Automated Wood Stove Features Entering the Marketplace

This year there are at least half a dozen stoves on the market that have some automated feature that didn’t exist on the market a few years ago. Many of these features help the stove burn somewhat cleaner, and are aiming at a demographic looking for easier operation. It’s still too early to tell how well the automated features work, compared to what they claim to do.

To truly understand the benefits of automation features, whether it be the traditional bi-metal coil or up-and-coming electronic sensors and on-board computers, you need to have side-by-side tests with the automation on and off. Easier said than done.  In Europe fully automated stoves – meaning stoves that you can “load and leave” – and the operator has no or limited control to adjust heat output, are already on the market.  None are on the market in the US as there is no test method to certify them.  The regulatory barrier to potentially far cleaner stoves from entering the US market is being addressed at the Collaborative Stove Design Challenge, where a automated stove testing protocol will be developed and submitted to the EPA.

Three major players in the US stove manufacturing community – Quadrafire, Travis and England Stove Works – now have automated systems to reduce start up and reloading emissions, which is one of the most important emissions issues that needs to be addressed. The Travis system uses electricity and is likely the most powerful of the three, and the other two don’t need electricity.  The England Stove Works stove has integrated their innovation in a very affordably price stove.

The real promise of automation is not to get a hot stove to hit an ultra-low particulate matter number in a lab, but to improve real-world performance by seamlessly optimizing performance throughout the burn cycle, to reducing start-up emissions and reducing emissions from unseasoned wood. EPA certification testing does not attempt to test these attributes of a stove, so stove companies have not had much incentive to invest a lot of time, effort and money to design for that.

In the United Kingdom solid burning heating devices are not classified by their size, i.e. stove vs. boiler, but by whether they are automatic or manual. To achieve a rating to be used in more polluted areas, manually operated stoves must submit lab tests showing 5 burns for each output level because “manually controlled appliances show much higher variation between tests.” Automatic appliances only have to be tested 3 times at each output level.

The chart below shows a wide variety of technology that exists in both stoves and boilers in Europe, but only exists in boilers in the U.S., and much of it is imported from Europe. (Click here for PDF that includes this chart and some discussion of these issues.)

In November 2014, Brookhaven Lab will be testing automated stoves and prototypes at a stove design workshop to see how effective they are. Their designers aspire to be part of a real trend of cleaner, more automated residential wood heating. But can they do it at an affordable price point? And, are consumers ready for them? Here, we will look at stoves with automated features that are already on the market.

A bi-metal coil acts as a heat-
sensitive thermostat which can partially
control the opening and closing of the damper.

1. The bi-metal coil. The oldest form of automation of steel wood stoves is the bi-metal coil which has been used on scores of stove models and is now mostly just used by a few catalytic stove makers, principally Blaze King and Vermont Castings. Some of the new automated features do something similar as the bi-metallic coil, but potentially do it much better. A bi-metal coil is simply a thermostat run by a metal coil that can close a damper down when its really hot, and open it up when its cooler. The stove’s air inlet can still be operated manually, but the bimetal coil will adjust the air inlet further. They tend to not work nearly as well on non-cat stoves, because the temperatures in a non-cat firebox can be more unpredictable, and if the coil shut down the air, or opened it too much, the stove would operate poorly – and critically – it adds far too much uncertainty in passing the EPA emissions certification test.

The rotating trigger mechanism in the
Smartstove Collection by Englander
reduces air flow once the stove is hot.

2. The next three stoves – the England Smartstove, the Quadrafire and the Travis – all use different automated approaches to starting the fire quicker and with fewer emissions. After the start-up period, the stove operates like any other. The Smartstove by England Stove Works was displayed at the Wood Stove Decathlon on the National Mall in 2013, but it was still being certified by the EPA so it was not part of the competition. The stove has an “automatic air setback mechanism” which is a primary air control with a rotating trigger which controls the opening and closing of air vents. When the operator starts a fire, they gives the stove maximum air and sets the trigger. When the stove gets hot enough, the trigger releases and primary air is reduced, while still providing ample secondary air.

Quadrafire’s Explorer 2 Start-Up air
control helps give the stove more
air in the first 25 minutes.

3. Another recent arrival on the market is Quadrafire’s Explorer II, which appears to provide similar automation. The website says “Automatic Combustion Control-provides the fire with air when it is most needed-leading to longer burns.” A marketing video says the operation is so easy that all you have to do is “load the wood, light the fire and walk away.” According to the installation manual, ACC is basically a timer which the operator must manually initiate with a control mechanism. Essentially, it opens the front air channel which allows air to enter for 25 minutes before closing. Once the front air channel is closed, manual controls are used to deliver preheated air to the top of the firebox to burn the rest of the unburned gases in the remaining three combustion zones.The Alliance confirmed with a company representative that no sensors are used or needed after the operator sets the timed control mechanism.

