Monday, June 30, 2014

Pellet Stoves are hot commodity in Maryland rebate program

Alliance for Green Heat - A Maryland program that provides rebates for select pellet stoves and EPA certified wood stoves has been an overwhelming success for pellet stoves.  Of the 773 rebates given since the program started in September 2012, 646 or 83% of them have been for pellet stoves.

To date, the Maryland program has provided nearly $400,000 in rebate grants for pellet stoves and $67,000 for wood stoves.  The program is only open to families who heat with oil, propane or electricity in order to target those who have highest heating costs and the most carbon intensive fuels.

 The wood and pellet stove grant program is quickly catching up with the Maryland solar and geothermal grant programs, with 28% of all grants going to wood and pellet stoves and nearly 15% of total funding. The rebates range from $500 for wood stoves and solar hot water to $3,000 for geothermal.  All of the programs are designed and managed by the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) with input from stakeholders and funded from Strategic Energy Investment Fund (SEIF), part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

“These results show that rebates for pellet stoves can help a state meet residential carbon and electricity reduction goals,” said John Ackerly, the President of the Alliance for Green Heat and one of the advocates for this program.  “Per dollar of state funds invested, this has enabled Maryland to help many more families reduce energy costs and drastically reduce their fossil fuel use,” Ackerly added.

The greater interest in pellet stoves is result of a combination of factors, including people using the rebate to upgrade from an old, uncertified wood stove to a pellet stove, a higher rebate amount for pellet stoves and not as many wood stoves qualifying for the program’s 3-gram per hour emission requirement.  Pellet stoves are held to 2-gram an hour emission limit.

Another factor is that pellet stoves are simply becoming more popular in Maryland as they are nationally. The state has one of the premier pellet stove dealers in the nation and a full 58% of the 79 wood and pellet stove grants listed one month were being handled by that dealer, Courtland Hearth & Hardware, that has 3 stores in northeast Maryland.
On a per capita basis, the rebate program has been most popular in Harford County and Maryland’s rural eastern shore, a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic that has very little natural gas penetration.  On a numerical basis, the most rebates are in Harford, Anne Arundel and Baltimore County, more heavily populated counties that also have higher median household incomes and can better afford the up front costs of purchasing and installing a stove.  Garrett County, one of Maryland’s counties with the lowest average household income and the highest rate of wood heating, had very few participants in the rebate program and they were only one of two counties that favored wood over pellet stoves.
In Maryland, the western counties and the Eastern shore have the lowest average household incomes and the center, which is part of the Washington, Baltimore,  Philadelphia corridor are the wealthiest, with the exception of inner city Baltimore. This corridor also has very high rates of national gas penetration. 

Unlike many programs in other states and areas, where wood smoke is a worse problem, the Maryland program does not require the homeowner to turn in an old uncertified stove to qualify for a rebate.  Nevertheless, according to several stove retailers, between 50% and 75% of old uncertified stoves are removed and recycled anyway. Recyclers usually pay $25 - $40 for old wood stoves.  This indicates that a rebate program that requires professional installation can be an inexpensive way to remove old wood stoves from the airshed compared to many change out programs, which tend to be more expensive.

The $500 - $700 rebate from the state helps Maryland achieve several objectives.  Other than helping people replace or significantly reduce fossil heating fuel, it also steers people to pellet stoves instead of wood ones and leads consumers to buy a cleaner stove and ensures that it is professionally installed and/or inspected, depending on permit and inspection requirements of the county.  Without the rebate, it is more likely that more consumers may buy off the second hand market, or buy higher emitting wood or pellet stove, or hang on to an older stove for longer.

From a carbon perspective, incenting the purchase of wood and pellet stoves can be a very good investment as a wood or pellet stove is often about 10% of the cost of solar or geothermal and can displace about the same amount of fossil fuel as the typical solar or geothermal installation.  Pellet stovesGenerally, pellet stoves are more likely to be a primary or sole heat source for a home because they can be easily run 24/7.  

From an emissions perspective, pellet stoves are clearly better than wood because the fuel size is small, it has consistent low moisture content and is fed into a more controlled combustion chamber. By limiting the rebate to homes that heat with electricity, oil or propane, the program effectively limits the vast majority of participants to rural areas, where stove emissions are not as problematic. 

