EPA Issues New Regs For Woodburners

The fires of controversy were lit when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) moved to regulate emissions from outdoor woodburning stoves and outdoor wood boilers. Common throughout the Northeast where land owners often have productive woodlots, wood stoves provide a good, economical source of heat for a variety of buildings from homes to workshops.

On May 15, a new version of the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for woodburners from EPA went into effect. The rules, published in the Federal Register on March 15, say that all manufacturers of noncertified burners must stop manufacture. Dealers have until the end of the year to clear out existing inventory. Sale of noncertified burners is forbidden after December 31, 2015 – even neighbor-to-neighbor sales.

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EPA has regulated wood heater particulate emissions since 1988 under its NSPS (40 CFR 60). EPA’s 2008 Wood Heater Program was a purely federal program, not delegated to the states. Its purpose is to promote compliance with the requirements of the wood heater regulation.

EPA’s requirements will not affect farmers today. But Mark Odell, vice president of sales at Econoburn, Brocton, New York, said the requirements will catch buyers by surprise when they go for new units. He compares it to having an old tractor or gas can that is used daily – there is no instant demand to replace the old unit but when you go to buy a new one, be ready for changes.

Back in 2008, EPA started a voluntary program that states like Maine and Vermont quickly adopted. The rest of New England, Pennsylvania and Maryland followed a bit later.

“We endorsed the voluntary program early on,” Rodney Tollefson, vice president of Central Boiler, Greenbush, Minnesota, said. They, like Econoburn, have sold hundreds of compliant units with a good history and experience in emissions control. In fact, Central is expanding its line to include entry-level products that will meet the new EPA rules.

“EPA’s new rules only affect new units,” Tollefson said. “The states have been operating under NSPS for years. There is no change for indoor units.” EPA published a report aimed at assisting manufacturers and distributors of woodstoves called “Small Entity Compliance Guide for Standards of Performance for New Residential Wood Heaters, New Residential Hydronic Heaters and Forced Air Furnaces.” It outlines compliance responsibilities under the NSPS for residential wood heaters.

State regulations

Several states already have their own regulations governing emissions on woodburning stoves.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopted 6NYCRR at the end of 2010; it applies to all stoves sold after January 28, 2011. There are also many municipal laws that cover use of woodburners. Check with your county or town clerk to see if such a law was enacted locally. Some local laws actually are stricter than state or EPA rules.

In states such as Ohio and out West, the new EPA regulations will be a bit of a surprise and will take some adjustment.

Manufacturers of woodburners must have a certificate from the state where the stove is sold.

The regulations apply only to residential properties. A unit in a nonresidential building, like an equipment shed or milk house, is exempt as long as it is not attached to the home.


Why the regulations? Wood smoke contains fine particulate matter that can cause short- and long-term effects. In the short term, eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath can result. Exposure also can affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma, allergies and heart disease. Long-term exposure may increase the risk from chronic bronchitis, reduce lung function and increase mortality from lung cancer and heart disease.

In addition, wood smoke contains known human carcinogens including benzene, formaldehyde, dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Today, about 10 million wood stoves are in use in the United States. EPA said 65 percent of them are older, inefficient, conventional stoves. They run a program to help owners buy new, more emissions-friendly stoves.

These are community-run programs that support EPA’s program of “encouraging” homeowners to upgrade older stoves with newer, cleaner, more efficient appliances. All of this can reduce fine particle emissions by 70 percent or more.

EPA’s focus on residential wood stoves for the past five years aims at reducing emissions and expanding the scope of the current standard by including new stoves and heaters that burn other solid biomass fuels.

Brookhaven National Labs, part of the US Department of Energy conducts rigorous testing of woodburners and wood boilers. This testing of the Econoburn boiler was last fall.Photos courtesy DOE.

During such a change-out campaign, stove users receive financial incentives to replace older wood-burning appliances with cleaner home heating systems, including EPA-certified wood and pellet stoves, EPA-qualified hydronic heaters and fireplace retrofits, and gas or electric appliances.

Energy tax incentives have been offered for woodburners and boilers, by states and federal agencies. However, the latest Pennsylvania Advantage Grant Program specifically excludes outdoor wood furnaces, wood boilers and wood stoves. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has its Renewable Heat NY program, offering up to $8,000 for installations of under 300,000 BTUs per hour and 25 percent of total installed cost for commercial, large units up to $100,000.

In New York, owners who create emissions are prosecuted under a nuisance standard – but only if they fail to take remedial action. The state’s stated goal is to have the DEC work with the stove owner to address the problem, not to prosecute. NY DEC may require the owner to take measures to eliminate the nuisance, such as increasing the height of the stack or implementing good burn practices.

However, failure to comply that results in a nuisance condition under Part 247.3 is a violation, which may result in the imposition of civil penalties, fines, and/or imprisonment under Article 71 of the Environmental Conservation Law.

Nuisances under Part 247 include activating smoke detectors in neighboring structures, impairing visibility on a public highway or causing a visible plume migrating from a stove that contacts a building on an adjacent property.

EPA’s new rules will be self-policing, Odell said.

The next round of regulations will kick in in 2020. “It’s a race to the bottom for emissions,” Odell said of the program that has gradually stiffer requirements enacted on the five-year interval.

Tollefson maintains that the 2020 limits are not well proven. “We are so clean right now with the emissions levels that it can’t get any more efficient and still be cost effective,” he said. “We don’t agree that (2020’s goals) are reasonable.” Whether changes are made remains to be seen.

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