The slider on the Cape Cod
adjusts the rate of burns.

4. Travis industries Hybrid-Fire technology™ developed an automated “Greenstart” which shoots 1,400 degree air into the firebox for 15 minutes to start your fire, or when you reload. The Greenstart can significantly reduce start-up emissions, and emissions during reloading on a low temperature bed of coals, by jumpstarting the start-up process and heating the wood up faster than it would with newspaper. After the first 15 minutes, the stove has no automated features, but some of the Travis stoves that use catalysts are among the cleanest in the industry. The Travis Cape Cod stove won second prize in the Wood Stove Decathlon.

5. The Nestor Martin’s Efel has an “automatic mode” that can keep the room at a desired temperature. Or in timer mode, it can adjust the room temperature at a pre-set time. The stoves uses a simple ambient air thermostat in a remote control device that you can operate from the couch or anywhere nearby. If you don’t use it in automatic mode, the remote control allows the user to adjust the intensity of the fire just as you would with a manual air control. One of the key things that distinguishes this Efel from truly automated stoves is that there are no sensors in the stove that can prevent the stove from smoldering or override an adjustment by the operator that would make the fire smolder.

HWAM’s Autopilot technology uses
sensors, along with a bi-metal spring to
regulate combustion temperatures.

6. The final two stoves are more fully automated stoves and are on the market in Europe, but not in the US. Danish company HWAM, whose automation will be third-party tested and assessed at Brookhaven Lab in November, has integrated a new patented system-Autopilot. Along with the Austrian Rikatronic, described below, the Hwam is one of the most advanced and fully automated stoves in Europe. HWAM 3630 IHS features a control system that electronically measures combustion conditions through the use of a lambda oxygen sensor and a thermocouple. An onboard computer then allocates combustion air through three separate valves to help the consumer achieve the same results at home that are obtained in test labs under ideal conditions. According to the Danish Technological institute, HWAM stoves with this system are 17% more efficient and produce 40% more heat.

Rikatronic has a microprocessor-controlled
motor and a flame temperature sensor
which drives the RLS air distribution system.
The light tells you the optimal time to reload.
By pressing the button, the stove knows
 it has fresh wood to handle. 

7. There are numerous versions of the Rikatronic wood heater system. The Fox II stove features manual and automatic control settings. In manual mode the air distribution can be controlled in each combustion phase-even in the event of a power outage. Automation in Rikatronic technology works with a microprocessor-controlled motor and flame temperature sensor which operates the RLS air distribution system. Airflow in each of the 5 combustion zones is effectively adjusted for efficient burn. A red light indicates the optimal time to reload the stove. You can set the room temperature you want and once the required room temperature is reached, you can activate the eco mode by pressing the Rikatronic³ button. This causes the air supply to be optimally controlled to maintain the fire for as long as possible, without smoldering, and to leave behind as little ash as possible. Power consumption is 2 – 4 watts.

The first five stoves described here represent American innovations that can partially reduce excessive wood smoke, while the last 2 stove from Europe represents a more holistic approach that can help reduce emission not just in the start up, but throughout the burn cycle.  They are all still relatively new technologies and we are likely to see more companies improve upon them in coming years.


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Dec. 4 Webinar: Best Practices in Wood and Pellet Stove Programs

The University of Maryland Extension Woodland Stewardship Education program will host a one-hour webinar on Thursday, December 4th from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. to provide an overview of the “best practices” in wood and pellet stove incentive programs across the United States. 
Sign up here.
As renewable energy programs grow around the country, more and more states are including incentives for wood or pellet boilers and stoves. Unlike other household appliances, such as refrigerators, furnaces or washing machines, wood heating equipment have no “Energy Star” labels for consumers to consult to make energy efficiency comparisons. Consequently, several states have devised a range of methods to determine the eligibility of cleaner and more efficient stoves and boilers.
This webinar will explore the features of these programs, and will use Maryland’s stove incentive program as an example of how one state met its goals for ensuring consumers purchase the most efficient appliances available. The speakers will identify what they see as emerging best practices in stove and boiler incentive programs as these initiatives become more mainstream.
This webinar features presentations from Jonathan Kays, University of Maryland Extension Natural Resource Extension Specialist; John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat; and Emilee Van Norden, Clean Energy Program Manager of the Maryland Energy Administration.
The webinar is free and open to the public.  Sign up now to reserve a spot.
For related content: 

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Rookie Wood Stove Makers Get Highest Score in Design Workshop


Taylor Myers and Ryan
Fisher with the Mulciber,
the highest ranking stove.
A stove designed and built by graduate engineering students received the 
highest score in an international Stove Design Workshop focused on automated wood stove technology.  The goal of the event was to assess innovative technologies that can help stoves reduce real-world emissions that result from poor operation by the consumer and use of unseasoned wood, both of which are widespread problems. 

