EPA releases proposed update to residential wood heater standards

By Anna Simet | January 03, 2014

The U.S. EPA has released its New Source Performance Standards proposal for new woodstoves and heaters, which go into effect in 2015.

EPA said the proposal, which marks the first time that the standards have been updated since 1988, will make the next generation of stoves and heaters an estimated 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today, affecting certain wood heaters manufactured beginning in 2015 and not affecting heaters and stoves already in use in homes or currently for sale today.

The agency’s proposal covers several types of new wood-fired heaters, including pellet stoves, which were not named in the previous standards, as well as wood stoves, fireplace inserts, indoor and outdoor wood boilers or hydronic heaters, forced air furnaces and masonry heaters.

Many residential wood heaters already meet the first set of proposed standards, according to EPA, which would be phased in over five years to allow manufacturers time to adapt emission control technologies to their particular model lines.  

John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat, said the proposed rule has few surprises.  "Virtually all the key numbers were included in draft proposed rules shared with industry, states and non-profits during 2013," he said. "It does reflect the much stricter numbers that the EPA developed after states and air quality agencies intervened. Previously, the EPA was considering 2.5 gram per hour (g/h) to be the strictest level. But last year, the EPA floated a 1.3 g/h for all pellet and wood stoves and that is the number that was released today." 

 As expected. the EPA is proposing the wood and pellet stoves initially meet a 4.5 g/h standard, and then meet a much stricter standard of 1.3 g/h five years after promulgation, Ackerly said. "Alternatively, the EPA proposes a three-step process of going to 2.5 g/h after three years and then 1.3 g/h after eight years."

 Similarly, EPA is proposing two options for furnaces and boilers, and Ackerly said the first would establish strict emission limits after five years, the second would have an intermediate step after three years, and then the stricter standard after eight years. "Initially, warm air furnaces would only be held to 0.93 lb/MMBtu, whereas hydronic heaters would be held to .32.  Ultimately, both would need to reach 0.06 lb/MMBtu either five or eight years after promulgation."

Acklery pointed out that both efficiency and CO would have to be recorded and reported, but no minimum standards are set for either, and that to avoid logjams in testing to the new standards, the EPA is proposing “to allow ISO-accredited laboratories and ISO-accredited certifying bodies to increase the availability of laboratories and certifiers. "

Ackerly said the AFGH thinks the proposed rule is reasonable and achievable, and will help move the sector forward. "It will be a challenge and require a lot of innovation, but that will help our industry stay competitive with Europe, instead of falling behind, as we have been," he said.

EPA will take comment on the proposal for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold a public hearing Feb. 26 in Boston, and expects to issue a final rule in 2015.

The 355-page document can be viewed here




10 Responses

  1. Bo Jangles



    Too bad that EPA listens to industry more the facts...I am critical of this proposal. After more than 25 years since the last NSPS for this sector (one the biggest sources of fine particulates, VOCs, carbon monoxide, dioxins/furans, etc), I think this rule should go farther to push innovation and competiveness with the Europeans. Section 111 of the Clean Air Act directs EPA to develop emission performance standards that reflect the level of emission reductions achievable using the “best system” that “has been adequately demonstrated." We've seen the European technology totally trump the dirty US designs that have been unregulated for decades. However, for decades, my great state of Washington has a law on the books for solid fuel burning devices that has pushed wood stoves to be cleaner, and that effectively disallows any hydronic heaters unless they could meet the same standard for wood stoves. This proposal fails citizens by just adopting the current status quo of the industry. Anyone see the disconnect in that USEPA has tightened air quality standards for fine particulates, carbon monoxide & ozone (VOCs are precursors for formation) to SAVE LIVES yet this proposal initially adopts the dirty status quo? Let's not forget the climate change angle that trees sequester carbon dioxide & burning them inefficiently also releases black carbon, a climate forcing agent & glacier melter. If your making the argument that people need to heat their homes & can't afford costly equipment & fuels, I say raise the damn minimum wage, it is long overdue too. The costs of asthma, heart attacks & COPD is pretty high too! Health effects of wood smoke are the same as cigarette smoke. Seriously, EPA should at least implement European emission standards (that have been in place there for 30 years). The biomass industry knew this proposal was coming, if companies weren't gearing up for it, then they lose. I can't honestly believe there is no carbon monoxide emission limit. Some of these devices have CO emissions that are orders of magnitude higher than what has been allowed in residential oil/gas furnaces/boilers since the 1970s. I'd really hate to see someone die like my uncle did because of an exhaust leak. The emission limits should be pushed to be a close to these fuels as possible, otherwise we are stepping backwards. One last point, testing should be done by U/L laboratories (truly independent) & require fuels & techniques that mimick real-world operation. Who the heck burns kiln-dried crib wood in their boilers? Buyers should have accurate and reality based information, not biased toward clean-burning. Is there any way the standard can require proper sizing & thermal storage for hydronic systems? I know it is an emission standard, but in the real-world, these considerations are critical for reducing emissions & increasing efficiencies. Let the trolls come out of the wood-work! I stand by my facts & love my state of Washington where we take wood smoke seriously.

