H.E. Fireplaces, Go!
By Bill Sendelback
For many years, wood stoves in the U.S. have been required to meet particulate emissions standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wood-burning fireplaces, however, have dodged any EPA regulatory attempts. Now, since the recent adoption of the EPA’s latest New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), a still small but growing number of specialized, high-efficiency and clean burning, built-in, wood-burning fireplaces have been certified by the EPA, just like wood stoves.
However, some of the EPA’s own well-intended efforts have caused confusion among consumers and hearth dealers. This new breed of clean-burning wood fireplaces is being “certified” by the EPA by being tested to, and listed to, the same EPA standards as wood stoves – maximum particulate emissions of 4.5 gph now, and 2.0 gph beginning in 2020. These are truly high-efficiency, low-emission, wood-burning fireplaces.
The confusion occurs because there is another EPA category for wood-burning fireplaces called EPA “qualified” that may confuse consumers with the true EPA “certified” designation.
Ed. Note: Apparently some manufacturers and some retailers are promoting “qualified” as being the same as “certified,” which it is not.
The EPA qualified fireplace program actually dates back to a joint effort by the HPBA and the EPA to create a test method and standard that truly fits open, wood-burning fireplaces.
As part of the EPA’s Burn Wise program to educate consumers on burning wood more cleanly, the EPA Qualified Wood-Burning Fireplace Program is a strictly voluntary program that only requires fireplace models to be tested to an emissions maximum of 5.1 grams per kilogram of wood burned, an entirely different emissions level and test method than the much more stringent test methods and emissions limits for EPA certified models.
Many of today’s wood-burning fireplaces can be EPA qualified, but only the very few that have been tested and listed to the EPA’s wood stove standards can be designated EPA certified, and can be used where only EPA-certified wood-burners, stoves or fireplaces are allowed.
Sales numbers for EPA-certified, high-efficiency, wood-burning fireplaces are still small, not yet topping 9,000 units in the U.S. and just approaching 4,000 units in Canada, according to industry figures. As the economies of both countries began to recover in 2014, manufacturers’ shipments of these high-efficiency clean-burners were up more than 22 percent in the U.S. and almost six percent in Canada.
Even though manufacturer sales stalled in 2015 – down four percent in the U.S. and down almost two percent in Canada – fireplace manufacturers are putting more effort, resources and sales confidence in this niche market.
Hearth dealers also appear to be gaining confidence in the category. According to Hearth & Home’s annual retailer survey, 71 percent of U.S. hearth dealers are selling “clean-burning fireplaces.” Sales at the dealer level were up five percent in 2015, according to the survey, with an average retail price of $4,174.
Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT) offers three EPA-certified, wood-burning fireplaces but plans to introduce more later this year, according to John Shimek, senior vice president of New Product Development. The Heat & Glo Northstar and Heatilator Constitution are similar models, both non-catalytic with 2.7 cu. ft. fireboxes producing 3.25 gph of emissions. HHT’s Quadra-Fire 7100 model features a 3.4 cu. ft. firebox producing 92,000 Btus and 3.1 gph of emissions.
“This is a small, stable, niche market, but a solid product category,” says Shimek. “It gives consumers what they want – a quality heat-producing fireplace with impressive flames.” HHT has found success with these EPA-certified models in the upper Midwest, and now in the West as they attract more interest from high-end, specialty homebuilders.
“We’re confident we can get wood fireplaces to meet the 2020 standards,” says Shimek, “but we are working our butts off to do so. For both our wood stoves and fireplaces, we have about 60 appliances to get through EPA testing.”
ICC has taken a different approach to an EPA-certified wood-burner with its new RSF Delta Fusion; it takes advantage of the EPA’s NSPS single-burn-rate category to meet the standards. While most EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplaces are tested at four burn rates, since their burn rates are adjustable, single-burn-rate models cannot be dampered down; they burn at a consistent rate. Featuring large glass, the Vesta Award-winning Delta Fusion is EPA certified at 1.3 gph with a 4.4 cu. ft. firebox producing as much as 70,000 Btus.
“If you want less heat, you simply control the fire by using less wood,” explains Ray Bonar, vice president of ICC. “It’s like driving a car. If you want to go faster, you step on the gas and add more fuel. If you want to go slower, you let off on the gas and burn less fuel.” The Delta Fusion, with traditional bay window styling, can duct heat into other rooms and offers an optional blower.
Innovative Hearth Products (IHP) probably has the largest number of EPA-certified, wood-burning fireplaces with six models in its Astria line and five in its Superior line. Included are both catalytic and non-cat models with fireboxes from 1.48 cu. ft. to 4.0 cu. ft. producing from 50,000 to 80,000 Btus and with emissions ratings from 3.7 gph to 4.0 gph and efficiencies from 75 percent to 86.7 percent.
Newly featured are the Astria Montecito Estate and Superior WCT 3840, both with three cu. ft. fireboxes producing only 1.48 gph of emissions using a new catalytic technology from IHP. Originally used in oil refineries to scrub the smoke, this catalyst system – IHP’s Purefire Technology – uses a sponge-like combustor impregnated with precious metals.
