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Hearth & Home September 2017

Napoleon’s High Country Fireplace.

Not Yet a Blaze

By Bill Sendelback

EPA wood-burning fireplaces are slow to gain market share, as manufacturers spend time in the R&D department preparing for 2020.

Sales of EPA wood-burning fireplaces have been slow for the past few years. Manufacturers recognize that the category remains small, so most are putting their efforts into high sales categories such as gas fireplaces. While most manufacturers have had flat sales, and expect that to continue this year, they are also working to bring their EPA models up to the proposed 2020 emissions standard of 2.0 gph, down from the current EPA standard of 4.5 gph.

EPA wood-burning fireplace sales were up 5% in 2015 in the U.S., but dropped back 4% in 2016. No reliable sales or shipment data are available for 2017. Canadian sales fared even worse, down 5% in 2015 and off another 1.8% in 2016.

Compared to non-EPA wood-burning ZC fireplace sales, EPA models dominate in Canada, representing 64% of the Canadian wood-burning fireplace total in 2016, yet EPA models are only 8% of the U.S. total.

A continuing concern among manufacturers is the confusion between EPA-certified models and EPA-qualified units and their respective performance. EPA-certified models are tested to and listed to the EPA’s wood stove emissions standards as part of the New Source Performance Standards that are at 4.5 gph currently, but will drop to 2.0 gph in 2020.

EPA-qualified models are part of a strictly voluntary EPA program, only requiring fireplace models to be tested to an emissions maximum of 5.1 grams per kilogram of wood burned. That’s an entirely different emissions level and test method than the much more stringent – and more environmentally friendly – test methods and emissions limits for EPA-certified models.

The EPA-qualified program actually better fits open, wood-burning fireplaces, and is part of EPA’s Burn Wise program to educate consumers to burn wood cleaner.

Another category of EPA-certified models may be equally confusing – single burn-rate models. While most EPA-certified wood stoves and fireplaces are tested at four different burn rates – since their combustion air and hence burn rates are adjustable – single burn-rate stoves and fireplaces have no combustion air adjustment, and burn at a consistent rate. Proponents say to get more heat with these models, simply add more wood, and to get less heat, use less wood.

Sales of its EPA-certified, wood-burning fireplaces have been flat but steady for the last three years, according to Chad Hendrickson, Quadra-Fire brand manager and product manager for Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT). “We may get a small uptick in sales with our new model, but we expect about the same sales results this year.”

HHT’s Quadra-Fire Pioneer II.

HHT’s offerings all have “very traditional” styling, says Hendrickson. “Some competitors are offering contemporary models, but we don’t see contemporary in this category as a big deal yet.” He also doesn’t see EPA models as a big category for dealers – yet. “So we’re not getting a lot of models on the showroom floor, one or two, maybe.” The Midwest is HHT’s biggest market for EPA fireplaces, with the West in the number two slot, and the Northeast at number three.

Current EPA models, certified to the present standard, include the non-cat Heat & Glo Northstar, Heatilator Constitution and Quadra-Fire 7100 models. New for HHT is its Quadra-Fire Pioneer II, a smaller, 2.7 cu. ft. firebox, non-cat, single-door model, also certified to the current standard. HHT’s focus in this category is to get all of its models EPA certified to the 2020 standard of less than 2.0 gph of emissions; the company is concentrating on non-catalytic technology.

Innovative Hearth Products (IHP) is doing “fairly well” with its extensive line of EPA-certified models. “But like the market for people who decide to heat with a wood stove, this is not a huge market,” says Glenn Thomson, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing. All IHP models are EPA certified, most to the current standard, using both catalytic and non-cat technologies.

Like most manufacturers, IHP has already re-engineered some models to meet the 2020 EPA standard and is working to get all its models to that tighter emissions standard. “We are using our Purefire technology, a combination of air injection and a catalytic combustor to meet EPA’s 2020 standard,” says Thomson. “It’s a rendition of old catalytic technology, but we’re using a specific ceramic combustor that actually likes and wants high heat and flame impingement, a tested technology used in oil refineries.”

IHP models that are currently EPA certified are its Astria brand Montecito, Montecito Estate, Brentwood, Brentwood LV, Ladera and Villa Vista, and Superior WCT 3840, WCT 6820, WCT 4820, WRT 4826 and WRT 4820, all certified to the 2020 standard.

The Montecito Estate fireplace by IHP.

The company’s BIS Collection of EPA-certified models is now included in IHP’s Astria line. “These BIS models are thought of as closed-combustion, built-in wood stoves by people looking for heat. We will be increasing our offerings in this line,” adds Thomson.

Thomson still is concerned about the confusion by dealers and consumers over the EPA-qualified and EPA-certified terminology. “The dealer needs to know the difference since that difference is so great in performance,” he says. “The way the EPA-qualified requirements are, almost any open-front, wood-burning fireplace can be EPA qualified. And the consumer may only hear “EPA” and then be disappointed in the performance of an EPA-qualified model. Single burn-rate models are also confusing to dealers and consumers.”