Nationally, wood stoves have always outsold pellet stoves, but pellet stoves have twice come close to selling more than wood stoves annually.  Over the five years preceding 2013, manufacturers shipped an average of 90,000 pellet stoves per year versus 137,000 wood stoves, according to data from the industry association, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA).

Sampling of data from applications:

The MEA provided the Alliance for Green Heat with a sampling of data from 110 applications.  This data helps the MEA and other stakeholders understand which fossil fuels are being offset, what applicants do with old wood stoves and other metrics that can help assess the strengths and weaknesses of the program.  It appears that the fossil fuel most commonly displaced was electricity, which was twice as common as oil and propane.  It is unclear if electric heating means electric resistance heat or a heat pump and that has a large bearing on the amount of electricity reduced.  Many Marylanders have older, inefficient heat pumps that work poorly in very cold temperatures. 

The application does not ask if the person intended the new stove to be a primary or secondary heat source or whether an old wood or pellet stove being replaced was a primary or secondary heat source.  That will be one of the recommendations the Alliance makes to the MEA about future data collection to provide better metrics for the program.

Of the 110 applications, 33 of the households already had an older stove.  What is surprising is that   Pellet stoves have many moving parts and are not as durable as wood stoves and often need to be replaced every 10 – 15 years.  Of the 33 households with existing stoves, nearly 60% had their old one recycled or otherwise disposed of.  Six of them, or 18%, sold them on the second hand market, including a few old pellet stoves.  And 3 people kept their old wood stove installed as an emergency back-up heat for their new pellet stove.  Nearly half of these households already had a pellet stove and wanted to upgrade to a newer pellet stove.

This analysis is based on much more data but continues the trends that were noted in a similar analysis in February of 2013 after the pilot phase of the program.  During the pilot phase, rebates were $400 for wood stoves and $600 for pellet stoves.  

More info:
Maryland wood and pellet stove program details and application
Other Maryland renewable energy programs
Background on how the program began
Common questions and answers about the program

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Australia Firewood Association Scores Win for Wood Heating

A green building standard in Australia has assigned very low carbon values for wood and pellet heating, which will encourage builders and architects to specify wood heating, because it is now a cost effective means of achieving points toward the green building. The standard, called BASIX stands for the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) and aims to deliver equitable, effective water and greenhouse gas reductions across the state. BASIX is one of the strongest sustainable planning measures to be undertaken in Australia.  The US equivalent is LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and overseen by the US Green Building Council, which is also grappling with how to assign points to wood and pellet heating systems in LEED certified homes and buildings.

From the Firewood Association of Australia – This relates to New South Wales (NSW) building regulations, but the science behind it applies everywhere, wherever there are restrictions on using wood fires, or campaigns against the environmental credentials of firewood.

NSW BASIX, the Building and Sustainability Index, is an integral part of the planning system in NSW. All new dwellings and alterations/additions over $50,000 in NSW must have a BASIX certificate before they can be approved by the council. It has taken seven years but we have finally achieved a major change in the BASIX rules, which, instead of discriminating against wood fires, now gives them a significant advantage.

Here is how it all happened, and what it means.  In August 2007 we sent a letter to the NSW Department of Planning that set out our case for a decrease in the “greenhouse factor” that is used for wood heaters within the on-line rating tool used to generate BASIX certificates. We felt that wood heaters were unfairly prejudiced in the rating system by being given the same “greenhouse” emissions rating as a 4 Star gas heater, when it had been confirmed by the 2003 CSIRO Life Cycle Analysis that firewood was (practically) a greenhouse neutral heating fuel. The department’s response to our letter was that they could not accept firewood as being greenhouse neutral because the 2003 CSIRO study did not include an assessment of non-CO2 greenhouse gases like methane and carbon monoxide.

The FAA subsequently contacted the CSIRO research team that had carried out the 2003 analysis. They eventually agreed to revise and extend their initial study to include carbon monoxide and methane. The results were formally published by CSIRO in April 2012 in a scientific journal (see the article on the front page of the FAA web site). The revised life cycle analysis showed that the greenhouse effect of non-CO2 gas emissions from firewood is minimal.
Following the, we approached the Department of Planning again to request that they re-consider a revision of the BASIX rating for wood heaters. This time we received a more positive response and the team from the Department’s Sustainability Unit agreed to consider our detailed submission.

