Friday, May 17, 2019

EPA releases long-awaited searchable wood heater database

A screen shot of part of the
navigation of different fuel types
in the new EPA database
Consumer friendly site is cause of worry for some

Updated May 30 - This week, the EPA released its long-awaited searchable stove and central heater database, overhauling a decades-old practice of using basic excel sheet lists.

The EPA said the new database was designed to“improve accessibility and usefulness” by allowing users to search for the cleanest stoves, the most efficient stoves, those designed to burn cordwood and other attributes.

A wide range of stakeholders, from industry to states to non-profits, had been urging the EPA to switch to a modern searchable format for nearly a decade. The painfully slow development of the database at times seemed to epitomize the government's reputation to move at a snail’s pace. The list is maintained by the EPA’s Office of Enforcement, which like much of the EPA has been hit with repeated budget cuts and loss of staff in recent years.

The sleek new functionality of the list, allowing users to focus on one parameter or another, is also worrying to many in the stove industry. Traditionally, this list of certified wood heaters has not been a primary information source for consumers. But with this new functionality, consumers may start relying on it more and more, leading to some unintended results, such as worse buying decisions or ones that favor some manufacturers over others.  One feature that the old excel spreadsheets had that will be particularly missed by many was the clear designation of which stoves were newly added to the list each time it was updated.

One fear is that consumers will put too much reliance on higher BTU output if they can easily search and cross reference by these values. Right-sizing a stove is already problematic, and the BTU values on the list are overinflated due to loose parameters that allow labs to show high BTU output. Another fear, expressed by some manufacturers at the recent HPBA Expo in Nashville, is that consumers will favor “Cord Wood” stoves over “Crib Wood” stoves because they are not familiar with the lexicon of stove testing and the legacy of crib wood. This could lead to a surge in the sales – and reputation – of the 10 models that have been designed for and tested with cord wood. Other stakeholders welcome the feature, hoping that the companies who were among the first to invest in cord wood testing will benefit.

The EPA chose to include a box that helps consumers identify the cleanest and most efficient stoves,
and some say that this puts unwarranted attention to values that won’t necessarily translate from the lab to the home. This “Quick Searches” box will likely be used by consumers who don’t understand pellet stoves work similarly in the home as they do in the lab, but wood stoves can only achieve the optimal lab numbers with a large bed of coals, dry wood and careful operation.
This “certified fuel type” feature also sheds light on one the biggest problems with the new searchable data – accuracy. Six wood stoves are listed as using wood chips as a fuel, an apparent mistake according to one of the manufacturers of those stoves. This could hurt sales of those units if consumers are relying on the database to narrow down the stoves they may purchase. EPA staff are quick to say that this is a work in progress and it is incumbent on manufacturers to vet the list and provide the EPA with corrections. In 2017, the HPBA warned the EPA that many inaccuracies – such as stoves being listed as wood chip stoves – existed in the database. Many of the same errors are still listed two years later.

The Alliance for Green Heat welcomes the new database and had the opportunity to provide input on several occasions as other stakeholders did. Some of our suggestions and wording was adopted and some was not. AGH believes that the new database will help consumers become more educated about the working of stoves and the terminology, but it will take time and effort by the wood heating community.

The release of the database was coordinated with the update of some key pages on the EPA's Burn Wise website. The EPA finally changed their page on hydronic heaters which previously defined and pictured them just as outdoor boilers, a change that AGH had urged them to make for years. They also made major changes to their efficiency page which had not been updated since the EPA began requiring testing and reporting of efficiency of stoves.

Features and functions

·      Pellet stoves
A simple search that used to take hours, now takes seconds.  For instance, with 5 clicks, the database shows that 40 of the 70 pellet stove models that are 2020 compliant emit one gram an hour or less – an impressive feat considering pellet stove lab values are relatively consistently with how they perform in homes. 

·      Catalytic Stoves
The database shows that 27 of the 68 wood stoves that are 2020 compliant are catalytic, underlining the surge in catalytic models that resulted from stricter emission limits.  

