Thursday, April 8, 2010

Organic farmers and outdoor wood boilers: A Saga of Strange Bedfellows

Your browser may not support display of this image. Mother Earth News, the scrappy back to the land, grow-your own magazine has always attracted lefty folks who grow their own organic vegetables, build their own cabin or yurt and live off the grid. This is why so many of us love the magazine. But in recent years, Mother Earth News has become one of the favorite magazines for outdoor wood boilers manufacturers to hawk their wares. What gives?

In each issue of Mother Earth News you can find at least two full-page ads and a half dozen smaller ones. Curiously, almost all the advertisers are from exempt wood appliances, meaning they are the appliances that are not regulated by the EPA such as boilers and cook stoves and tend to be much more polluting. But by far, the main advertisers are the outdoor wood boiler companies. Central Boiler and Heatmor have full-page ads in every issue. Another regular advertiser claims the stove “burns over 15 different approved biomass fuels” including pallets and construction waste. Why do the most polluting wood appliance manufacturers advertise here and not the cleaner EPA certified producers? (The one exception is Woodstock Soapstone stoves that regularly advertise and are EPA certified.)

We’ve written to the editors of Mother Earth News several times arguing that taking such ads goes against their mission to promote "eco-friendly products, renewable energy, natural health and green building." The editors have been quite responsive and concerned but point to their advertising policy which clearly says that they do not “recommend, approve or endorse” advertised products, nor do they “evaluate the advertises claims in any way.” Still, even though most magazines and newspapers have similar policies, they have lines beyond which even they won’t cross and maintain full discretion to turn down advertisers that they feel cross their lines.

Some outdoor wood boilers manufacturers are starting to clean up their act by making EPA Phase 2 qualified units that are much, much cleaner. And some, if not most of the non Phase 2 pellet boilers, are quite clean burning. And, many people with traditional outdoor wood boilers are very conscientious about only burning dry wood and have not installed the boiler near any other homes. The problem is twofold: first the technology is designed to burn at low temperatures that create emissions; second, far too many owners burn household trash in them. (Someone should do a fair and honest study about how many people burn household trash or treated or painted wood in their outdoor boilers.)

Mother Earth News is one of the few more mainstream magazines that regularly covers wood heat issues, and its coverage is generally excellent. Not only do they have John Gulland, a noted expert on wood heat as a Contributing Editor, they have sought out other experts like Greg Pahl to write their longer articles on wood heat. We also understand that magazines such as Mother Earth News are often struggling and need every advertising dollar they can get. We hope that Mother Earth News keeps up the excellent and regular coverage of stoves, boilers, masonry stoves, etc. We also call on them to better educate their readers about the nature of outdoor wood boilers by addressing the topic in every wood heat article that they run. And the community of people who want to grow their own organic food and tread lightly on the earth needs to do their homework if the numerous advertisements by outdoor wood boiler companies peaks their interest.


  1. Check out the list of OWHH Outdoor Wood Hydronic Heaters (ie. Outdoor Wood Boilers) on the EPA website that have passed Phase 2 and are cleaner than your EPA approved fireplace insert or wood stove when comparing grams per million BTU output! Both Central Boiler and Heatmor on are on the list! So what is the basis of your complaint?

  2. Good entry, John.......
    However, at the end.......
    piqued my interest
    not peaked.......
    (yeah, I make a lot of mistakes in my writing also)