First page of the Heating archive.

Top 10 stories in 2017 for wood and pellet heating

Posted by Earth Stove on January 6, 2018 with No Commentsas , , , ,
2017 may not have been the most momentous year for wood and pellet stoves, but every year is full of important stories and these are what we see as the top 10. Think we missed one of 2017’s top stories?  Leave a comment.
      1. Wood stove sales lag
Warmer winters and lower fossil fuel prices are likely the main causes of continued sluggish sales of wood stoves and inserts in 2017.  Gas appliances continue to gain in popularity.  The 2015 EPA regulations are rarely cited as contributing to the current malaise in the market, and local restrictions are unlikely to have much of an impact either.  The final weeks of 2017 and first week of 2018 brought arctic temperatures to much of the US, boosting sales of both pellets and stoves.  But will it last?
2. Funding for change out programs rolled back
Whoever thought a motorcycle company would deal a big blow to the stove industry?  To be fair, it had little to do with motorcycles and a lot to do with the Trump Administration wanting to do away with out-of-court air quality violations settlements that allowed polluters to pay part of their fine in programs that improve air quality.  Harley Davidson happened to be the poster child of companies willing to support a change out program, but not allowed to do so by the Trump Administration.  That pipeline of funding, up to 10 million a year, is now cut off, dealing another blow to programs seeking to get people to part ways with their old wood stove, and exchange it for a new pellet, gas or wood stove.
3. Congress – lots of expectation but no action
Three key initiatives – the BTU Act, the NSPS delay and the biomass heater tax credit – did not come to fruition in 2017.  All three initiatives remain in play in 2018, but with each passing month, 2018 will get more consumed by the fall election season. The BTU Act would help the entire biomass thermal energy sector and has some key backers, such as Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). The bills to delay NSPS deadlines by 3 years passed committees, largely on party lines.  With the razor thin majority in the Senate, Democratic support for these initiatives may be more important in 2018.
4. Cordwood test methods are on the rise
The ASTM E3053 cord wood test protocol developed largely by industry members was completed and is now an accepted alternative test method.  However, companies don’t appear to be lining up to use it to certify their stoves.  Meanwhile, NESCAUM is taking the lead in designing what they say is a much more realistic cordwood test method as it takes into account more frequent reloading.  That method appears to have EPA’s interest and may be more likely to be referenced by the federal and/or state governments.
5. The renewable energy movement gains steam, helping pellet systems
Despite a President who champions coal and fossil fuels, the renewable energy movement is gaining ground worldwide.  Automated pellet and chip heating systems are being installed more rapidly in Europe and are gaining wider acceptance in the US.  Pellet stoves and boilers are also becoming more recognized in green building circles.  Campuses, towns, cities and states striving to reduce fossil fuel use usually start with electricity and transition to green heating options. 
6. Anti-wood smoke groups gain legitimacy
In 2017, we saw a rise of clean air groups campaigning for more restrictions on wood stove installation and use.  Some of the core activists emerged years ago when their communities or homes were subjected to excessive smoke from outdoor wood boilers.  In 2017, the focus shifted more to wood stoves, mostly in communities in the West, but to some extent in the Northeast.  Often, tensions rose over lack of enforcement by local jurisdictions who didn’t have the resources, training and/or political will to deal with those creating excessive smoke.  Overall there is a growing recognition that wood smoke is a serious health concern and debates in local and state forums will likely grow in coming years.
7.  Consolidation of stove and pellet plants continues
In the wood and pellet stove world, Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) did not announce major new acquisitions in 2017, but the company consolidated by moving Quadra-Fire and Vermont Castings production to its Pennsylvania facility.  However, 2017 also saw market share continue to slip away from higher-priced manufacturers like most HHT brands to the lower priced manufacturers that sell from hardware chains.  On the wood pellet front, Lignetics continued its buying spree, finalizing a deal to acquire New England Wood Pellet at the very end of 2017. 
8. DOE co-sponsors Wood Stove Design Challenge
After many years of sitting on the sidelines of thermal biomass, the Department of Energy found an entre in the 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge.  DOE is providing funding and its PR department is issuing news releases, lending greater credibility and a higher profile to the event.  The competition features automated stoves and stoves that produce electricity to supplement wintertime solar PV output, showcasing new roles that wood stoves could play if they run more reliably cleaner in real world settings.  The competition will also showcase cordwood testing protocols and fossil fuel reductions achievable by wood stoves compared to solar panels.
9. NY, MD and MA recognize efficiency in stove programs
In 2017, three states began using efficiency criteria to determine eligibility in incentive or change out programs.  NY now requires pellet stoves to have verified efficiencies on the EPA list of certified stoves.  MD & MA provide higher incentives for stoves with verified efficiencies, as Oregon does, but with a far simpler formulas.  The rampant practice by most manufacturers of providing misleading and exaggerated efficiency values – a practice not tolerated in other HVAC sectors – motivated these states to act.
10. The new EPA wood heater regulations move forward
OK, 2017 was not a big news year for the new heater regulations, known as the NSPS.  But in 2017 all large forced air wood furnaces were required to be certified (including smaller ones who pretended to be large to evade certification in 2016).  In April, there were only six EPA certified furnaces ranging from 48% to 89% efficiency, now there are 16.  2017 was a pivotal year in that it marked the midpoint between 2015 and 2020, when all heaters must meet stricter emission standards.  And, with each passing month, more heaters become 2020 compliant as manufacturers hedge their bets in case Congress, the Administration or the courts do not derail the 2020 deadline. In 2017, some exciting new innovation hit the market, including automated MF Fire Catalyst, the Optima designed just to burn pressed logs and more coming soon.