·      Hybrid Stoves
Wood stoves are divided into three
subtypes - cat, non-cat and hybrid - but
hybrid stoves are not yet listed
Hybrid stoves, which almost all use both catalysts and air tubes for secondary combustion, are listed as a subtype, but no stoves turn up in a search for that term.  It is unclear if the EPA intends to populate that subtype. AGH is urging the EPA to also add “automated stoves” as a subtype in the future. Both hybrid and automated stoves offer great promise to help consumers run stoves more cleanly and should be identified in the database.

·      BTU Output
With tighter homes and a new breed of tiny homes, it is now easy to search for stoves with the lowest BTU output. Forty stoves, 20 wood and 20 pellet, were tested at less than 25,000 BTU. AGH believes that many units still have erroneously high BTU values based on loose parameters in lab testing and reporting, and these values should be used with great caution.  For wood stove, firebox size is probably a more accurate indicator of BTU output.

·      Efficiency
The EPA has chosen to use the term “overall efficiency” instead of simply “efficiency.” Some manufactures use “optimal efficiency” or “maximum efficiency” instead of publishing the EPA tested efficiency, which is lower. The database quickly shows, for example, that 37 of the 70 pellet stoves that are 2020 compliant are 75% efficiency (HHV) or higher – another great improvement compared to the performance of pellet stoves just 5 years ago.

·      Carbon monoxide
Nearly 150 stoves that are 2020 compliant have CO values showing a huge range from 0.0 to 6.1. Of the 23 stoves tested at less than 0.1 gram of CO per minute, all but 3 were pellet stoves. The carbon monoxide listing raised concern from some who worry that consumers may use it instead of PM as a primary indicator of cleanliness, or that consumers may think it’s an indication of amounts of CO emitted into the room.

·      In and out of production
The database shows 565 models in production, a number that will likely drop significantly as of June 2020. And it has nearly 700 stoves that emit less than 4.5 grams but are out of production.

·      Previously certified
The database also shows the 205 stoves that were previously EPA certified at 4.6 grams or higher, a feature that could be very helpful for change out program managers who want to target older certified stoves, many of which need replacement.

·      Key terms and definitions
The EPA provides a new page with definitions of key terms such as adjustable burn rate vs. single burn rate heaters, fireplace insert, wood pellets, etc.

·      Central Heaters
The database is separated into two: “Room Heaters” and “Central Heaters” and you have to select one or the other or your search may turn up empty. There are only 12 central heaters that are 2020 compliant, and eleven of those use cord wood. While central heaters have had a harder time meeting the Step 2 requirements, many more have either been approved by labs or are in the pipeline to be 2020 compliant.  Efficiencies of pellet boilers are more complex because those that get listed with European test data are likely to show higher efficiencies, even though they are converted to HHV. 
Not included in the new database

Some stakeholders have urged the EPA to include more search attributes, such as the test method, lab, and a link to the detailed lab report that manufacturers are required to post on their websites. The list also does not say whether PFI certified pellets were used during certification testing and are thus technically required to be used by the consumer.  Up until 2007, list used to include the deadline that the five year certification certificate expired.  Up until the summer of 2015, the list included the outmoded estimated default efficiencies, which listed all non-cats at 63%, cats at 72% and pellet stoves at 78%.  The default efficiencies were set based on testing in the mid and late 1980s, resulting in relative accurate estimates for wood stoves, but helping to develop the enduring myth that pellet stoves had such high average efficiencies.

Contact Rafael Sanchez at the EPA's Office of Enforcement to address errors or omissions in the database, ( at (202) 564-7028.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

DOE offers funding for “state-of-the-art” residential wood and pellet heater R&D

Jonathan Male, Director of the Bioenergy
Technology Office at DOE, speaking at
the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge
Funding can help manufacturers meet 2020 emission standards

Updated on May 9 - For the first time, the US Department of Energy issued a funding announcement to support the development of innovative, state-of-the art technology in residential wood and pellet stoves and central heaters.  