Ten judges scored the stoves based on emissions, efficiency, innovation, market appeal and safety.  The highest scoring stove, the Mulciber, adapted emission control techniques that are in automobiles, such as an oxygen sensor that controls the fuel-to-air ratio, a continuously engaged catalyst and an exhaust gas fan.  The Mulciber was also tested with unseasoned, 50% moisture content wood and performed quite well.   The team, who had never built a stove before the 2013 Wood Stove Decathlon, overhauled their first prototype and have now formed the company MF Fire to bring the stove to market.  

The Workshop was held at the DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and brought together a diverse range of stakeholders – students, professors, industry, regulators, air quality experts – who spent a week together analyzing the problems and solutions to residential cord wood emissions.

Five stoves competed in the event, which is part of the ongoing Wood Stove Design Challenge run by the non-profit group, Alliance for Green Heat. In 2013, the Design Challenge hosted the Wood Stove Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington DC, a high profile event modeled after the Solar Decathlon.  This year, the event was at a lab so that stoves could be tested more rigorously and test data could be shared with the participants.

The core problem is that most consumers do not operate wood stoves well and many use unseasoned wood.  In addition, EPA certification testing for wood stoves do not simulate how wood is burned in people’s homes.  For decades, manufacturers have been building stoves to pass that test, but not necessarily to burn cleanly in homes.  This workshop addressed that by testing with cordwood that was not fully seasoned, capturing some start-up emissions in the test and assessing how automation can reduce operator error.  At Brookhaven, stoves were tested at four parts of their burn cycle: warm start, steady state 1, hot reload and steady state 2. The current EPA stove certification test uses seasoned 2x4s and 4x4s and only tests for emissions after the start-up period, once the stove is hot.

Automated stoves, where computers, not consumers, adjust the air-to-fuel ratio, cannot be tested by EPA test methods so they are not able to enter the US marketplace.   A major goal of the Workshop was to start designing an alternative test method to the EPA’s method, so that automated stoves can be tested and become certified in the US, as they already are in Europe. Tom Butcher, a senior scientist at Brookhaven Lab, hosted one of the public webinars during the week on that topic.

Rankings: The judges gave double weight to emissions and efficiency, as they did in the 2013 Wood Stove Decathlon, because of the importance of those values.  This year, the judges decided not to judge affordability since most of the stoves were prototypes or technologies designed to be integrated into other stoves and ultimate costs and pricing was too speculative. Each of the 10 judges scored each stove on innovation and market appeal.  The other three criteria were based on lab tests.
“We want to congratulate the MF Fire team – and all the teams – for participating in a process of sharing innovation, ideas and test results,” said John Ackerly, coordinator of the event and President of the Alliance for Green Heat.  “These stoves have many of the solutions to excessive smoke from modern-day wood stoves and are challenging the EPA and the stove industry, to catch up with new technologies and new opportunities,” Ackerly said.

The Wittus team with the Twinfire.
While MF Fire stove, the Mulciber, had the highest combined score, several of the other stoves stood out in key areas.  The German Twinfire, designed by the Wittus team, had the second highest overall efficiency, at 74%, and one of the lowest emission rates on a test run.  Its automated air regulation enabled the stove to perform consistently well at different part of the burn cycle and it received the highest score for consumer appeal, for its downdraft flame into a lower chamber.  
The VcV, wired to monitor
temperature in key spots
The VcV, a New Zealand mechanical device that operates without any electricity, achieved the highest average efficiency, at 82% based in part on the lowest average stack temperature at 167 degrees (F), and the lowest emission rate on one of its tests.  It also received the second highest marks for innovation.  This was the only stove that did not require electricity and will be very affordable. Three out of four tests were very, very good, but on one the hot reloads, something happened and that reduced its overall numbers, and took it out of contention for first or second place.  This device has undergone extensive R&D and is one of the entries that is closest to being ready for the market.

