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 has since been discontinued but may come back again.

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 the 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.