enough to pass even a 4.5 gram standard.

To read the actual text of the wood stove emissions regulations on the EPA's website, click here.

To read about the EPA grams/hour emissions rating system, click here.

To view the EPA's list of wood stoves that have passed emissions regulations, click here.

*To read about other differences between catalytic and non-catalytic woodstoves, click here.

To read about our own real-world test of the new clean-burning technology, click here.

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Q: I visited the EPA's approved woodstoves list, and just for grins, looked up my old Kent Sherwood. Lo and behold, it's on the list, with a score of 8.1 grams/hr. You say the standard for non-catalytic stoves is 7.5 grams/hr: if that's the case, howcum my stove is listed?

Sweepy EPA regs allow installation of used stoves which passed the 1988 "Phase I" standard of 8.5 grams/hr. To enable local code inspectors to determine if a new install of a used stove is legal, all models that passed Phase I testing remain on the EPA's list. For example, let's say you decide to sell your Sherwood to your neighbor, who takes out a permit to install it in his house. When final inspection day rolls around, the code authority simply has to verify that a) the stove is used, and b) it is on the EPA approved list, and he can sign off on the installation, even though the Sherwood, at 8.1 grams/hr, doesn't meet today's Phase II standards.

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Q: First off this country was BUILT by THE PEOPLE, not by the EPA. Second off if it wasn't for crackpot backyard inventors from way back you wouldn't be hosting a website or talking on phones, third if the EPA wants to help out and pay about a $1000 on the new fireplace inserts people probably wouldn't be trying to make them anyway, and fourth and probably most important people work they lives away to make it in this world and i personally thing there are to many people running around trying to run others lives anymore. Can't burn a fire to stay warm cause it will hurt mother earth, please there is actual Factual prove that the damage done to the environment is not even being done by us and that we aren't the cause for global climate change, only a lot of crocked people trying to twist scientific facts to make a LOT of money, especially when you consider the carbon trading game that generates millions of dollars in revenue that i would bet isn't being spent on planting trees or saving polar bears. So while you maybe happy jumping on the band wagon with the rest of the ECO er' um.. people. I'll stay happily planted in the fact that we are supposed to be a free country and i don't need the slowly growing communist movement in the USA to tell me what i can or can't do. Good day to you and seriously hope you think about how you take your stance on things more, before you begin shooting down others stances.

Sweepy My Dad had a phrase for people with your attitude: he called it "willful ignorance."

The first fact you're ignoring: the EPA woodstove emissions regulations have nothing whatsoever to do with global warming. They're about breathing (or not breathing) your neighbor's wood smoke. If you lived in an area that is subject to air inversion episodes like I do, you'd appreciate the difference between the eye-stinging 40-60 grams of unburned particles the old non-EPA stoves belched out every hour, and the hint of wood smoke aroma produced by EPA approved stoves.

The second fact you're ignoring: the EPA, in conjunction with the IRS, has been offering a tax credit on the purchase of new EPA-approved woodstoves for SEVERAL YEARS NOW. Read more here.

As to your closing comment, " I'll stay happily planted in the fact that we are supposed to be a free country and i don't need the slowly growing communist movement in the USA to tell me what i can or can't do," I'll simply say this: laws that protect the rest of us from the harmful actions of willfully ignorant people aren't communistic. As long as there are folks who go around abusing others with their excessive wood smoke or by any other means, such laws appear to be necessary.

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