Finally on the 10th of June 2014, after almost 18 months of negotiation with the DPI Sustainability Unit, the BASIX on-line rating tool was updated to reflect a very much reduced emission factor for wood heaters. As noted in previous issues of the FAA e-news, the proposed change was strenuously opposed by the NSW EPA because they are funding a local government campaign to reduce the number of wood heaters in the State.

Because of the complexity of the BASIX system the impact of this change on any individual rating assessment is a little difficult to quantify precisely, but it will have the effect of making wood heaters much better than a 5 Star gas heater or a 6 Star reverse cycle air conditioner and in fact better than every other type of domestic heating including ground source heat pumps.

One of the likely outcomes of this change is that builders and architects will be encouraged to specify wood heating, simply because it is now the most cost effective means of achieving the required BASIX target.

Obviously manufacturers and retailers of wood heaters will be the big winners from this change. However, from a firewood industry perspective there will undoubtedly be an increased demand for wood, even if some of the new wood heaters are only used occasionally. The other main benefit for both sectors of the wood heating industry is that we have finally got formal government acknowledgement of the greenhouse benefits of firewood, which is something that the entire industry can use to its advantage.

The next thing to do is to make sure that we effectively communicate and promote what is truly a landmark win for wood heating. To get the ball rolling the FAA is obtaining quotes from commercial marketing organisations in NSW for the preparation and delivery of an integrated and targeted marketing strategy. When we are in possession of these quotes the FAA will invite all parties with a vested interest in the NSW wood industry to attend a meeting where the detailed ramifications of the rating change can be explained and a marketing strategy can be agreed.

We would like to express our thanks to the team from the DPI Sustainability Unit for their cooperation in what has been a long and challenging process. Our thanks also go to Joel Belnick of Jetmaster Fireplaces (Aust) Pty Ltd for his encouragement and assistance.

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Review of Heating Fuel Calculators: The best and the biased

 Updated on August 22, 2016 - Most people who heat with wood or pellets do so partly because it saves them money.  To demonstrate this, stove manufacturers and retailers often include heating fuel calculators on their websites so consumers can estimate their actual savings.  So far so good.  The problem is that unlike fossil fuel furnaces, wood and pellet stove efficiencies are reported in a variety of ways and most stove manufacturer calculators are biased.  If you are a consumer, this blog will help you find reliable calculators and reliable typical efficiencies of hearth products.

The Alliance for Green Heat reviewed scores of the most popular fuel calculators and found many of them to be hard to use and biased.  Not surprisingly, we found that most heat calculators on commercial sites were biased in favor of the fuel or the stove technology that they were connected with.  Of the dozens of calculators we reviewed, we recommend two that are good for calculating savings with wood and pellet heating appliances: the USDA Forest Service and (We used to also recommend the Energy Information Agency calculator, but they removed it because of too many controversies over efficiency values, especially from the air source heat pump sector.)

 1.,  is run by independent hearth professionals and uses efficiency values that are based on available data, extensive knowledge and experience. The efficiency values are on the conservative side, reflecting estimated real world efficiency over time.   Users enter their own price for cord wood or pellets and then can use the suggested efficiencies provided by   Unlike the USDA calculator, uses an estimated 60% efficiency for EPA certified non-cat stoves and for older, uncertified stoves they estimated between 25 and 50% efficiency, depending on if its air tight or not. They provide realistic estimate of 55 - 65% efficiency for uncertified pellet stoves and 65 - 80% for certified pellet stoves.

2. The newly updated USDA Forest Service calculator is notable for including estimated values for both commercial and residential wood and pellet systems.  Like, it also provides more options for wood and pellet heaters, such as for uncertified (exempt) pellet stoves, so we recommend it over the EIA calculator. It also uses the outdated EPA default efficiencies, so we recommend using the updated efficiencies below, or the more conservative ones in

We think it’s important for heating fuel calculators to be transparent and show what stove efficiencies and fuel prices they are using, something many industry calculators usually don’t do.   While consumers can easily put in their own fuel costs, it is usually impossible for a consumer to put in an accurate efficiency level of a particular stove.  Few major US manufacturer provide a reliable efficiency of their stoves to their consumers that are clearly American (HHV), not European (LHV) heating values. Consumers should not rely on the efficiency numbers posted by manufacturers. We encourage consumers to use the average efficiency values listed below.