The announcement is part of a larger funding opportunity from the DOE’s Bioenergy Technology Office (BETO), which includes wood heaters because of a Congressional earmark. The DOE will provide up to $5 million in grants from $300,000 to $1,000,000. They expect to issue between 5 – 7 grants. The timeline for applying is short and requires a concept paper to be submitted by June 3 as a precondition of submitting the full application on July 22, 2019.

The funding is timely as it could assist wood stove, boiler and furnace manufacturers in developing heaters that meet the EPA’s 2020 emission standards. Funding is available for research and development on innovative heater design, not just for certification lab testing. Thus, manufacturers who may have delayed R&D could benefit from this grant the most, compared to those who already have a nearly full line of 2020 compliant heaters. Manufacturers can bring Step 2020 compliant heaters to market any time before or after the May 15, 2020 deadline. Funding from the DOE is expected to last for 2 – 3 years, covering work completed in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Many manufacturers are in the midst of completing their testing prior to the May 2020 deadline, but innovation will not end after that. Many manufacturers will initially be offering a smaller variety of models and add more to their product lines based on market conditions.  

"The Alliance for Green Heat applauds the DOE bioenergy program for moving beyond funding for biofuels and supporting innovation in the wood and pellet heater sector," said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat. "This funding and hopefully more in the future could kickstart a new wave of American innovation and ingenuity in wood heater design which is vital to keep wood and pellet heaters competitive with solar and other renewable technologies."

The US is a world leader in manufacturing clean wood stoves, but behind European countries when it comes to efficient pellet stoves and wood and pellet central heaters. Most European governments have invested in R&D in biomass heaters, leaving US manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.

R&D to design cleaner stoves and perform internal testing before sending the stoves to a certification lab constitutes one of the biggest expenses for manufacturers striving to meet 2020 emission targets. If this DOE funding had come two years earlier, it could have played a far greater role in assisting wood heater manufacturers, some of whom are cash-strapped as they must redesign their entire line of stoves and central heaters. 

The DOE appears to be trying to fund more than just tweaks and adjustments to traditionally-designed cat and non-cat stoves. Applications that can demonstrate genuine advancements toward state-of-the-art technology that ensure heaters burn well during start-up and reduce the opportunity for human error may have an edge.

The requirements of the application process include baseline emissions data matched with design change concepts that could substantially lower emissions and increase efficiency. These and other requirements are likely to make it tougher for smaller entities that do not have sophisticated internal labs or certified Step 1 stoves to apply within the short application timelines. Any company that has Step 1 products with baseline data showing they are within the 2015 Step 1 emission standards are eligible if their R&D ideas could achieve the DOE's requirements of a 50 – 80% reduction in emissions and a 5 – 15% increase in efficiency.

Beyond merely preparing for traditional EPA testing, “applicants are encouraged to expand the testing regimen to evaluate performance over the full cycle of residential wood heater operating conditions (representative of how homeowners actually use their residential wood heaters with representative wood feedstocks).” 

The awards will be substantial but widely dispersed among 10 areas within the bioenergy field. “At DOE, we are focused on expanding America’s energy supply, growing the economy, and enhancing energy security, which will all be furthered by the significant advancements made in bioenergy technologies,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “The funding opportunities announced today will help ensure our nation’s competitive advantage in the emerging bioeconomy and allow us to continue to offer U.S. consumers and businesses more homegrown energy choices.”

Areas of R&D interest

DOE listed four specific areas of interest, though other innovations are not excluded.
Automation of wood
stoves using sensors
is one of key areas of
interest for the DOE
  • Novel and innovative residential wood heater designs 
  • Improvements in automation of stoves
  • Wood heater power generation via thermoelectric module integration, and 
  • Improvements in catalyst technologies 
The first area, novel and innovative heater designs, encompasses changes to the combustion chamber, combustion air flow and baffle designs. It could be challenging for the DOE panel reviewing applications to distinguish between more traditional design changes and novel ones in this area, as either one could result in emissions under 2 grams an hour.

