Monday, October 7, 2013

Behind the Scenes Look at the Wood Stove Decathlon

The lead-up to most big events is full of planning, fundraising and trying to foresee the unexpected.  The cost for running the Wood Stove Decathlon alone is daunting: this event would cost north of $250,000 in hard expenses – not including salaries of staff – but the generosity of so many in and outside of the wood stove industry is bringing the hard costs down to about $100,000.  We will publish the complete budget, but we also wanted to describe what’s going on behind the scenes with the teams, testing, exhibits, VIPs and panels.

The DOE organizers of the Solar Decathlon warned us that the first time attempting to stage a competition like this is by far the hardest.  After all, as far as we know, the Decathlon is the first such wood stove competition since the time of Benjamin Franklin.  We don’t know yet if there will be a second Wood Stove Decathlon.  That depends in part on you and the feedback we get afterwards. (You will get a survey.)

Testing: At the core of the Wood Stove Decathlon is the testing of 13 very different wood stoves.  These stoves have been selected, from a pool of nearly 50 designs, as finalists of the Next Generation Wood Stove Design Challenge, a year-long, international competition.  The results of the testing will be publicly posted each day in the tent and on our website. 

One of the biggest strengths of the Decathlon has been the judges who have donated hundreds of hours of time to ensure that the rules and testing is accurate and fair. Testing is being done primarily by Tom Butcher and Rebecca Trojanowski from DOE Brookhaven National Lab (for more about the testing process, click here.)  The real challenge at the Decathlon will be testing so many stoves multiple times in a period of 5 days.  We cannot afford to miss a single day due to faulty equipment so we are going to have back-ups for key instruments.

Fair and accurate testing of the stoves’ particulate emissions is by far the most complex challenge of the Decathlon.  And, it would be the most expensive aspect of the Challenge if we had to pay market rates for it.  Fortunately, we do not.  The Judges will be using recently released equipment on loan from Wohler and Testo mobile particulate analyzers – developed by competing German companies – to test the stoves to exacting German standards.  Through a grant from NYSERDA, the Alliance for Green Heat is covering $25,000 in expenses by DOE Brookhaven National Lab to test and calibrate the particulate analyzers.  

Set up: For the organizers, the Decathlon will begin on Monday the 10th when the tent is set up on the National Mall.  The tent, generator, lighting, etc. is the biggest single expenditure at $36,000.  We are using Tents LLC for the majority of our logistical needs as they are a very experienced company who’ve often worked with the National Park Service and are very familiar with the extensive rules and regulations that come with hosting an event in the shadow of the Washington monument.  On Tuesday, the teams and their stoves will begin to arrive.  By Wednesday, all the stoves will have arrived.  The challenge here is installing 13 stoves in only 2 days, and ensuring that we have all the right equipment.  Even one trip to the hardware store will slow us down considerably.  The installation process would have been very expensive but for the generosity of ICC Chimney who is overseeing installation and donating all the chimney pipe.  Chimney Safety Institute of America trained chimney sweeps are generously donating the skilled labor to do the installations.  And, Hearth Classics is donating the hearth pads, a vital piece of every safe stove install.  Lastly, two cords of seasoned wood, donated by Chris Holmgren at Seneca Creek Joinery, will be delivered and stacked in a firewood room prior to testing.  

Fueling:  After much debate, the judges decided to use cord wood to test the stoves to best simulate their performance by consumers and to test using a cordwood testing protocol, which is currently not used by the EPA.  Ben Myren, who has run one of the EPA accredited wood stove test labs for decades is in charge of fueling and prepared a draft fueling protocol for the judges.  Ben is generously donating all of his time to be part of this unique and educational event.  The fueling protocol will undergo further testing at Brookhaven National Lab prior to the Decathlon.

Exhibit Area: There are about 15 exhibit spaces for companies and organizations to showcase innovative products, ideas and services.  This is not a trade show, and while exhibit space is being purchased, no sales, solicitations or any other commercial activity is allowed to take place at the event (per National Park Service Rules and Regulations).  You will see some very exciting new equipment, projects and components!

The Speaker Area: We are hosting 25 panel discussions on a wide range of issues related to innovative stove design, cutting edge policy discussions and education for homeowners.  The panels will be an hour in length, and begin around 10am and conclude around 4pm running from Saturday through Tuesday.  Speakers include partners, exhibitors, judges, teams and experts who will participate in panel discussions about topics such as the sustainability of biomass, the future of wood stove technology and innovation in stove design.  Weekend panels tend to be more general and designed for homeowners and consumers.  Panels on Monday and Tuesday are more specialized, and designed for a policy, industry and professional audience.

VIPs: We are extending invitations to Secretary level officials, some of whom have indicated an interest. One member of Congress has already accepted to speak at the Awards Ceremony and many more are considering it, and we are still getting our invitations out.  We are also reaching out to about a dozen Ambassadors from countries where wood heating is very popular. Please invite your member of Congress to attend.  You can get a sample letter and tips to contact your representatives here.

Education, Door Prizes, etc.: The entire Decathlon is about education, and we are fortunate to have Popular Mechanics as one of the founding partners of the Design Challenge.  They are hosting People’s Choice Award where you can vote for what you think is the most innovative design.  There will also be door prizes, quizzes to test your wood heat IQ, and hopefully even an appearance by Smokey the Bear, thanks to our partners at the US Forest Service.


  1. Will the governement shutdown affect these plans?

  2. No one thinks the shutdown is likely to go on that long. But we are looking into alternative sites on DC government property, just in case. So, regardless, the show will go on.