The Catalus Ventus by ClearStak, received the highest score of all for CO reduction, and the second

The ClearStak team with the
Catalus Ventus

highest for emissions.   It was a highly innovative entry, employing dual cyclones, a pre-heated, continuously engaged catalyst and a fabric filter.  Its sensors and controller kept the oxygen rates incredibly steady, within half a percentage point. The technology could be integrated into a new stove, or added on to an existing stove. The designers did not try to optimize efficiency, which impacted their overall score.   

The Kleiss, ready for testing.
The Kleiss arrived at the competition with the hallmarks of an innovative, automated stove that could handle wet wood and nearly eliminate operator error.  The stoves sensors and algorithms were designed to maintain very hot combustion temperatures and to allow the operator to call for more of less heat, while prioritizing cleanliness.  However, the stove did not perform as expected, with secondary air contributing to primary burning with a large fuel load.   

Test results for all the stoves are available here.  (References to grams per hour are not comparable to EPA gram per hour tests since the Workshop used tougher test protocols.) A series of presentations by the stove designers about their stoves and other stove and combustion experts are also available.


The Wood Stove Design Challenge is a technology competition that also strives to bring key stakeholders together to assess and learn about new stove technology.  Primary funding came from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the Osprey Foundation and the US Forest Service.  Testing support was provided by Myren Labs, Masonry Heaters Association and Testo and Wohler, two German companies who are pushing the envelope of accurate real time lab and field testing of particulate matter.  The Chimney Safety Institute of America and Olympia Chimney donated the chimney installations, and Blaze King and Woodstock Soapstone also provided support.

The 12 member Organizing Committee oversaw developing protocols, testing and scoring and included representatives from Alliance for Green Heat, Aprovecho Research Lab, Brookhaven National Lab, Clarkson University, Hearth.com, Masonry Heater Association, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, Myren Labs, NYSERDA, US Forest Service and Washington Department of Ecology. The Committee is now considering options for a 2015 Stove Design Challenge.


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Old-timey wood stoves need to get new-timey if we really want to make use of them

Monday, December 8, 2014
Nashua Telegraph
by David Brooks

Tom Butcher from Brookhaven Lab,
second from right, tests an automated
stove from New Zealand. Ben Myren,
left, did R&D work on it.

I don’t think very hard when I light up the old wood-burning stove in my basement. Turns out, that might be a problem.

“Combustion technology is incredibly complex. Numerous chemical engineers, combustion engineers, mechanical engineers around the world are constantly trying to understand the intricacies associated with combustion. It is absolutely not what you and I would think – just light a match … especially when you want to get clean combustion and use wood efficiently,” said Rob Rizzo, manager of the Renewable Thermal Program for the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Rizzo was among the organizers of the 2014 Stove Design Workshop held in November at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, the latest in a number of attempts to add some high-tech wizardry to that staple of New England life, the wood stove. (For details, see forgreenheat.blogspot.com/2014/11/rookie-wood-stove-makers-get-highest.html)

Why tinker with something as well-established as wood stoves?

Because, like me, most people don’t think too hard when using them, which makes them inefficient and polluting.

We use green wood or wet wood, and we fiddle with the damper in the wrong way, causing partial combustion and thus more pollution.

The Stove Design Workshop, like a national Stove Design Challenge in 2013 that featured two New Hampshire entries, wants to find technology that can better cope with our stupidity.

The five finalists in the design workshop used a variety of techniques to work around people, including oxygen sensors that control fuel-to-air ratio, a common emission-control technique in cars, and a New Zealand stove that has a “barometrically operated variable choke venturi tube” to control the amount of combustion air entering a stove, particularly at lower burn rates.

“The whole concept with the design challenge is to come up with solid-wood stove that eliminates the human interface. Basically hit a start button and walk away; that is the concept we’re aiming at,” he said.

This already happens with pellet stoves, of course, which is why pellets has led a wood-burning renaissance for building heat.

The drawback is that they burn pellets made of compressed sawdust rather than the wood I can snag for free off my property, especially after the Thanksgiving snowstorm knocked down so many big limbs.

The lure of free fuel means that a lot of people still burn non-pelletized wood for some or all of their heat, although it’s not clear how many.

I have never been able to find good data about people who use cordwood (a.k.a. “roundwood”) as their principal heat source, partly because it’s hard to pin down. I, for example, use it only as a minor supplement of the pellet stove in the living room and our oil-fired furnace.

Rizzo said he didn’t know any data either, but he said that wood stoves remain important, especially in western Massachusetts.

Just as important as convenience is cleanliness. Wood stoves can produce a lot of pollution, particularly fine-particle soot, that is a health hazard. This is particularly a problem around Keene, which has a lot of wood-burning stoves and a geography that traps air in certain weather conditions.

New Hampshire has used rebates to get people to turn in their old stoves for cleaner versions, although with limited success.