The second area, improvements in automation of stoves, includes robust sensing technologies and remote control and real-time performance monitoring. Wood and pellet stoves, boilers, and furnaces could all integrate sensors that monitor and control combustion conditions better. The DOE was a core funder of the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge that focused on automation and gave them insight into the potential of this area.

The third area covers producing electricity from thermoelectric technology, an area that the DOE also explored through the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge.

Lastly, the fourth interest area is improvements in catalyst technology, which appears to cover R&D in the making of catalyst manufacturing as well as their integration into heaters.


The timeline is tight and successful applications for similar DOE funding opportunities often do much of the work prior to the release of the funding announcement. The 4-page concept papers are due on June 3, and only applicants who submitted concept papers can submit a full application due on July 22. The DOE expects to notify applicants by September 30 and issue awards in October and November, which is in the DOE’s 2020 fiscal year. Deadlines and other requirements are strictly enforced, and the DOE will not consider applications that stray from the guidelines.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to register and sign on to the DOE's Exchange System at least a few days before submitting a concept paper, so registration issues can be averted ahead of time.


DOE has relatively broad eligibility requirements. Individuals, for-profit companies, non-profits, universities, and state, local, and tribal governments can all apply. Foreign entities and companies can also apply as long as they have a US office. Federal agencies and DOE labs, such as Brookhaven National Lab, are not eligible to be prime recipients but could be a sub-recipient of a grant. All work must be performed on US soil.

Cost Share

Applicants must provide 20% of the total project costs. The 20% can include in-kind services or cash from non-federal sources.  Cost share may be provided by the prime recipient, subrecipients, or third parties. 


All questions about the FOA must be submitted to: DOE personnel are prohibited from communicating directly with applicants.  All questions and answers related to this FOA will be posted on EERE Exchange:

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Despite claims of "devastating" impact, wood stove industry positioned to meet new emission standards

With the Step 2 deadline for wood and pellet stoves just a year away, most stove manufacturers say they are ready or will be soon. Many retailers also say they are ready, while others prepare to deeply discount stoves that can't be sold after May 2020. Gone are the days when industry was trying to convince Congress and the Administration that EPA's new stove regulations would have a "devastating" impact. Such claims are common in Washington, as groups try to rally their base, but it can also lead to a diminished credibility for an industry association if the hyperbole goes too far.
From the start, it was clear that the boiler and furnace manufacturers needed relief far more than stove companies and retailers.  Heads of outdoor boiler companies and indoor wood boilers that cost less than the average wood stove were leaders of a campaign to get Congress to give all classes of heaters a three-year delay in meeting the new standards.  At the same time, the industry association Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) was challenging many of these standards in court, meaning a three-year delay could be permanent for some classes of heaters, if courts agreed with HPBA.  But it was never clear that stoves needed any delay and industry effort would have stalled innovation and efficiency improvements and put tens of thousands of families at higher risk of more wood smoke exposure.  The fallback position was that industry needed a two-year sell year, allowing manufacturers to sell Step 1 product during the fall and spring of 2019/2020, and retailers to sell Step 1 product until May 2022.  

At first, it appeared that the EPA under the current Administration was open to providing a two year  sell-through for stoves, but they have only issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for boilers and furnaces, not for stoves.  Theoretically, the EPA could still issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a sell through for stoves but at this point it may be too late to provide any meaningful relief.

Many states pushed back strongly against watering down the NSPS and no state filed comments backing the Trump Administration's proposals.  States also began preparing their own plans in the event the EPA does change NSPS timelines, which could create a patchwork of regulations and more antagonistic relationships with a renewable energy industry.

If some manufacturers were not taking the 2020 deadline sufficiently seriously from 2016 - 2018, they are all likely to be doing so now.  Instead of focusing on government relief, HPBA's outreach to industry stakeholders is taking an a more urgent tone that everyone needs to focus on heeding the May 2020 deadline. However, almost all manufacturers were already focused on May 2020 for their own financial health and to assure their retailers that they are a reliable future partner.  And, many manufacturers and virtually all retailers already are well-diversified with gas fireplaces and stoves which often outsell their wood and pellet appliances.