  2. J. Donnelly



    October of 2004 I started asking Janet McCabe then of IDEM for help from the smoke coming at us from a neighbors OWB. We are still asking her for help. Is the EPA inept or on the take I for the life of me cannot comprehend why they have sat back and watched this issue grow. In 1998 they paid for a study that proved that OWB's pollute and are inefficient. Here we are years later with the OWB's or Hydronic Heater Industry running the EPA. Gil Wood of the USEPA has spent more time at Patio and Hearth conventions then shutting down polluting OWB's, we wonder why. Could the EPA be the right arm of the mean spirited Republican party, it looks like their type of attitude on an issue. Too bad suck it up and shut up.

  3. John



    Bo Jangles. You are a troll - an energy expansionist fraud, touting social marketing techniques to drive the naive poor me affected group thinker into believing that electricity - grid based/ natural gas utility demand increases are the way to no more deaths from pollution. You don't hold facts. You hold energy sponsored comparisons, estimates and links that to date have no toxicological conclusions to back them up. Wood smoke is not coal smoke, is not comparative to the London smog incident, is not confirmed as a harm to human health! Nevertheless, technology is available to reduce the non-toxic irritants with cheap, retrofit equipment. Piss off.

  4. ResearchGirl



    7 States have sued EPA for its failure to provide updates to the New Source Performance Standards for residential wood appliances since 1988. Required every 8 years to do updates and EPA ignored. Wood Boilers have become a nightmare across the country. The NSPS will sadly not deal w/this existing pollution. States are stuck w/the clean up. EPA advance of the Voluntary wood boiler Program further misled States. Kiln dried red oak used for testing. Under reporting of emissions. Here is link to good article on the mess: EPA now advancing the bogus Voluntary Program Phase II as a standard. That seems a disgrace. How are we to believe they will use real test methods and will they hold boilers to same emissions as stoves and if not why not? To understand the boiler nightmare consider these stats: NY Dept. of Health found emissions of over 200 ug/m3. NAAQS are 12 ug/m3. Deadly. DOH report found emissions 187% higher than background levels. If EPA has held stoves to 4.1 g/hr since 1980s how can they ignore boilers sold w/emissions over 145 g/hr. It is criminal. Asthma now cost U.S. $56 billion per year. Asthma is triggered by PM 2.5. Wood smoke is filled w/PM 2.5 from these boilers. Shame on industry and shame on EPA. Best Industry practices are currently European models. EPA needs to look to those as the Notice of Intent to Sue EPA by the 7 States indicated. The HPBA has to realize that backing wood boilers is shooting the whole industry in the foot.

  5. Bo Jangles



    Yeah - me the energy expansionist - with my modest-sized, well-insulated home, hybrid car, pellet stove (a fantastic device, but I store my pellets outside due to poss. carbon monoxide), solar thermal & photovoltaic systems @John, you shouldn't judge people you don't know. I have ample facts on my side- you can get them too! Here is a good start:

  6. Vic Steblin



    There are many types of carbon, from coal and diamonds to wood. The study of carbon chemistry even explains life as we know it. The complex cells that make up wood means that any pollution will also be complex. We are told that the highest grade coal, anthracite, produces the most heat with the least pollution. We are told that lignite, just a step up from peat and rotting wood, is very polluting. Often sulfur contaminates coal, which comes from the original wood or rotting processes. And then wood, all of a sudden, when dry enough, is supposedly clean, green, safe, cheap, and sustainable. Wood is just the beginning of a complex natural process all the way from soil to coal. As wood rots it slowly releases complex chemicals. But burning the wood speeds up the process and shows little respect for nature, clean air and other people nearby. Burning wood is silly in many complex ways. Think of wood as very dirty coal. We have fossil fuel coal today because the dinosaurs never figured out how to burn wood. And we should acknowledge that burning wood shows little respect for clean air.