Did we miss something?  Post a comment!

Heated Up!

Coal Heating in the United States

Posted by Earth Stove on June 18, 2017 with No Commentsas , , ,

By John Ackerly & Melissa Bollman
Alliance for Green Heat

This paper was prepared for the Warsaw Stove Summit which brought AGH and scores of experts in coal and wood heating from 19 countries to Poland in May 2017.

Summary
The US Census Bureau estimates that approximately 127,000 households used coal as a primary heating fuel in 2015, or about 0.1% of American homes. Residential coal heating dropped rapidly until 2000 and since then has been relatively stable.

More than half of homes using coal heat are concentrated in Pennsylvania and New York, right where it is mined. It appears to be based on cultural traditions and local support for local jobs because its still a very inexpensive way to heat and easy to transport. Most of the United States has no restrictions on coal heating and there have been few attempts to restrict it. Rather, it seems to have gradually died out except in pockets of states where anthracite is mined. Bituminous and sub-bituminous coal is much more widely dispersed but it is used far less than anthracite.

Coal stoves, particularly those fueled with anthracite coal that principally comes form Pennsylvania, typically have less particular matter than wood or possibly even pellet stoves. However, their health impacts may be far worse, as coal often emits high levels of SO2 and oxides from nitrogen.  In addition, coal often has poisonous toxins such as flourine, arsenic, selenium, mercury and lead.  For more on health impacts of coal and wood heating in the US and Europe, we excerpted key parts of a World Health Organization report here.

Who heats with coal and why?

Homes that heat with coal tend to be concentrated near anthracite coal mines and in homes with lower or mid level incomes. In the wealthier and more urban counties of Pennsylvania that are within 100 miles of anthracite mines, virtually no households heat with coal. High use of coal heat does not correlate with high use of wood heat. Both coal and wood are favored by rural, lower-income populations but coal appears to be favored near anthracite mines, and wood is favored in nearby, rural counties, according to data from the US census. The highest percentage of homes heating with coal at the county level is about 13%.

A prominent 2008 New York Times article reported that residential coal heating was on the rise, but rise was modest, and petered out a few years later. That rise corresponded with a major recession from 2007 – 2009 during which rates of wood heat soared far higher than coal. The New York Times also reported that an additional 80,000 homes use coal as a secondary heat source and the US Census reported 104,000 used it as a secondary heat source in 2005. Only 4,000 homes use it to cook with and 22,000 used it to heat domestic hot water in 2005, according to the US Census.


In 2015, the top five states for residential coal heating were Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana. Over 50% of US homes that heat primarily with coal are located in Pennsylvania, where anthracite coal is mined.

The primary benefits of heating with coal, compared to wood, is 1. it burns for longer periods of time, so less reloading is needed and a home can easily stay warm overnight; 2. Like pellets, it can be delivered in bags on pallets by a forklift, and does not need the time consuming splitting, stacking and seasoning that cordwood needs; 3. It is even more inexpensive per BTU (assuming you don’t cut the wood yourself); and 4. It is a very dense fuel, and takes up half the space that the same amount of wood takes, per BTU.

The downside of heating with coal is 1. The odor, which most people find moderately unpleasant; 2. The black dust which is harder to clean than dirt and wood pieces from cordwood; and 3. Its hard to light, requiring most people to start the fire with wood, before switching to coal.

While the above pros and cons are widely agreed upon, other less tangible factors play a role. Coal has increasingly gained a stigma as a dirty, non-renewable fuel, whereas wood is regarded as far more environmentally friendly (even though particulate matter from wood can be equally high). On the other hand, the dwindling economic prospects of coal towns and counties tends to make those populations want to support the fuel to combat what they often see as an unfair bias against coal.