The list of stove manufacturers who are ready for 2020, almost are or “well-positioned” to be 2020 ready grows by the week. As of May 1, they include:  APR Industries, Blaze King, Even Temp, ExtraFlame, Foyers, Heat Tech, Hearthstone, Innovative Hearth Products, Jotul, Kuma, Laminoux, MF Fire, Napoleon, Pacific Energy, Rais, Regency, Roby, RSF Fireplaces, SBI, Stuv, Supreme, Thelin, Travis and Woodstock Soapstone.  Hearth & Home Technologies, by far the largest manufacturer, says a majority of its stoves will be 2020 certified this year.

The 2020 deadline will undoubtedly be tough for much of the industry, but it remains to be seen if it’s tougher than lean shipment years such as 2007 and 2012.  Overall, the threat to industry does not appear to be as serious as industry claimed even a year ago.  The 2020 deadline is also bringing about benefits. some foreseen and others not. Some retailers still have stocks of Step 1 stoves and there is likely to be some heavily discounted stoves in the final year leading up to the deadline.  Retailers are still ordering some Step 1 stoves, but in much smaller quantities.  Many retailers are only buying Step 2 stoves but may face still competition from fire sales of Step 1 stoves by competitors.  Sending Step 1 stoves to Canada could have been a good outlet, but the more populous Canadian provinces have either adopted the 2020 deadline or are in the process of doing so. Other foreign countries are still a good option.  Most big box stores have the buying power to protect themselves by requiring manufacturers to buy back unsold inventory, influence that specialty hearth retailers don't have. 

Over the last six months, HPBA has developed more clear and insistent messaging for retailers and is using social media more to get the message across.  A facebook post outlined 5 things retailers need to know to survive the NSPS. Included is also a fear that in the race to meet the 2 gram an hour standard, some manufacturers may be putting out stoves that haven't been sufficiently beta-tested and simply won't work well in the real world.  This could jeopardize retailers who unknowingly carry those stoves.  HBPA urged retailers to test the stoves themselves, before selling them to customers, a tall order for retailers over the summer season.  The message for consumers is that the next twelve months will be a buyers’ market with unprecedented sales and discounts of Step 1 products

For the most part, the hyperbole from industry that consumers would be priced out of new stoves and there would be very little variety of product on floors, is not materializing.  Some manufacturers that were well known for disparaging catalytic stoves are now embracing them, swelling the ranks of "hybrid" stoves that only mention the catalyst in the fine-print. Presumably, this new crop of hybrids learned the tough lessons of the 80s and 90s, and their catalyst are well protected from flame impingement.

The 2020 deadline is also providing industry a gradual transition to cordwood testing, as some manufacturers opt to test with it.  Some groups idealistically hoped for a far quicker transition to cordwood.  Stoves tested with cordwood can emit up to 2.5 grams an hour, although many of them are coming in under 2 grams.  Despite messaging in advertisements from HPBA that it "shares the same goals as regulators," the 2.5 gram an hour standard for cordwood is one of the many emission standards that HPBA is challenging in federal court.  The many delays to the lawsuit may make it tougher for HPBA if enough stove models come in under 2.5 grams an hour using the broadly applicable alternative ASTM cordwood test method.

Many stakeholders are already looking past the 2020 deadlines toward the next NSPS, which by law should be scheduled in 2023.  Whenever the 2015 NSPS is superseded, there is likely to be intense controversies over certification protocols for cordwood testing and a timeline for all stoves to be tested with cordwood.  Key northeastern states believe the consensus driven ASTM Method is deeply flawed and are working behind the scenes on new test methods.