Many fuel calculators that focus on wood and pellet stoves do not disclose the efficiency numbers they use in the calculation so the consumer cannot know what the values and assumptions are.  Harman,  Quadrafire and Travis calculators are a good example of this.  HPBA and most industry calculators do not include a separate efficiency value for catalytic stoves, which have consistently higher efficiencies if they are used properly.

Data on Efficiency

There are some datasets based on standardized wood stoves testing.  Studies from Houck & Tiegs, Robert Ferguson, and OMNI labs are among the best sources available as of now (they are listed below).  Those studies and data sets indicate that non-cat stoves average between 68 and 72% efficient, significantly above the 63% EPA default efficiency that was set in the late 1980s.  There is little data on catalytic stoves, but we think the EPA default of 72% may not be too far off the mark.  We suspect the average today may be in the 75% range, and the most efficient ones that are listed on the EPA list average around 80%.

Theold   EPA default of 78% efficiency for pellet stoves is by far the most misunderstood, because that 78% only applied to EPA certified pellet stoves, not their less efficient cousins, the exempt pellet stoves.  We now know that the default efficiency was too high for both certified and uncertified pellet stoves.  New, certified pellet stoves average about 72% efficiency. An OMNI study found the average to be 68% and EPA tests referred to in paper by Jim Houck estimate 56% for exempt pellet stoves.  There is extensive misleading information about pellet stove efficiency not only from industry, but also from some US government sites.

Efficiencies of Phase 2 EPA qualified boilers range from 39% to 78%, with an average of 65% according to the EPA list of boilers.  An Intertek report cited a 55% average efficiency for Phase 2 boilers and the State of Maine gave them a 65% average.  Efficiencies for European pellet boilers certified to the EN303-5 standard are likely to be in the 75 – 85% range, although some that are oversized or without any thermal storage could be lower.

Non-cat wood stoves tend to be bunched between 65 - 75% efficiency.  However, pellet stoves can range from 45 - 80% efficiency.  Higher efficiency ones are more likely to be the EPA certified or the European pellet stoves.  Unlike non-cat and pellet stoves, catalytic stoves are much more likely to have reliable, actual efficiency levels posted on the EPA certified stove list and that is an excellent resource to select one of the highest efficiency catalytic stoves on the market today.

Wood stove efficiencies discussed here are derived from tests in strictly controlled lab settings.  For consumers, to get similar, optimal efficiencies it is vital to use seasoned wood (about 20% moisture content).

Our Recommendations

Our recommendations for heating fuel calculator efficiencies reflect values of a new appliance when it is being used with seasoned wood. After a year or two, appliances can lose 5 - 15 points in efficiency if they are not properly maintained, particularly boilers, pellet stoves and cat stoves which need periodic cleaning to maintain the average efficiencies listed below:  

EPA certified non-cat stove         70%
EPA certified cat stove                75%
EPA certified pellet stove            70%
Exempt/uncertified wood stove   54%
Exempt pellet stove                     65%
EPA Phase 2 outdoor boiler        65%
Exempt outdoor boiler                 45%
EN 303-5 pellet boiler                 80%


Ferguson, Robert. An Evaluation of Overall Efficiency for EPA Certified Non-catalytic Wood Heaters. Rep. Ferguson, Andors & Company, prepared for the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA)., 21 July 2011.

Houck, James E., and Paul Tiegs. Residential Wood Combustion Technology Review. Tech. no. EPA-600/R-98-174a. OMNI Environmental Services, prepared for the EPA Office of Research and Development, Inc., Dec. 1998. Web. .

Houck, James E. "Pick a Number, Any Number." Hearth & Home. N.p., Mar. 2009. Web. .

Li, Victor S. Conventional Woodstove Emission Factor Study. Rep. no. Study. Environmental Protection Operations Division,, n.d. Web. .

The Engineer’s Guide to Efficiency Requirements for Wood Burning Appliances. Rep. no. BPEE201-11. Intertek, n.d. Web. .