Monday, March 16, 2015

What Consumers Need to Know about New EPA Wood Stove Rules

In the long lead-up to the EPA's new rules on wood and pellet stoves and boilers, there have been many claims, predictions and fears.  Here is a summary of the key points in the rule that will impact you, the consumer.

The rule becomes law on Friday, May 15, 2015 but don't expect to see many, if any, changes in your local hearth store until Jan. 1, 2016.   Scroll to the bottom to see a timeline of implementation. This rule is an NSPS - a New Source Performance Standard  - established by the EPA with input from industry, states and other stakeholders.

Wood stoves: Consumers will barely notice any change until 2020.  As of 2016, stoves must not emit more than 4.5 grams an hour of particulates and after May 15, 2020, 2 grams an hour.  The biggest near term change is that the really cheap, uncertified stoves will no longer be on the market after Jan. 1, 2016.  (These stoves, often made in China, sold for $300 - $600.)

Pellet stoves: Consumers will not notice much change here either.  As of Jan. 1, 2016 all pellet stoves will have to be certified by the EPA.  Some models are also likely to get more efficient.  In 2020, pellet stoves also have to emit no more than 2 grams an hour.  Most pellet stoves already meet the 2020 standard.

Prices: There should be no short term price rises, but in the longer term some manufacturers say their stove prices may go up $300 - $400 in 2020.  Others say their prices won’t rise at all.

Retail “sell-through” period: Retailers have until Dec. 31, 2015 to sell existing stock.  Many retailers don’t carry anything that can’t be sold under the new rules anyway. Beware of sales this summer and fall that are trying to unload inefficient stoves and boilers before its unlawful to sell them.

Existing and second hand stoves: Existing stoves are not impacted by these rules, nor is the vibrant second hand market for wood stoves. States can regulate existing and uncertified stoves and Washington and Oregon do not allow anyone to install an uncertified stove off the second hand market.  All states allow consumers to purchase and install second hand certified stoves. (How to buy a second-hand EPA certified stove.)

Corn, coal and multi-fuel stoves: Corn and coal stoves are not covered by EPA rules and can continue to be sold without any government emission regulation, so long as they don't advertise that they can also use wood or pellets. It is unclear if multi-fuel stoves will still be allowed.  Certified stoves can only be advertised for the fuel that they are tested with, and there is not yet a test method for corn or coal. (More on corn stoves.)

Misleading advertising: Most manufacturers have posted unverified and exaggerated efficiency claims on their brochures and websites.  The new rules specify how stove efficiency is to be tested and reported, and companies may start posting verified efficiencies by May 15, 2015. It is unknown if the EPA will crack down on the rampant exaggerated and misleading efficiency claims.  Blaze King and Seraph are only companies that provide verified, accurate efficiency numbers of all their stoves to consumers and the EPA.  Beware of any stove that advertises over 83% efficiency.  

Efficiency: There is no minimum efficiency standard, but the new rule requires efficiency testing and reporting.  To date, most companies have treated verified efficiency as confidential records. Some companies are beginning to voluntarily disclose a few efficiency numbers.

New hangtags: The EPA is getting rid of the old hang tags that consumers were accustomed to on the showroom floor.  Instead, they are issuing special, voluntary hang tags only for those stoves and boilers that already meet the stricter Step 2 standards (2 grams and hour) or that have been designed and tested with cord wood. This will help consumers more easily identify the cleaner stoves and those that are designed to be used with cordwood - the same type of fuel that consumers use.  (Currently, all stoves are tested with 2x4s and 4x4s, which burn very differently than cord wood.)

Carbon monoxide (CO): The new rules do not limit the amount of CO that can be emitted but require that it be tested and reported. As with efficiency, it is still unclear if CO levels from existing stoves will be available before 2020.

Stoves tested with cordwood: The rules set up an alternative, voluntary compliance option for Step 2 emission levels of 2.5 grams an hour for stoves tested with cord wood.  This recognizes leaders in the industry who are optimizing their stoves for using cord wood and encourages other manufacturers to follow their example.

Pellet fuel: All new pellet stoves must be tested and warrantied to use with pellets that are certified by a third party entity - either PFI, ENplus or CANplus. Consumers will see more and more pellets certified by one of these entities, which means they meet certain quality and consistency standards.



Export stoves: US manufacturers can continue to make and sell their existing stoves that do not meet the new EPA standards in other countries.  Uncertified stoves with no emission controls or testing can be sold in most of the world.  US stove companies are also increasingly exporting to countries that have emission standards, like Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. These stoves have to be labeled as an “export stove. May not be sold or operated within the United States.” 

Masonry Heaters: The EPA did not set emission standards for masonry heaters in this rule, but asked the Masonry Heater Association to further develop a testing standard so that they could be included in the next NSPS, which should be in 2023.

Fireplaces: The new rules do not apply to fireplaces, but there is a voluntary method for cleaner fireplaces to be tested and qualified by the EPA.  This rule does not even refer to the voluntary program, which may mean there is little interest in including fireplaces in the next NSPS.

Owners manuals: Owners manuals will be updated as of May 15, 2015.  Updated manuals will have more detail and must instruct operators how to get optimal performance from the stove or boiler.

Litigation: The deadline to file suit over this rule is May 15, 2015.  The main stove and boiler industry association, the HPBA, has indicated it will be filing suit, probably over the cost effectiveness of the 2020 emission standards.  Air quality or environmental groups may also sue, claiming the new standards are too lax. Our legal experts say that a suit from either side would be difficult to win.


Role of states: Several states have passed resolutions barring state agencies from enforcing this NSPS but the rule clearly states that it does “not impose any requirements on state and local governments.”  States can be involved in implementation but in the past, very few have been.  To date, Missouri, Michigan and Virginia have passed laws barring state enforcement.


Boilers & Furnaces

Boilers: Like stoves, boilers must meet Step 1 emission limits by May 15.  Retailers can still sell older, uncertified and unqualified boilers through Dec. 31, 2015.  In 2020, they must meet stricter emission limits.  Due to a schism between domestic boiler manufacturers and those importing more advanced European technology, most test labs are not willing to test the imported units.  There in still uncertainty about how one boiler test method, EN3030-5, is treated under the new rule.  

Warm air furnaces: Furnaces that heat air, instead of water, got a reprieve from the EPA after intensive advocacy by industry and pressure from Congress.  Small ones have to meet Step 1 emission standards by May 15, 2016 and large ones not until May 15, 2017.

Boiler and furnace prices: Unlike stoves, options for consumers will change more, since the boiler furnace industry had not been regulated and many low-cost, low-efficiency units were on the market.  Prices - and efficiencies- are likely to rise significantly but operating costs will be significantly lower.

Moisture meters: Conventional uncertified forced air furnaces and then certified ones must come with a free moisture meter.  (Some advocates had urged all stoves to come with moisture meters.)

Comments? If you think we have omitted important information in the NSPS for consumers, please let us know at  info@forgreenheat.org.