After the brutally cold winter we just experienced in Pocahontas County, nobody wants to hear about new wood stove regulations. But new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wood stove emissions standards take effect in May, and even higher standards will be phased in during a five-year period.
The American Lung Association and seven states filed a lawsuit against the EPA to force it to update 25-year-old standards, saying the agency’s failure to do so has caused the installation of thousands of new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and stoves each year that produce dangerous air pollution.
The new regulations tighten emissions standards for new residential wood heaters and establish standards for previously unregulated wood-fired boilers, indoor wood-burning forced air furnaces and pellet stoves. The regulations do not affect existing woodstoves, fireplaces, backyard fire containers or fire pits used by campers. Nor do they apply to wood-fired barbecues, smokers or pizza ovens.
Smoke from wood stoves contains fine particulates, along with other pollutants including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, black carbon, and benzene. In some areas, wood smoke can increase particle pollution to levels that pose serious health concerns. The EPA issued the new rules to reduce these types of air pollution from wood-burning stoves.
The new rules require manufacturers to build devices that burn 80 percent cleaner than current models. New wood stoves sold after January 1, 2016 must not emit more than 4.5 grams an hour of particulates and the standard becomes two grams an hour on May 15, 2020.
Two designs of woodstove have proven effective at reducing emissions. Catalytic woodstoves reburn the exhaust gases by causing the exhaust gases to come into contact with a catalytic converter element. Non-catalytic designs cause the exhaust gases to reburn in a secondary burn chamber located at the top of the firebox. Most new woodstoves with adjustable airflow controls already meet the 2016 standard.
Effects on consumers and users
The biggest effect that consumers will see in the short-term is that inexpensive, uncertified stoves (often made in China and sold for $300 to $600) will no longer be on the market after January 1, 2016. By 2020, prices for some wood stoves could increase by as much as $400, but some manufacturers have stated that their prices will not increase due to the new regulations. Most new pellet stoves already meet the 2020 standard.
Retailers have until the end of this year to sell all of their existing stock of woodstoves that do not meet the EPA emission standard. This summer and fall could be a great time to purchase a discounted new stove that must be sold before the end of the year.
The new emissions standards apply only to new stoves. The EPA is not forcing anyone to get rid of their old stoves and it will not be illegal to sell your second-hand stove in the future, even if it does not comply with the new EPA rule. The EPA has statutory authority given to it by Congress in the Clean Air Act of 1970 (under President Richard Nixon) to issue emission standards.
History of wood stove regulation
In 1988, the EPA placed emission standards on new wood-burning stoves, but did not issue standards for wood boilers or pellet stoves. EPA-approved stove owners reported a dramatic decrease in fuel usage and a decrease in creosote formation in flues. As the number of homes being heated with cleaner burning woodstoves increased, the number of burn bans in areas subject to smoke pollution decreased dramatically.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 11.5 million U.S. homes use wood for heat. The EPA estimates that 85,695 wood stoves will be manufactured and sold in 2015.