Monday, March 11, 2013

Outdoor boilers cleaner than wood stoves, boiler lobby tells Utah legislators

Legislators move to overturn outdoor boiler regulations

In a heated fight over whether outdoor boilers should be allowed in areas of Utah with poor air quality, the outdoor boiler lobby is trying to sway lawmakers with data that purports to show that boilers are cleaner than wood stoves.

However, the opposite is usually true.  Wood stoves tend to be far, far cleaner than conventional outdoor wood boilers.  Data provided by Central Boiler was deliberately misleading, and was dismissed by experts.

(Update: The outdoor wood boiler lobby was not successful and in March 2013 Utah passed regulations that restrict what types can be installed in Utah.)

The lead Utah resident pushing for regulations that would allow outdoor boilers, Daniel Leavitt, represented himself as a concerned citizen to the Utah Air Quality Board, and the Utah paper refers to him as a resident who operates his outdoor wood boiler to heat his home. But what the paper didn't mention is that Leavitt is also a prominent Utah lawyer specializing in government relations and the brother of the former Governor of Utah. In addition, Leavitt was being paid by Central Boiler, the boiler manufacturer leading the campaign.

In February, Utah adopted regulations that allowed the installation of Phase 2 outdoor boilers in most of the state but banned them in populated areas that do not meet federal air quality attainment standards. Central Boiler had fought against the regulations but were ultimately unsuccessful. 

After the regulations were promulgated, the boiler manufacturer took its case to the legislature. On March 7, a near unanimous legislative committee sided with Central Boiler. They approved HB394, which “prohibits the Air Quality Board from regulating the sale, installation, replacement, or operation of an outdoor wood  boiler differently than other solid fuel burning
 devices.” Om March 11, the bill was passed by the Utah House and moved to the Senate.

Central Boiler submitted comments arguing that Phase 2 outdoor boilers “are cleaner than EPA certified wood stoves.” David Leavitt, the "concerned citizen" hired by Central Boiler, is also carrying that message. "These outdoor wood boilers are vastly more efficient than burning anything indoors," he told the Deseret News.  

“Utah legislators should understand that even the best wood stoves and wood boilers are only as clean as the wood that is loaded in them,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat, a independent non-profit promoting cleaner and more efficient wood heating. Outdoor wood boilers have fireboxes usually ranging from 14-60 cubic feet while a wood stove firebox is 2-3 cubic feet.
"Outdoor boilers are often loaded with large, unseasoned and unsplit logs and trash, unlike stoves. This is a key reason that states regulate outdoor wood boilers and not stoves. Central Boiler advertisements showing efficiencies in the 90s are based on calculations that have been repudiated by the EPA," Ackerly added.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said the objections that that Central Boiler and Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) had with the regulations were “similar” and publicly responded to them. Privately, some people say the positions of Central Boiler and HPBA had key differences but the public record does not reveal what they were.  

According to the Utah DEQ, the issues raised by Central Boiler and HPBA included:
  • DEQ appears to place greater weight to various out-of-state agencies and others who are generally skeptical towards the emissions reduction results achieved under the US EPA hydronic heater program.
  • DEQ has not provided scientific data or other rationale supporting what types of outdoor wood boilers were allowed under the rule.
  • DAQ has not published any data showing that outdoor furnaces currently make impacts within the nonattainment and maintenance areas or that they will contribute to the exceedance of the NAAQS.
  • The 1000 ft. setback from schools is not necessary based on modeling conducted by the State of New York.
In response to the first proposed regulations, Central Boiler argued that the “rule lacks scientific support and would unfairly prohibit Utah residents from purchasing and using clean-burning wood furnaces.” A main thrust of Central Boilers argument is that Phase 2 boilers “are cleaner than EPA certified wood stoves.” Specifically they claim that “average emissions for a Phase 2 OHH are 77% less than those from EPA-Certified woodstoves.” The full submission by Central Boiler can be found here.

"These outdoor wood boilers are vastly more efficient than burning anything indoors," Levitt said.

In response to repeated misleading advertising practices, the EPA sent letters to outdoor boiler manufacturers requesting them to desist from certain claims and statements.  

The EPA listed actual efficiencies of Phase 2 outdoor wood boilers at 39 to 78% efficient in 2013 with an average of 63%.  In 2016, after all boilers were required to meet EPA emission and safety regulations, efficiencies rose to an average of 74% and a top rated unit at 82% efficiency. As of November 2017, many units are above 85% efficiency and the highest at 90% efficiency.

Update, 3/13/13: The Alliance for Green Heat is organizing a sign-on letter to the Utah Legislature urging them to not vote for the Senate bill without at least a full hearing. Click here for more details. 


  1. Check out the recent NYSERDA boiler study.

    They simulated the actual heat demand of an average 2500 sq.ft house in Rochester in January.

    The EPA Phase II boiler had an overall efficiency of 30% (!!). The manufacturer rates the efficiency at 75%.

    Particulate (PM) emissions were 1.5 lbs/day. By comparison, we have field tested masonry heaters with slightly lower output, and the PM emissions are 0.1 lb/day, or 15 times less. Actual field tested efficiency is 75%, two and a half times more heat per stick of wood than the tested Phase II boiler.

    "Phase II outdoor boilers are cleaner than EPA stoves" (says the paid lobbyist). Yeah, right.

    Norbert Senf

  2. Is Central Boiler using flawed EPA Phase II testing to make their case? Are there means for accurately comparing the emissions from wood stoves and OWB given that the test methods are different? While Central Boiler may have a legal angle on Utah DEQ, claims they make in defense of their product lack scruples. I wish Central would take a different approach. Spreading misinformation and half truths stigmatizes the entire wood heating industry.

    1. " Are there means for accurately comparing the emissions from wood stoves and OWB given that the test methods are different?"

      Yes, in-home field testing. NYSERDA's boiler tests are very close to this. The masonry heater data quoted was also under field test conditions, and there have been field studies done for EPA stoves.

      For boilers, the NYSERDA study provides 4 data points (4 different boiler technologies). More data points would be better. Laboratory testing is often tweaked to favor the manufacturers, even more so in Europe than in the U.S.


  3. Please Please Please! Legislators of Utah. Do not listen to the falsehoods being told to you by the good folks from CB. They know the real facts about their product. They know they can make it look pretty decent in a test (provided they have a hand in skewing the protocol their way) They also know that once in the field it performs rather toward the dismal side of the spectrum.
    Rather than banning this or that wood burner, why not take a positive approach and help make it financially advantageous for an end user to purchase a good indoor downdrafter or pellet boiler. Put a $2,000 per unit tax on all OWB's HHWB's or whatever you call them and use that as an incentive for people who buy good, clean products.

    1. I don't get it - every wood gasification boiler I've seen (primarily CB's) are very clean. You're supposed to use seasoned wood, anyone that owns one will have been told that, and it's in their best interests to do so.