  7. Vic Steblin



    The social sciences are about people cooperating and there are many social principles that apply to wood burning in crowded areas. The Tragedy of the Commons, Precautionary, Polluter Pays, Golden and Silver Rules, Human Rights, are a few of the more common social principles. In a previous letter I touched on the Tragedy of the Commons which is the problem of too many wood burners using up limited air resources in crowded areas. In this letter I will deal with the Precautionary Principle, otherwise known as “Better to Prevent than Cure”, “A Stitch in Time”, or “Safety comes First”. The Precautionary Principle started in the 1960s when thalidomide scared governments into limiting toxic chemicals. Thalidomide was a sedative drug prescribed for pregnant women to cure morning sickness. It was soon found to cause birth defects and labelled a teratogen. An amusing story about thalidomide involved a US scientist who claimed that the effect of thalidomide in Europe could be very different than its effect in the US. This sounds silly to us now, but the same idea is used by researchers who examine the response of different people to various allergens. Obviously not everyone is affected in the same way by substances like cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or wood smoke. In fact, the cavemen days probably weeded out most of the people who were ultra sensitive to wood smoke. Currently, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in the US produces the Report on Carcinogens (RoC) every two years, and the year 2012 features the latest edition, at . The report lists about 300 studied carcinogens out of the many thousands of chemicals that humans have so far produced. Some interesting pages are the ones on alcohol (p34), diesel exhaust (p153), PAHs (p353), soot (p379), tobacco (p408), smokeless tobacco (p412), and wood dust (p442). The whole idea behind listing and examining toxic carcinogens is to “err on the safe side” and thus prevent needless suffering. This is the Precautionary Principle. In light of the Precautionary Principle I find it strange that wood smoke is not listed yet, since smokeless tobacco is to tobacco smoke just like wood dust is to wood smoke. Smokeless tobacco, tobacco and wood dust are all listed and described as carcinogens, but wood smoke is not listed. The site says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the cancer risk from wood smoke to be 12 times greater than an equal amount of tobacco smoke. Why is wood smoke not listed in the RoC? Wood smoke is one of the oldest human produced toxic chemicals. Maybe wood smoke is considered natural because of forest fires. Maybe wood smoke is too widespread and entrenched in history. Maybe there are still too many wood burners on the NTP committees. Wood smoke is not harmless and its effect depends on location and dose in crowded areas. Many wood burners insist that the wood smoke issue was resolved in their favour long ago. In my opinion, this issue will not be decently resolved until politicians either enforce bylaws better or totally ban wood smoke in city limits. Banning wood smoke will be a hard sell for those who insist on “dying with a wood poker in hand”. Maybe the next generation will have the sense to leave the cavemen days behind and embrace best modern heating practices.

  8. Vic Steblin



    Many wood burners claim that heating a home with wood is clean, green, safe and cheap. I disagree with all these claims. First, the clean claim. Scientific studies show that wood smoke has many dangerous types of particles. This should be as obvious as comparing complex wood smoke to simpler natural gas exhaust. Even the best EPA approved system with all the modern technological advances cannot match the liquid or gas fuels. The best “clean” is to wear layers of clothes in a colder house. Second, the green claim. Green usually means sustainable, which works if the resource does not get overwhelmed. Sustainable is fine for rural areas or where trees vastly outnumber people. With more than 7 billion people on Earth, burning trees is clearly not a sustainable practice. Recent studies also show that the black carbon particles from smoke substantially add to the warming effect when the polar ice absorbs more solar heat. True environmentalists should NOT be burning wood. Third, the safe claim. Since forest fire smoke is dangerous why would wood stove smoke be all that different? The claim that wood smoke is safe is disproved by epidemiological studies and the simple observation that people avoid campfire smoke. Finally, the cheap claim. A modern wood stove with the latest pollution reduction equipment is not cheap. The supporting equipment like shed, truck, saw, splitter, moisture meter and safety barriers are not needed with clean systems. When the health effects of lots of wood smoke in an area are included in taxpayer costs, wood burning is off the chart. Creosote fires and house insurance associated with wood stoves exceed cleaner systems. Burning wood just transfers true costs to taxpayers. In summary, wood burning is not clean, green, safe or cheap. Considerate people butt with this outdated practice in crowded areas. Officials should ban wood burning when natural gas is available.

  9. Vic Steblin



    The first Wood Stove Decathlon (WSD) took place November 16 – 19, 2013 on the National Mall in Washington DC. It was sponsored by the Alliance for Green Heat and the Popular Mechanics Magazine. The WSD challenged teams to design and build wood stoves that are low-emission, high efficiency, innovative and affordable. Congratulations to the organizing team for lining up 14 finalist stove teams, 10 qualified judges and about 75 speakers/panelists over 4 days of presentations. The 10 judges have outstanding qualifications in renewable technologies, environmental research, sustainability, air resources, clean energy, global environmental health, etc. Stoves are judged on the five categories of innovation, market appeal, affordability, emissions and efficiency. There is much care about promoting and improving wood stoves. Sponsors and exhibitors have booths promoting the latest innovations like Wi-Fi connections, oxygen sensors, catalytic products, embedded control technology, mechatronic subsystems, thermoelectric generators, programmable smart features, smart stove technology, biomass controllers, smart cables, frequency drives, variable speed blowers, augers, digital/analog sensors, moisture meters, etc. It all seems so impressive. Wood burning has joined the modern world. There are Intelligent Heat Systems (IHS) that are computer controlled and have lambda oxygen sensors, thermocouples and remote monitors. Yet to me all this is like fine-tuning the stagecoach when we can drive modern cars. Why all this expertise? Why all this work to promote something that should be as long gone as the steam locomotive, icebox or outhouse? Makes little sense to me.

  10. Steve



    Typical of our Federal Government, On one hand the department of Energy promotes an all the above energy policy, while on the other hand the EPA does it's dead level best to raise the cost of energy for everyone by their draconian rules. The fact of the matter is ALL energy pollutes! Even solar and wind. (you don't think the materials they make those solar panels out of are clean do you (If so go grind one up and feed it to your kids) Whether you are polluting our nations aquifers by fracking for natural gas or producing nuclear energy, there is ALWAYS pollution involved. That does not curb our insatiable demand for energy though. It is this misguided attempt by environmentalists to force one type of energy production over another. Often being promoted by the very industry that stands to gain the most from the new rules set forth by the EPA. It is kinda like landfills, every city needs one but no city resident wants the landfill located next to them.


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