“Unlike the traditional honeycomb combustor, this sponge-like combustor causes the smoke to travel farther through it for a cleaner burn,” says Glenn Thomson, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing. IHP’s Purefire Technology also can be retrofitted into the throat of many older wood-burning fireplaces, even masonry models, to reduce emissions by as much as 70 percent, according to IHP.
“Everyone is totally confused about EPA-qualified and EPA-certified,” says Thomson. “Unfortunately, some locales don’t understand the difference so they are simply making all wood-burning fireplaces illegal.”
Napoleon Fireplaces offers two EPA-certified models, the High Country 7000, a contemporary, linear model, and the traditional 8000 model, both non-cats producing less than 4 gph of emissions. Both feature Napoleon’s Zero Gravity “guillotine” glass door and spark screen that rise up into the front of the fireplaces.
“We launched these models in the last 90 days, and they are flying out the door,” says John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. “We’re already backlogged on them in both the U.S. and Canada. We’re selling a lot to custom home builders for use in our cottage country.”
More EPA-certified models are on the way from Napoleon. “As a manufacturer, we need to be responsive to our environment while still producing beautiful and high-performance products for our consumers,” he adds.
“Sales of our EPA-certified, wood-burning fireplaces are growing immensely for us,” says Shannon Sears, general manager of Pacific Energy Fireplace Products. The company offers three models in its Pacific Energy brand, the FP16, FP25 and FP30, all non-cats in either traditional or contemporary styling, with Btus ranging from 70,000 to 99,000, efficiencies from 70.2 percent to 76.8 percent, and emissions ratings from 2.47 to 3.09 gph.
“Our FP16 shocked us,” adds Sears. “It has the smallest firebox, but it gets almost too hot. Its sales are way beyond forecast.” The FP25 and FP30 also offer EPA-compliant heat take-offs that duct heat to other rooms. All models use six-in. chimney, lowering the installation costs.
“We’ve made a commitment that all our models will be non-catalytic, and all our wood appliances will be certified to the 2020 standards as non-cats,” says Sears. “Catalytic combustion is old technology and an easy solution, just like single-burn-rate models.”
Regency Fireplace Products offers two EPA-certified, wood-burning fireplaces, the Excalibur EX90 and the Classic R90, both traditional in style, non-cat models producing 70,000 Btus and 3.8 gph of emissions with 77.4 percent efficiency. The company also is working on a linear version and a more traditional model with large glass.
“EPA certification does make for a better product,” says Glen Spinelli, president. “At least in Canada, consumers recognize the value of EPA certification. Shoppers more and more want the most efficient products. This category has a future, but we just have to develop for the 2020 standard using non-cat technology. With our own in-house facility to test to EPA standards, we’re experimenting with various technologies to get there. Quite a bit of R&D is required. It’s not as simple as in the past, but we’re in favor of the EPA standards.”
“EPA-certified models have been one of our best markets in our Valcourt line in both the U.S. and Canada,” says Marc-Antoine Cantin, president of Stove Builder International. SBI offers four non-cat models in its Valcourt line and three in its Osburn brand with Btus ranging from 65,000 to 95,000, efficiencies from 69.7 percent to 75 percent and emissions from 1.6 gph to 4.4 gph. The company’s newest model, the Valcourt FP15 Waterloo, is rated at 1.6 gph to meet the 2020 EPA standard with a 4.3 cu. ft. firebox.
“We’ve sold a surprising number of these EPA-certified models all over the U.S.,” Cantin adds. “They are perfect as whole house heaters, and heat can be ducted to other rooms. But they are not a product for the DIY market. We sell them only to specialty hearth shops. They need to be carefully installed with attention to clearances to combustibles.”
Supreme offers two EPA-certified models, its Galaxy model that produces 100,000 Btus and 3.5 gph of emissions featuring “one of the largest fireboxes,” and its Duet See-Through, the only EPA-certified, see-through model, that also produces 100,000 Btus and 3.6 gph.
“With all the environmental issues in North America, we’re seeing definite growth with excellent sales in both Canada and the U.S.,” according to Katherine Marcakis, product engineer. “We’re working to meet the 2020 standards with no intention of going to catalytic combustors. It is very challenging, but we’re confident we can have the best products that are user friendly.” All Supreme wood-burners, including the EPA-certified models, feature the company’s Automatic Combustion Air Control that has been awarded two international patents.
Travis Industries offers two EPA-certified fireplaces in its Fireplace Xtrordinair line, the Elite 36 that produces 66,000 Btus and 2.3 gph of emissions with 73 percent efficiency, and the Elite 44 that produces 76,700 Btus and 2.5 gph with 72 percent efficiency. Both are traditional, arched front, catalytic models.
Brand new to the line is the catalytic 42 Apex, producing 62,000 Btus and only 0.7 gph (!) in a 3.5 cu. ft. firebox. Available in both traditional and contemporary styling, the 42 Apex offers two different doors and three optional faces, and installs with seven-in. Class A chimney or eight-in. air cooled pipe.
“This is a fast growing category for us,” says Perry Ranes, director of Sales, “and we’ve been fortunate to capture a large portion of this market.”
If the EPA’s NSPS has done anything positive, it has ignited exciting research and development efforts and results. What’s more exciting is that it has given a much-needed environmental shot in the arm to the very maligned wood-burning fireplace.