EPA Clean-burning Wood Stoves and Fireplaces Program

Cleaning up the air and improving your wood-burning experience

The EPA Clean-burning Wood Stoves and Fireplaces Program was designed to increase the efficiency of wood stoves and fireplace inserts, improving air quality and saving consumers money because of reduced waste and the resulting decrease in pollution. The current regulations are EPA Phase II Wood Stove Emissions Regulations, which have different requirements depending on the type of equipment being discussed. For the purposes of regulating efficiency and pollution, the EPA breaks fireplaces into several categories, roughly along the lines of efficiency technologies and/or efficiency levels. These categories are: conventional woodstoves, catalytic woodstoves, non-catalytic woodstoves, and masonry heaters.

The masonry heaters are exempted from EPA regulations because of their weight and the fact that they have relatively low emissions as a result of their burning mechanism. Conventional woodstoves are woodstoves with no emissions-reduction technology whatsoever – these were mostly built before 1980. Catalytic woodstoves use a catalytic converter (much like those used in cars) to artificially burn off the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) and particulate matter present in smoke before it is released through the chimney. Non-catalytic woodstoves make use of other efficiency enhancements, such as secondary combustion chambers, precision-designed air channels, and other methods. Catalytic woodstoves are held to a stricter standard, partly because the catalytic converter wears out over the space of a few years, allowing higher emissions until it is replaced. Non-catalytic woodstoves do not suffer this problem – they only wear out as the metal itself degrades with time.

The EPA Phase I Wood Stove Emissions Regulations came into effect in 1988, requiring that all wood stoves (excluding cook stoves and wood furnaces) release fewer than 8.5 grams of particulate matter per hour or 5.5 grams per hour for catalytic stoves, down from an average of around 60 with conventional wood stoves. These were then tightened further in 1990 with the release of EPA Phase II Wood Stove Emissions Regulations, reducing the allowable emissions level for all wood stoves manufactured after this date to 7.5 grams of particulate matter per hour or 4.1 grams if the stove is equipped with a catalytic converter. In 1992, the same regulations were applied to all stoves sold at retail, irrespective of manufacture date. As a result, virtually any wood stove that you look at in a showroom must have the EPA sticker on it listing its emissions levels and certifying that it complies with the Phase II Regulations. If you don't see the sticker, ask your vendor to ensure that you are buying properly licensed equipment to protect air quality in your area.

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