EPA says your wood stove should be more efficient
Photo: lamcoopphis, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency released proposals for new, federal restrictions on wood stoves. The rules would only affect residential heaters manufactured after 2015.
The EPA estimates (somewhat boldly) that its new restrictions "would reduce emissions of fine particle pollution from new manufactured woodstoves, pellet stoves, hydronic heaters and forced air furnaces by an estimated 4,825 tons a year – an 80 percent reduction over estimated emissions without the rule."
So what exactly is "the rule"? How will the EPA go about reducing emissions so drastically? Their main focus will be on wood stove design. The EPA says it will work directly with manufacturers to make sure their future boilers and burners run cleaner – for example, by equipping them with devices called catalytic combustors, which directly filter out pollutants.
The EPA says the current rules – which haven't been changed in 25 years – are not up to date with technological advancements that allow wood to burn more thoroughly. Some of the best examples of up-to-date, high-efficiency stoves were on display at the Wood Stove Decathlon, a contest held late last year in Washington, D.C. Some of the stove models could harness 90 percent of the energy contained in logs. These burned not only the logs themselves, but also the gases they release. Typical wood stoves can deliver only 40 to 50 percent of a piece of wood’s energy potential.
If the EPA's proposal is approved, it would be the first change to the rules on wood-fueled residential heating since 1988. This is the result of a lawsuit filed in October by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, along with a coalition of six other states.
Wood-fueled heat is a huge part of the North Country culture and lifestyle. According to the latest census data, 14% of houses in St. Lawrence County are heated with wood. (That's a lot – only 2% of buildings statewide are heated in this way.)
But wood smoke contains pollutants that add to humans’ carbon footprint and harm our lungs. Speaking to the New York Times, Clarkson University professor Philip Hopke said, “If you can see it, if you can smell it, that’s energy that isn’t heating your house.” Instead, it’s putting carbon monoxide and fine particles in the air. When you inhale these fine particles – also called PM2.5 – they make their way into the bloodstream, and can cause all kinds of health problems. Young children, older adults, and people with previous lung conditions like asthma are at a higher risk.
Especially notorious for high levels of pollutants are the outdoor, hydronic heaters (or “boilers”). They tend not to burn logs as thoroughly.
The next step for the EPA’s proposal is a public hearing in Boston in late February. In the meantime, want to be more efficient and eco-friendly with your current woodstove or boiler? Check out some tips at the EPA’s Burn Wise program.
Tags: air quality, boiler, burner, climate change, emissions, energy, environment, environmental protection agency, epa, health, soot, wood stove