Coal and coal stoves

Coal stoves are either stokers or batch. Stokers automatically feed coal pellets (much like pellet stoves) into the stove, require electricity and only use anthracite. Batch stoves are loaded by hand and can take anthracite or bituminous.

Most coal used for heating in the US is anthracite but anecdotal estimates by experts say that no more than 25% is bituminous, primarily in areas where its abundant.

The EIA stopped collecting data on residential coal consumption in 2008. In 2007, the EIA reported that US residents consumed 353,000 short tons (320,171 metric tons) of coal, which represented only 0.03% of the nation’s annual coal use (1.1 billion short tons or around 1 billion metric tons). The overwhelming majority of course (93%) of US coal is used to generate electricity.

Usually coal is sold in 40 or 50 pound bags or by the ton. Coal may be sold directly to consumers from the mine, a fuel supplier, or a hardware store. Blaschak is one of the largest suppliers of bagged anthracite coal and sold 374,000 tons in 2014. Forty pound bags of anthracite coal (any size) from Pennsylvania usually run $ 6-$ 8. A ton of anthracite typically costs between $ 190 and $ 210 per ton, before delivery charges (which can increase price to $ 250-$ 300). One fuel seller, Central Maine Coal, sells about 200 short tons (181 metric tons) of residential coal per heating season.

Bituminous coal is usually considered a better coal for blacksmithing than heating, but can be burned in some coal stoves and is often only $ 80-$ 100 per ton.

Institutional heating with coal is somewhat relevant to residential coal heating and data indicates that institutional coal heating is declining much more rapidly that residential heating.

According to the EIA, US educational institutions consumed 700,000 short tons (634,900 metric tons) of coal in 2015, down from 2 million short tons (1.8 metric tons) in 2008. Twenty of the 57 US educational institutions that used coal in 2008 reported not using it 2015 due to sustainability initiatives. It is likely that most of the coal consumed at educational institutions is used to generate heat. Most US schools no longer heat with coal. Recent (2015-2016) news articles report that only five public schools heat with coal in West Virginia and four schools heat with coal in Cumberland, Maryland. One of the Maryland schools uses 517 tons of coal annually at a cost of $ 120 per ton.

Coal stove companies

Most coal stoves are made in Pennsylvania except for one big producer, Hitzer stoves located in eastern Indiana. Sales of coal stoves are reported to average 4,000 to 7,000 a year, but in 2008 they may have topped 10,000. In comparison, about 140,000 wood stoves are sold each year. There are about a dozen companies making coal stoves and one notable trend is that the larger wood stove companies are getting out of the coal stove business. Vermont Castings, Harman and Moreso used to sell coal stoves and now don’t. The one company that still focuses on both fuels is US Stove Company, based in Tennessee. Coal stoves cost about the same as wood stoves and range between $ 2,000 – $ 3,500.

Stove policy

Coal stoves remain exempt from EPA emission regulations. Coal stoves have never had a certification program at the EPA or at any state level, although the federal government and some states have indicated an interest in developing emission regulations. Regulation would likely drive up the cost of coal stoves and may reduce sales of coal stoves but other strategies may reduce their use faster and more economically. But without emission regulations, there is little data on coal stove emissions from various types of coal stoves, and there is little incentive for stove companies to try to produce cleaner stoves. Tests conducted in the 1980s suggested that wood stoves emitted higher levels of particulate matter than anthracite stoves, but lower levels than bituminous stoves (Houck, 2009). Of course, wood emits fewer other toxic chemicals than coal.

One significant policy change in 2015 was the ban on advertising dual coal/wood use in stoves unless the stove was certified with wood, and the company also tested for coal emissions and provided that data to the EPA. To our knowledge, no company has done this so no stove should advertise the ability to burn wood and coal any more.

The EPA is currently funding research on coal emissions and has developed an unofficial, draft test method at Robert Ferguson’s lab. However, this is being undertaken only because of an EPA program to change out coal stoves on the Navajo Indian reservation, not because it has any apparent mandate or serious plan to start regulating coal stoves.

It is unlikely under the Trump administration that any certification program would be initiated by the EPA, and the only state with enough coal stoves to justify the effort would be Pennsylvania, which is unlikely to do so.

Restrictions of the use of coal stoves

Unlike the United Kingdom, there has never been any national effort in the US to reduce reliance on coal stoves. Krakow, a major Polish city is banning coal stoves in 2019, after a multi-year effort to provide subsidies for alternative heating sources.