But those cleaner stoves aren’t all that great; they’re little more than old stoves with catalytic converters in the stovepipe. Hence the push to build a better mousetrap, so to speak.

“It’s exciting to see new ideas coming forward. We have some educated guesses but we need to do better,” Rizzo said.

“We need to collect more data, about efficiency, emissions, consumption volumes, and also source of wood, sustainability of wood source, quality of wood source. Because rural America is always going to be burning round wood.”

More info:

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EPA Declines to Release Efficiency Data on Wood Pellet Stoves

On Thursday, the EPA said it would not release efficiency data on pellet stoves, one of the most popular renewable energy technologies in American homes.  About one million homes use pellet stoves in the United States, yet none of the major stove manufacturers disclose the tested efficiency of their products. 
The EPA recently set stricter emission standards for wood and pellet stoves, but did not require the disclosure of efficiencies of stoves currently on the market.
The Alliance for Green Heat filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the EPA on June 3, 2015 urging the agency to release stove emission and efficiency information.  In their response letter, the EPA agreed to release detailed emission test results and other data, but denied requests for efficiency information, leaving consumers in the dark as to whether they own a 50% efficient stove or an 80% efficient stove.  Click here for a copy of the EPA letter.
The Alliance for Green Heat filed the FOIA request because stove manufacturers routinely advertise misleading and exaggerated efficiency claims.  No federal or state agency requires manufacturers to use a common method of reporting stove efficiency in their promotional materials.
Most households use pellet stoves because they can save $ 500 to more than $ 2,000 per winter by using wood pellets in place of oil, propane or electricity.  However, the potential savings fluctuate widely based on the efficiency of the stove.
The EPA said they decided not to release the efficiency data because “trade secrets and commercial or financial information are exempt from being released” to the public.  Stove manufacturers claim that their efficiency information, along with almost all other data obtained from the certification testing is “confidential business information.” 
However, the EPA left open the possibility that it might release the efficiency values if the Alliance for Green Heat wants to receive a “final confidentiality determination” that would involve giving manufacturers an opportunity to substantiate their confidentiality claims.
John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat said that the organization intends to seek a final determination from the EPA.  “Cars, furnaces and large appliances all have to report their efficiency and energy use to the public and this is a critical part of helping consumers save money and help the environment.  Why should there be a special exemption for pellet stoves?” Ackerly asked. 
“The lack of transparency on efficiency is holding this sector, as other forms of renewable energy are quickly gaining traction,” Ackerly noted. 
The new EPA wood heater regulations will require manufacturers to disclosure the efficiency of new wood and pellet stoves tested after May 15, 2015.  However, stoves that are already on the market will not need to be tested for another 4-5 years and will not be required to disclose their efficiency until this time.  Many manufacturers obtain efficiency data during their EPA certification tests and include them in their test reports to the EPA, although they do not release them to the public.  The FOIA was an attempt to get the EPA to release this information that it already has in its files.
Pellet stoves have a very wide range of efficiencies and manufacturers may claim that if they released the actual efficiency of their stoves it cold cause substantial harm to their competitive position, which is one of the reasons the EPA withholds business information.
Stove manufacturers are also hesitant to disclose efficiency information to their consumers because if their efficiencies are under 75%, their product would not be eligible for a federal tax credit that has often been retroactively renewed and requires a 75% minimum efficiency.  Since neither Congress, nor the IRS, nor EPA requires any standardized measure of efficiency, stove manufacturers can claim that nearly 100% of stoves on the market are 75% efficient.  If the EPA were to disclose actual efficiencies, it would make it harder for manufacturers to convince consumers that all their stoves were over 75% efficient.
The number of U.S. homes with pellet stoves far outnumber those with residential solar panels by a ratio of about 2:1.  Pellet stoves typically cost $ 1,100-$ 3,500, and have a payback period of 3-7 years depending on such factors as the price of the fossil fuel being displaced, the frequency the stove is used – and its efficiency.

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Wood and Pellet Stove Tax Credit Extended through Dec. 31, 2014

Stove manufacturers routinely claim
75% efficiency to be eligible for the
tax credit, even when stoves are far
below 75%.  The average wood and
pellet stove may be around 70%.

Updated on December 16, 2014 – A short term extension of the $ 300 federal tax credit to purchase a new wood or pellet stove was signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 19, after having passed the House and the Senate.

The law extends a host of tax provision through Dec. 31 2014, making it almost entirely a retroactive tax credit.   A two-year deal that would have extended selected tax credits through Dec. 21, 2015 fell through.