Unlike the 1988 wood heater NSPS that decimated the ranks of small stove manufacturers, the 2015 NSPS does not appear to be forcing manufacturers out of business. The 1988 regulations drastically improved the functioning, safety, cleanliness and efficiency of stoves while also driving up prices of those that were not claimed to be exempt.  The question remains whether the 2015 NSPS will significantly improve the functionality of stoves as they become cleaner and more efficient in the lab. Pellet stoves may the winners as their lab numbers should hold up in homes of consumers, a significant benefit that is rarely acknowledged by most in industry.  We can all agree that there will be both intended and unintended consequences which will take years to unfold.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Massachusetts renews innovative stove change-out program

Changing face of wood stoves in America includes a comeback of catalytic stoves 

Massachusetts announced an 8th round of annual funding for its innovative wood stove change out program. The program was the first in the country to develop a change out program that gave higher incentives to fully automated stoves and stoves that provide a verified efficiency on the list of EPA certified stoves.

The program, updated in April 2019, changes some of the rebate levels and provides consistently higher levels of rebates than most change out programs. It now offers Massachusetts residents between $500 and $3,250 for upgrades, depending on the stove and income level of the family.  To be eligible, households must have an operating, uncertified wood stove to trade in for a new wood or pellet stove.  Rebates can cover 30 - 80% of costs of the new stove and installation.

Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement the change-out program "improves air quality across the commonwealth and helps residents save money by adopting more efficient, cost cutting heating technologies."

The program favors appliances that burn more cleanly in the hands of consumers by offering the highest rebates ($1,750) to pellet and fully automated stoves that have listed efficiencies over 65%. The highest wood stove rebates ($1,250) can be claimed for catalytic (or hybrid) or non-catalytic stoves that emit 2 grams an hour or less and have a listed efficiency of 65% or more on the EPA list. The lowest rebate of $500 covers non-cat stoves that emit between 2 and 3 grams and do not have a listed efficiency. Income-based rebates for low income residents range from $2,000 to $2,750, plus the efficiency adder if the stove has a listed efficiency.

This table is reproduced from the Change-out Program Manual (pdf).

Massachusetts provides a helpful list of rebate amounts for all stoves that emit under 3 grams an hour. There are 596 stoves on the list. As a sign of the changing face of wood stoves in America, 216 or 36% of these stoves have verified efficiencies on the EPA list. Just two years ago, in the spring of 2017, only 87 stoves had listed efficiencies of 65% or higher. 

This shows that in a short span of time, consumers have far more access to efficiency data than in the past. Change out programs like this one help drive consumers to purchase higher efficiency stoves. According to people familiar with the Massachusetts program, most consumers buy stoves with listed efficiencies rather than forgo the $500 - $750 efficiency adder.  New York and Maryland also now include efficiency criteria in statewide stove incentive programs.

In a further sign of changing times, we are seeing a major resurgence of catalytic stoves. Fifty of the 216 stoves with verified efficiencies are cat stoves, compared to 61 that are non-cat. Many manufacturers are now using the term "hybrid" for stoves that have a catalyst and robust non-cat secondary combustion. Given the spotty reputation of catalytic stoves in the 80s and 90s, some manufacturers appear to be using catalysts to pass the 2020 standards but not advertising that the stove has one. In the Massachusetts change out program, hybrids are treated like catalytic stoves and receive the higher rebate.

Pellet stoves comprise the biggest share of stoves with listed efficiencies with 95 models. This high number of pellet stoves is a reflection of the ease of getting pellet stoves re-certified to the 2020 standards, which require efficiency testing and disclosure.
Steve Pike, CEO of the
Massachusetts Clean Energy
Center announced the program at
the Fire Place in Whately MA.

Possibly most surprising part of the Massachusetts list is that the  6 stove models under 65% efficiency are all pellet stoves. It is vital for consumers to rely on the efficiency figures on the EPA list because most stove manufacturers continue to provide exaggerated or misleading efficiencies on their websites and promotional materials. For example, the Regency Greenfire GC60 made by Sherwood Industries was tested at 60% efficiency, which had to be disclosed on the EPA list.  But the manufacturer's website says "76.6% optimum efficiency."