Two states – Washington and Oregon – effectively ban them because they only allow stoves that meet specific emission requirements, but those states would have very little coal heating anyway.

Many air districts that have poor air quality and high particulate matter levels employ temporary burn bans apply to coal stoves and well as wood stoves. A few jurisdictions, such as Fairbanks, Alaska, offer homeowners financial incentives to recycle their solid fuel burning appliance (including coal stoves) or replace it with a less polluting appliance (coal stoves are not eligible). However, most change out programs only remove old wood stoves and do not allow coal stoves to be replaced with wood stoves. A Pennsylvania county offered $ 200 to trade in old wood or coal stoves, but that program has been suspended.

Oregon is the only state where it is illegal to sell a coal stove, or any other uncertified solid fuel burning appliance. Oregon also requires uncertified solid fuel burning appliances, including coal stoves, to be removed and destroyed when a home is sold. According to the latest (2015) Census data, only 143 homes rely on coal for primary heat in Oregon.

At the local level, there may be a number of cities or counties that do not allow coal stoves, but the only one we could find is Summit County, Colorado that forbids the installation of a coal stove (uncertified solid fuel burning device) in a new home or as a replacement unit for an existing non-certified stove.

Key sources

Dr. James Houck, “Let’s Not Forget Coal,” Hearth & Home Magazine, December 2009, pp.

World Health Organization, “Residential heating with wood and coal: Health impacts and policy options in Europe and North America,” 2015.

Tom Zeller, “Burning Coal at Home Is Making a Comeback,” New York Times, Dec. 26, 2008 
Heated Up!

Residential heating with wood and coal in the US and Europe (excerpts)

Posted by Earth Stove on January 6, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , ,

This site contains excerpts from a very crucial and readable report released by the Planet Health Organization (WHO) in 2015. &nbspIt is mainly from a wellness and policy perspective and is extremely useful for North American as it provides more of a European point of view and is balanced in its technique. The complete 58-page […]

Mapping wooden heating and wood smoke in the United States

Posted by Earth Stove on December 9, 2016 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

Wood heating has created a comeback in the United States and has been the quickest expanding heating gasoline for most several years given that 2005, according to US Census figures. Currently, 2.36 million houses in the United States use wood as a primary heating gas (ACS, 2015, 1-year estimates). And 8.eight U.S. million houses use […]

US government projects continued increase in wood and pellet heating

Posted by Earth Stove on October 10, 2015 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

On October 6, the US government agency responsible for tracking energy supply and usage released its annual winter fuels outlook. The report predicted that next winter will be warmer than average but energy prices will be lower. Consequently, consumers are expected to pay 10 – 20% less on their household heating than last winter.  The […]

Wood Heating Trends in Utah

Posted by Earth Stove on July 5, 2015 with No Commentsas , , ,

The proposal by the Governor of Utah to ban the wintertime use of wood and pellet stoves was met with intense opposition from a large majority of Utah residents and the wood stove industry. It also underscored the need for Utah state agencies, the media, and the public to better understand the role of wood […]

New EPA Stove Regulations Begin Cleaner Chapter for Wood Heating

Posted by Earth Stove on July 4, 2015 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

Statement by the Alliance for Green Heat on the Wood Heater NSPS Key EPA architects of this NSPS includeGreg Green, left, and Gil Wood,  right  andAmanda Simcox. Gil retired on February 3.  Overall, the EPA did a good job and released a fair rule that includes many compromises between industry and air quality agencies.  We […]

New EPA Stove Rules Begin Cleaner Chapter for Wooden Heating

Posted by Earth Stove on February 6, 2015 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

Statement by the Alliance for Green Heat on the Wood Heater NSPS Key EPA architects of this NSPS includeGreg Green, left, and Gil Wood,  right  andAmanda Simcox. Gil retired on February 3.  Overall, the EPA did a good job and released a fair rule that includes many compromises between industry and air quality agencies.  We […]

Wooden Heating Trends in Utah

Posted by Earth Stove on February 4, 2015 with No Commentsas , , ,

The proposal by the Governor of Utah to ban the wintertime use of wood and pellet stoves was met with intense opposition from a large majority of Utah residents and the wood stove industry. It also underscored the need for Utah state agencies, the media, and the public to better understand the role of wood […]

Australia Firewood Association Scores Earn for Wood Heating

Posted by Earth Stove on June 24, 2014 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

A green constructing common in Australia has assigned very reduced carbon values for wood and pellet heating, which will encourage builders and architects to specify wood heating, since it is now a expense powerful implies of achieving factors towards the inexperienced creating. The regular, named BASIX stands for the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) and aims […]