The tax credit, which started out at $ 1,500 applied to all stoves that were at least 75% efficient.  The stove industry used a loophole to help ensure that all EPA certified wood stoves and all pellet stoves could claim to be 75% efficient.  As a result, many consumers are unwittingly buying stoves that may be less than 60% efficient, or even less than 50% efficient.  Pellet stoves in particular can be very low efficiency, saddling consumers with unnecessarily high pellet fuel bills.

Because of this loophole, the stove tax credit has long been criticized in the energy efficiency community as being dominated by “free riders” because the credit applies to virtually every stove and does not push consumers toward the most efficient ones. Instead of giving consumers an incentive to buy higher efficiency or “greener” appliances, like Energy Star appliances that help people save money, the government has been giving a discount to all wood and pellet stoves (other than uncertified, exempt wood stoves.) 

Of the hundreds of stove models on the market, manufacturers have only disclosed actual, third party verified efficiencies for about 20 models and they are listed here. Blaze King is the only stove manufacturer who discloses actual efficiencies for all their models.  To date, all the major pellet stove manufacturers have refused to disclose any actual efficiencies.  Seraph Industries, a very small pellet stove maker, has disclosed their efficiencies and they are quite high.
The EPA, nor any other federal or state agency involved in wood and pellet stove education, warns consumers that they are not necessarily buying a 75% efficient stove, as promised by manufacturers who issue certificates assuring consumers that their stoves are eligible for the tax credit.
The Alliance for Green Heat has been a long-time advocate of a robust tax credit, but only for stoves that are genuinely cleaner and more efficient.  The federal tax credit has never incorporated particulate emissions into its eligibility requirements.
Consumers who bought a stove in 2014 can claim the credit on their 2014 taxes, assuming they have not exceeded the $ 500 limit for residential energy improvements.  

In addition to the federal tax credit, more states are beginning to offer incentives, including Idaho, Oregon, Maryland, Montana and New York.  

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20 Stunning Wood Fired Hot Tubs from Around the World

Wood fired baths are an ancient tradition, dating back at least to Roman times when baths called hypocausts were built by running hot flue gases under a stone tub.  Those Roman tubs were also off the grid, as are these.  Some are quirky, some romantic, some practical and some just downright hedonistic.  Which is your favorite?
See our other photo essays: Wood Stoves from Around the World, and and Firewood Collection and Stacking from around the world. 

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How to claim the $300 stove tax credit

President Obama signed into a law a package of tax credits including the one for wood and pellet stoves.  The stove credit is for $ 300 for stoves purchased between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31 2014, making it almost entirely a retroactive “incentive.”
To take the credit, taxpayers need to use IRS Form 5695. A biomass stove purchase would be claimed in line 22a of form 5695. The form can be confusing because it never specifies biomass heating equipment, even though its included in the tax break.  Taxpayers do not have submit receipts with their taxes.  They just have to keep the sales receipt and the declaration from the manufacturer stating the stove is eligible, in their records.
There is a $ 500 limit is a lifetime limit for all energy efficiency property, including insulation, doors,
windows or other wood or pellet stoves. So, if a taxpayer has claimed $ 300 in previous years, for example, they could only claim $ 200 on the 2014 taxes for a qualifying stove.

The tax credit can also apply to wood and pellet boilers.  For outdoor boilers, check this EPA list for efficiency levels. Of the 39 qualified outdoor wood and pellet boilers on the list, only 13 appear to qualify for the tax credit.  (Industry uses the European lower heating value (LHV) to qualify for the tax credit, but American HVAC products use the higher heating value (HHV).  The EPA list uses HHV values and anything on the EPA list that is under 68% efficiency HHV, is not likely to be 75% LHV. If a manufacturer, claims a unit on this list qualifies for the tax credit, but has no efficiency rating or is listed at 67% or lower, you may want to contact the EPA to confirm.)