Massachusetts' program gives its highest stove rebate of $1,250 to "fully automated woodstoves (FAW)" that consumers can "load and leave." A FAW is defined in the program as a "stove that (a) automatically adjust the stove’s airflow and therefore includes no manual airflow controls and (b) has sensors that provide temperature-control capabilities." There are currently four such stoves on the list. Determining which stoves can be designated as fully automated is tricky. Other states and change out programs are interested in this issue as well.   The development of automated wood stoves could eventually reshape how we think about wood stoves, as they transform an age-old technology into a modern, high-tech appliance.

One important characteristic of wood stoves that does not appear on any list of stoves is whether the stove was designed for, and tested with, cordwood. Change out programs may see value in giving an extra rebate to encourage more consumers to use stoves designed to burn with cordwood instead of crib wood.

The 2019 Commonwealth Woodstove Change-Out Program has a budget of $450,000, which adds to the more than $2 million in funding for change-outs since the program began in 2012. The program has helped more than 2,300 residents swap out their non-EPA certified, inefficient stoves for newer, cleaner models. More than 500 of these rebates went to residents earning less than 80 percent of the state median income.

The program is run the by Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER). Residents must have the new stove installed by a Participating Stove Professional who ensures that the old, uncertified wood stove is destroyed. There are currently 65 stove professionals participating, double the number from 2 years ago. Installers are encouraged, but not required, to be NFI or CSIA accredited.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Company makes 2020 certified warm air furnace for under $2,000 - and stirs controversy

Paul Van Der Eems, Dan Haynes,
and David Walters of HY-C accept
a Vesta Award for their furnace.
Updated on April 5, 2019 - Many said it could not be done.  A competitor called it “preposterous.” But HY-C, a Missouri company that makes a budget line of warm air wood-fired furnaces, is well on their way to being ready for June 2020, when stricter EPA regulations come into effect.  

Their first 2020 compliant model, their smallest unit, was certified at 0.106 lb/MMBtu Output, well under the .15 allowable. The suggested retail price is $1,899 which is only $100 more than the previous unit that was certified to the 2017 standards.  HY-C won a Vesta Award for the furnace at the industry’s annual expo in Dallas last week.

In 2014, HY-C went to the EPA and urged them to adopt a laddered approach, giving companies several years to get certified and several more to meet a stricter standard. “The EPA was responsive, giving us a total of 5 years,” David Walters, President of HY-C recalled in a phone interview.  David said that  when they bought the company in 2011, the NSPS process was well underway, and they knew they would have to change and clean up.  “It wasn’t easy, but we did it, and that is good for the environment, for consumers, and for us, the manufacturer,” David said.

The HY-C FC100E is the first
low-cost wood fired forced air
furnace to meet the strict EPA
2020 emission standards.
The EPA won’t list a certified unit on the list of certified appliances until the company posts their lab test report on their website.  Parts of those reports are highly technical but provide key information for consumers and others. The HY-C report said the unit achieved 50% delivered efficiency and a stack loss efficiency of 71%. It was certified using a modified test protocol that had been approved in advance by the EPA.  Intertek laboratories did the testing using about 36-pound loads of cord wood that had about 22% moisture content.  The five tests ran 3 to 6 hours.  Their target output was 13,000 – 37,000 BTUs but the certification test obtained 20,000 – 34,000, due in part to the modified test protocol. 

To date, the only other company to have a 2020 compliant forced air furnace is Lamppa Manufacturing, which hit .09 lbs/MMBtu several year ago and has a 54% delivered efficiency, slightly above the HY-C unit and a stack loss efficiency of 79%.  That unit, the Vapor-Fire 100 is currently priced at $5,695 and also obtained a test protocol variance from the EPA in the test protocol.  The Vapor Fire weights 670 pounds, which may indicate thicker and more durable materials compared to the HY-C unit at 435 pounds.  
The Lamppa Vapor Fire
100 is the only other 2020
compliant wood furnace,

Another big player in the forced air furnace space is US Stove, and it’s unclear when they will have a 2020 compliant unit.  Of their eight units certified to the 2017 standards, one came in at 33% efficiency and an average of 60% efficiency. US Stove is urging the EPA to repeal the Step 2 standards for forced air furnaces, arguing that agency picked a “compliance limit out of thin air with not [sic] real data to support it.”  In a filing with the EPA, they said that the EPA’s timeline of going from an uncertified appliance category to meeting .15 mmBTU “is preposterous and unrealistic.”  HY-C appears to have just proved otherwise.

