Smoke Signals: Time for Wood Stove Upgrades

Wood Stove Owners Seek Upgrades for Rewards

Written by Green Chip Stocks
Posted January 7, 2010 at 9:23PM

The first full week of the New Year has come and gone, and by this time, most stockings have come down from chimneys and Evergreens have been carried to their final curbside resting place...

But amidst the packing of decorations and resolutions, one holiday staple will continue to burn through the winter months and perhaps beyond, depending where you live: the Yule log. Or really any logs, for that matter...

Wood burning stoves around the nation (and continent) are finding a prominent place in homeowner's hearts, as they provide not only an ambience by which to open gifts or watch Sunday football, but also as an alternative or supplementary home heating method.

Many Americans are buying stoves for fear that oil prices will spike again, despite them being down so far this year.

A wood burning stove version of Cash for Clunkers has entered the scene, tempting stove owners to upgrade their models with cleaner, more efficient models that are more environmentally friendly. New Hampshire awarded its residents $1000 toward the purchase of a new stove that meets current emissions requirements.

Now, it may seem like stoves make up a miniscule piece a very large cleaner air pie. When compared to vehicle efficiency, stoves don't match up. Americans obviously own and operate far more vehicles than they do wood burning stoves.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are 10 million wood burning stoves in the U.S., most of which predate the 1990 benchmark for which the EPA has set emissions limits.

In rural New England states and other areas in northern America where stoves are at the center of home life from early November to mid-March, this program is taking off.

In fact, the EPA estimates that more than 13,000 wood stoves and fireplaces across 40 communities nationwide have been replaced by cleaner, greener models, thanks to incentive programs.

A program in Keene, New Hampshire, aims to replace and upgrade 100 stoves in the homes of its 23,000 citizens by February — and has already sparked interest in 70 homeowners. Funds for the Keene campaign are from a regional environmental settlement with American Electric Power.

This New Hampshire town is just one among 35 communities that have offered exchange programs for wood burning stoves.

According to The New York Times, a program in the town of Libby, Minn., resulted in the replacing of more than 1,000 old stoves between 2005 and 2007. A study by the University of Montana later found a decrease by 30 percent of outdoor particulate pollution, and 70 percent of indoor pollution.

A similar program in a small Vermont community has replaced 200 wood stoves, and for a voucher worth about half of that New Hampshire's program offered stove owners.

"Here in New England, we encourage families and businesses that use wood as their winter heating fuel source to consider replacing their old stoves with a cleaner burning pellet stove and an EPA-certified wood stove. These stoves use less fuel for the same amount of heat, thereby saving you money, and they help protect air quality in your community," the regional administrator of EPA's New England office said.

Today, a handful of fireplace manufacturers are working with the EPA as part of the Low Mass Wood-Burning Fireplace Program, preserving the tradition of wood burning stoves in American homes while offering consumers models that meet the EPA's emissions standards for the category.

"The goal of the program is to encourage manufacturers to produce clean wood-burning appliances that reduce air pollution," says Kathy Repp of Heatilator at Hearth & Home Technologies in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

Meanwhile, the EPA's Burn Wise program seeks to provide information for consumers so they may make informed decisions about using fireplaces and wood burning stoves wisely; state and local agencies are offered methods to improve air quality in their communities through changeout programs and education. The program's partners are offered ways to work with the EPA in bringing cleaner-burning appliances to market.

You can read more about the EPA's Burn Wise here.

A lower heating bill... a monetary incentive for buying a cleaner wood burning stove... a cozy fire by which to sit and read or play Scrabble for the winter... maybe the small towns of Keene and Libby are on to something.