Since this is almost entirely retroactive, stove retailers may want to contact customers from 2014 and notify them that they may now be eligible for the tax credit.  
The credit is available to qualifying stoves that are 75% efficient or greater.  Industry used a loophole so that virtually every EPA certified wood stove, and every pellet stove (certified and uncertified) qualifies as 75% efficient.  Stove manufacturers were allowed to self-certify their efficiency, using a variety of efficiency calculations and choosing whichever test came out highest.  For more on this topic, click here.
Other heating and cooling equipment had far stricter qualification standards to ensure that consumers got a tax credit for a genuinely more efficient appliance or item.  With pellet stoves especially, consumers could have bought a 55% efficient stove, but calculated their fuel savings at 75%, based on manufacturers assurances. Experts believe that 75% (LHV) may be about the average efficiency of a wood or pellet stove.  Despite claims from industry and many other source, pellet stoves are not necessarily any more efficient than wood stoves.  
Natural gas, propane, or oil furnace or hot water boiler with an annual fuel utilization (AFUE) rate of 95 or greater: $ 150
Split system air source heat pump that meets or exceeds 15 SEER/12.5 EER/8.5 HSPF: $ 300
Split system central air conditioner that meets or exceeds 16 SEER and 13 EER: $ 300
Natural gas, propane, or oil water heater which has either an energy factor of at least 0.82 or a thermal efficiency of at least 90 percent: $ 300
Electric heat pump water heater with an energy factor (EF) of at least 2.0: $ 300
The 2014 tax break cost taxpayers about $ 42 billion.  The tax credit for stoves alone is not likely to cost more than $ 50 million and that’s if a majority of people who bought stoves learn about the credit and take it on their tax return.
By re-enacting the extenders only for 2014, lawmakers have effectively forced themselves to consider the temporary breaks again next year and have opened the door to ending or refashioning some.  Experts say it is highly unlikely that the current batch of tax credits will be extended again in 2015, but some other legislation will be crafted that will selectively extend some, possibly permanently, but at least for multiple years.

While re-instating the tax credits helps many homeowners and businesses, simply extending them to the end of the year offers little certainty going forward for various clean energy sectors.  For the stove manufacturers, the tax credit can give a small boost to sales but the production tax credits for the wind  industry can be vital to whether large scale projects move forward or not. 

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As Utah debates seasonal stove ban, Salt Lake County adopts stricter rules

The proposed state seasonal
ban affects 75% of the Utah
population. 
As Utahns debate a seemingly doomed proposal to ban seasonal stove use,  Utah’s most populous county enacted its own rules banning stove use on both mandatory and voluntary air actions days as of Jan. 1, 2016. In other counties, voluntary air action days continue to be voluntary.

This will impact about half of all wood burning appliances in the non-attainment counties and could contribute significantly to reducing wood smoke.  Salt Lake County has nearly 102,000 wood burning appliances, with fireplaces accounting for a majority of that with 60,000 units, according to EPA figures.  There are nearly 20,000 uncertified wood stoves and about the same number of pellet stoves and certified wood stoves.  

This stove inventory was provided by EPA who use a variety of databases and sources to estimate the deployment of wood burning devices.
The governor’s seasonal ban proposal that would impact 7 counties in and around Salt Lake City is drawing intense and sustained criticism from Utah residents, with only a few people speaking up in support of the ban.  It’s also drawing national attention from the wood stove industry that wants a 2-stage system, where EPA certified stoves could be used in stage 1 and all stove use banned in stage 2.
On the other hand, Salt Lake County, which has a more than a third of the state’s population and nearly half of the population and half the stoves in the Wasatch front non-attainment area, went the opposite direction, including all stoves, certified and uncertified, in both stages of air action days.  “This is a significant measure and with more enforcement could achieve a quarter to a half of the reductions that the Governor’s plan sought,” said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat.

The issue has become an emotionally charged debate about individual rights vs. government control, striking a nerve within a deeply conservative part of the country.  In the public hearings, many people have testified about not being able to afford any other fuel than wood, and not wanting to be forced to use fossil fuel when they can use a cheaper renewable. 
But for air quality officials, the issue is simply about cleaning up the air and meeting federal air quality goals that are tied to highway funding.  The discussion quickly becomes about what the state can enforce and what it can’t.  The problem is that the state compliance capacity is already overstretched, with little ability to take on wood stoves.
However, that is different in Salt Lake County, which is moving ahead to enact stricter rules.  The County has decided to undertake the investigations of wood burning on mandatory no burn days itself, instead of leaving those to the state, which now only issues the fine.  Typically the initial warning is viewed an education process that leads to compliance, so that while many $ 25 fines have been given, rarely has the maximum of $ 299 been imposed. 
The new Salt Lake County rules, which take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, were not a reaction to the governor’s proposal or a rejection of the stove industry’s recommendations.  The County’s process began before the state’s process and ended before the stove industry got involved and helped set up the advocacy group Utahns for Responsible Burning.
According to officials at the Salt Lake Country Health Department, there was virtually no support for exempting EPA certified stoves from the county rule.  Both certified and uncertified stoves can produce excessive smoke, depending on operator behavior and moisture content of wood, with uncertified ones performing worse, on average.  While most EPA certified stoves produce 2 to 4.5 grams of particulates an hour in the lab when they are tested with specially prepared dry wood, they often produce far more in the real world.
The Alliance for Green Heat is urging Utah officials to consider phasing out uncertified stoves, since reducing the number of wood stoves will have the biggest impact.  “It may be that only about half of wood burners are really burning responsibly, whether they own a certified or uncertified stove,” Ackerly said.  “The uncertified stoves made before 1988 are now obsolete and most should not be used in densely populated areas,” Ackerly continued.