However, the willingness of the EPA to approve alternative test methods can be controversial, and companies often claim a competitor got an unfair advantage with a particular variance.  The EPA is not supposed to approve variances that make the protocol easier to pass, but that may just what is happening in some instances.  Variances are a critical tool for the EPA to allow for innovative products to be fairly tested and they also create a precedent for others to receive similar variances.

The largest player in the Canadian forced air furnace market is Stove Builders International (SBI) and they do not directly compete in the budget market with US Stove or HY-C.  SBI is also working on certifying furnaces to the 2020 standards but “we are trying to achieve the desired performance without using the alternative test method that the EPA has granted to others,” said Marc-Antoine Cantin, of SBI.  “We want to put out a product that cycles combustion and doesn’t just cycle the blower, while the unit is kept burning at a single burn rate,” Cantin said.  

HY-C sells their furnaces through a variety of distributors and retailers, including many big box stores. They provide all of their own customer services and have tens of thousands of units in the field that provide them with intensive customer feedback.  They make all of their furnaces in St. Louis Missouri and have extremely little inventory of non-2020 inventory left and expect to start shipping 2020 compliant units in July.  “We worked hard with distributors, so the pipeline of older units is dry,” Walter told us.  As a result, they have abstained from the debate as to whether the wider industry needs a 2-year sell through for units that are not 2020 compliant.  Lamppa has been an outspoken defender of the original timelines, arguing that a 2-year sell through would be unfair. Click here for more on that debate.
The EPA exempt US Stove 
1357 Hotblast  "coal only" furnace 
also advertises "21 in. log 
capacity" at Home Depot (Home
Depot discontinued the unit
a week after the story appeared.)

Both US Stove and HY-C say that their customer base is very price sensitive and need a furnace under $2,000, if not close to $1,500.  Other industry experts have questioned how so many people came to expect a whole house furnace for less than the price of an average wood stove and assumed that price would have to climb substantially to meet 2020 emission standards.  At the core of the fight between industry, states and air quality agencies is whether the price of wood appliances and costs to manufacturers should drive EPA standards more than other factors.  While HY-C was able to meet both the timeline and the emission standards, it is still unclear how well it will be received by the general public.  US Stove also make “coal only” units that are exempt from EPA emissions and sell side-by-side in many stores with the regulated wood units. HY-C has a coal only unit but only sells a few each year direct to consumers and not through retailers.

According to one industry insider, Tractor Supply Company stores is the biggest seller of wood furnaces from their 1,700 US stores.  Floor staff at chain hardware stores like this have reportedly been trained to inform consumers that the “coal only” units can burn wood perfectly well.  Companies that make both wood and coal units benefit from this and can sustain market share, even as EPA standards tighten.

Certifying to 2020 standards appears to have led to shorter burn times and more finicky furnace and boilers for some units.  HY-C advertised up to 12-hour burn time and a maximum of 130,000 BTU output for the unit as certified to 2017 emission standards.  The EPA listed BTU output up to 45,000.  The 2020 version only had up to 6-hour burn times in the lab and a maximum of 34,000 BTU output.  Both the 2017 and the 2020 model accept 20-inch logs.  Can the 2020 version meet consumer expectations at virtually the same price? 

But for now, HY-C achieved what they set out to. “We planned to build a better mouse trap and we feel that we succeeded, with advice from industry experts and our consumers,” David Walter said.  “In America, we should not take for granted that we have clean air and water, thanks to Congress and decades of work by the EPA,” Walter continued.  If anyone thinks the EPA efforts are a waste of time, Walters says all you have to do is visit Shanghai or some other foreign cities. “It’s so polluted you can barely walk outside and see the other side of the street,” he said.