Napoleon Fireplaces is seeing a “fairly nice” sales increase in its two models of EPA-certified fireplaces, according to John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. “We’ve exceeded our sales forecast even though these are high ticket items,” he says.

Napoleon now offers its High Country 7000 and 8000 models and is introducing a new, smaller High Country 5000 version. All are EPA-certified to the current standard and feature Napoleon’s Zero Gravity guillotine glass door and spark screen, a feature allowing either door or both to be up or down.

“We plan to have more models certified to the 2020 standard,” says Czerwonka, “but right now we’re trying to figure out what is happening in Washington, D.C., to that standard, whether it may be dropped or delayed.”

Pacific Energy Fireplace Products has three models of EPA wood-burning fireplaces certified to the current standard, according to Cory Iversen, North American Sales manager, but the company is working to have all three re-certified to the 2020 standard in 2018. “We’re seeing sales of our EPA models pick up, and we’re gaining market share,” he says. Pacific Energy, too, is “having more luck” with traditional-styled models.

Pacific Energy currently offers three non-cat models in its Pacific Energy brand, the FP 16, FP 25 and FP 30, plus an EPA-qualified Town & Country 120 model. New is a craftsman-styled front for the Pacific Energy FP 30 Arch model. “We’re adding more options to our EPA line,” Iversen adds.

FP 30 Arch by Pacific Energy.

Regency Fireplace Products also reports sales of EPA fireplace models as “about the same – flat,” says Glen Spinelli, president. Acknowledging that Regency is not yet a huge player in the category, Spinelli says the company will introduce four new models next year, aiming at an introduction at the HPBExpo. “We know the market is there, and we’re going after it in 2018. We’re going for EPA-certified models, but some may initially be EPA qualified. It is fairly challenging to get to 2.0 gph, so we’re using not only our own engineers but those of NIBE Stoves, our business partner in Sweden.”

Spinelli sees the U.S. as a bigger market with the West Coast “doing really well – up double digits” last year because of the region’s cold winter.

Current EPA-certified models from Regency are its Excalibur EX90 and Classic R90, both traditional-styled, non-cat models. But among the four models planned for 2018 is a linear model from Contura, another NIBE-owned, European stove and fireplace manufacturer.

For Stove Builder International (SBI), EPA fireplace sales are “very good,” and this is a growing category, especially in the U.S., says Marc-Antoine Cantin, president. “It has always been a big category in Canada with most manufacturers based in Eastern Canada.”

With SBI’s full line of EPA models, Cantin says this has helped the company gain dealers. Cantin sees rural areas as markets for EPA fireplaces. “Most customers there want big units, traditionally-styled with a big view of the fire, and they don’t care if they produce too much heat. Urban consumers want contemporary, clean-faced models and linear, if they are available.”

A concern for Cantin is that the consumer does not know the difference between decorative models and high-efficiency, EPA units. He’s not a fan of single burn-rate models. “They have no air controls so they burn very quickly. But consumers expect the long burn times available with controlled combustion models. Today’s EPA-certified models are an opportunity for dealers, offering wood stove performance with low emissions from a built-in fireplace.”

SBI offers its Valcourt FP 10, Lafayette FP 12, Mundo FP 14 Cartier and FP 15 Waterloo, all as EPA-certified models.

Supreme’s Galaxy fireplace.

Supreme is also doing “really well” with its EPA fireplaces, according to Katherine Marcakis, engineer. “We’re getting a lot of interest from today’s environmentally- conscious consumers – and dealers. We’re also getting a lot of demand for contemporary models with a minimal frame and a large viewing area.”

Supreme’s Galaxy and Duet See-Through non-cat models are EPA certified to the current standard. The Duet is the only EPA-certified see-through model. While working to bring these models up to the 2020 standard, Supreme is introducing its new Laser non-cat model, certified to the 2020 standard, with a stainless-steel firebox lined with cast iron.

EPA fireplace sales are “constant, not up or down,” says Perry Ranes, Sales director for Travis Industries. “I’m forecasting a small sales increase this year in this category, but that increase is expected from two new EPA clean-faced versions we’ve introduced.

“We’re finding a lot of interest for remodeling jobs. The idea of using an EPA certified fireplace to heat a home is becoming more appealing.”

Travis has been offering its Fireplace Xtrordinair Elite 36 and 44 models EPA-certified to the current standard, and its Apex 42 model, certified to the 2020 standard, all catalytic models. New to Travis are two versions of the Apex 42, a traditional model with convection air circulation through openings in the frame, and a clean-faced version with convection air circulation remotely above and below the fireplace. All three versions of the Apex 25 are EPA certified to 0.69 gph of emissions, one of the lowest ratings in the industry.

EPA models, especially EPA-certified models, are certainly not your parents’ old wood-burning fireplaces. They produce more heat and far fewer emissions, but use less wood – a combination that should breathe new life into the category.

Fireplace Xtrordinair Apex 42 fireplace.

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