The current debate over wood heating comes less than 2 years after the outdoor wood boiler industry fought against Utah regulations that would prevent the installation of wood boilers on the Wasatch Front.  That debate also brought national attention of industry who hired lobbyists in Utah.  The industry effort to keep the market for outdoor boilers open in the non-attainment area was partially based on the now discredited argument that outdoor boilers were cleaner than wood stoves.

That case, like the current debate, involved questions of emissions data from test labs vs. emissions in the real world, and the likelihood that operators would be burning responsibly.


Heated Up!

Flurry of Lobbying on Furnaces and Test Methods on Eve of New Stove Rules

The Office of Management and Budget
is in the Old Executive Office Building
next the White House.

Sources confirmed that the EPA is set to announce the new wood heater rules on Tuesday, February 3rd, the court ordered date.  After years of debate and anticipation about cost impacts and emission standards for stoves and outdoor boilers, the issue that has become the most contested on the eve of the announcement is warm air furnaces.

The Office of Management & Budget (OMB) cleared the rule on Feb. 1 “with changes” setting the stage for it to be signed by Administrator McCarthy and publicly released.  (Rules often take 2 – 4 weeks to appear in the Federal Register after they are publicly released by an agency.)

Even though the big decisions were all supposed to be made last fall, there has been intensive lobbying by stakeholders right up until Friday afternoon, January 30th – one business day ahead of the expected announcement. At least 2 groups met with the Obama Administration through the Office of Management & Budget on Friday, January 30th. During January, interest groups had at least six other meetings with OMB, lobbying for last minute changes to the proposed rule.

The patterns, attendees and paperwork left behind at OMB meetings this month offer a unique glimpse into some of the most contested areas of the rule. Thanks to sunshine laws that make records of meetings with government agencies public, the public can see a list of who met with the OMB in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the rule.

The short term fate of warm air furnaces (WAF) appears to be the top priority of the hearth industry because they represent the only product category where most existing models cannot be made or sold for a period of time after the rule becomes law and before they become certified. HPBA participated in two meetings in January along with their legal counsel and consultant, Jack Ferguson, and various of their member companies, including US Stove, Central Boiler, Hardy, Heatmor and Hawken Energy.

Jack Goldman, CEO of the Hearth Patio & Barbecue Association, said in a letter to EPA that this is “clearly a death sentence” to most of the companies making warm air furnaces. The EPA says that they do not have the legal authority under the Clean Air Act to delay implementation of emissions standards. Warm air furnaces are the only class of wood heaters that will be required to meet emission standards, but are still unregulated and have little ability to be tested and certified until the rule is announced.  US Stove Co may be the leading manufacturer of warm air furnaces in the U.S. and they often sell for less than $ 2,000 – less than most wood stoves.

Another hot topic that emerged in recent months is a dispute over the opposite end of the spectrum from unregulated hot air furnaces – high performance indoor boilers, often made in Europe, but now being made in the US. The EPA certified test labs refuse to use a test method for these appliances developed by DOE’s Brookhaven National Lab and funded by NYSERDA, which captures some start-up emissions and uses cord wood instead of cribs. This is emblematic of a long simmering rift between test methods for outdoor wood boilers and European style indoor boilers with thermal storage, which offer the potential for cleaner combustion. NYSERDA and Econoburn, a NY manufacturer who makes these furnaces ask, “Who should really benefit? Those who innovate or those who refuse to?”

Other meetings in January with OMB and key stakeholders include one with about a dozen air quality agencies and states; with representatives of the Pellet Fuels Institute and a pellet testing facility; and with Intertek Test labs. Attendees in meeting between OMB and indoor and outdoor boilers and furnace manufacturers, and with NYSERDA and New York manufacturers are also in the public record.

If participants of the meetings provided OMB with documents, those documents are also public. Three key documents were provided this month, two from HPBA on a their legal argument (PDF) to delay compliance for hot air furnaces and a survey (PDF) commissioned by HPBA of HPBA member retailers on sell through trends. Four of the groups that met with OMB did not leave materials and there is as of now no record of the topics raised at those meeting. The only other document from the final month of intensive lobbying was from NYSERDA, NESCAUM and New York based companies (powerpoint).


Heated Up!