Heating With Wood
By Bill Sendelback
You’ve heard it before: Upon seeing his premature obituary in a London newspaper in 1897, the late famed author and humorist Mark Twain said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” The same could be said for woodburning in North America. Certainly woodburning sales numbers are nowhere near what they were 10 or 20 years ago, and gas hearth products continue to take more market share. But woodburning is alive and well in North America, and even growing while under pressure from environmentalists and the demands of the EPA’s May 15, 2020, deadline to meet the tougher emissions restrictions of the NSPS.
The total U.S. shipments of all wood-burning hearth products hit a high point in 2001 of 637,856 units. In 2012, total wood-burner U.S. shipments had dropped to a record low of 180,006 units. But by 2016, the last year of industry-reported figures, sales had rebounded 16% to 208,806.
The most recent industry estimates, without industry shipment numbers, indicate that, in 2017, wood stove sales were up 3% over 2016 totals, zero-clearance fireplaces were up 4% and clean-burning wood fireplace sales were up 2%. In comparison, sales of vented gas fireplaces were up 11%.
Hearth & Home’s most recent Buyer’s Guide reports that the average specialty hearth product dealer realizes 28% of his or her sales from wood-burning hearth appliances, and 49% of his or her sales from gas models. In wood stoves, 83% of dealer sales are non-catalytic models, and 17% are catalytic units, a number that may shift significantly as more EPA-certified 2020 models hit the market.
Research also shows that 56% of wood stoves sold in the U.S. are of steel construction, while 38% are cast iron, and 6% are a stone and cast-iron combination.
A major concern voiced by all manufacturers is the May 15, 2020, deadline for dealer sell-through of non-2020-certified wood and pellet burners. The EPA in late 2018 proposed a two-year extension of the dealer sell-through deadline for hydronic heaters and forced air furnaces. That proposal did not include other wood and pellet appliances, but the EPA did take comments on whether a similar dealer sell-through extension was “appropriate” for wood and pellet appliances and, if so, for how long and why. Both sets of comments were to have been received by the EPA by Jan. 14, 2019, but the recent U.S. government shutdown has delayed any EPA reactions.
Burn Wise Wood Smoke Activity Book
The EPA’s Burn Wise Program has updated its popular children’s activity book. Changes include new pages featuring an annual inspection by a chimney sweep. Order free copies at www.epa.gov/burnwise/orderform.
“This dealer sell-through extension for hydronic heaters and forced air furnaces was only a proposal by EPA, not an action cast in concrete,” according to Ryan Carroll, the HPBA’s vice president of Government Affairs. “For the exact same reasons this dealer sell-through extension would be appropriate for hydronic heaters and forced air furnaces, we feel it is just as appropriate for wood and pellet appliances.” The HPBA continues to push for extension of the dealer sell-through provisions of the NSPS as well as additional “broader changes” to the NSPS. Stay tuned.
Congressional efforts to delay the NSPS implementation by three years failed in the U.S. Senate, effectively eliminating those efforts at this time.
Following 2017 sales of wood-burners that were Blaze King’s best sales year ever in the U.S., the company’s 2018 U.S. sales were “flat,” while its Canadian sales were “very strong”, says Alan Murphy, president. “It seems like the entire market for wood-burning products was down last year in the U.S. But we expect a sales increase overall this year, with continued sales growth, particularly in the East.”
Offering wood-burning catalytic stoves and fireplace inserts, Murphy admits Blaze King models are “not the cheapest” on the market. He sees many Blaze King models being used as a primary heat source, mostly in rural areas, because of the company’s larger fireboxes and longer burn times. So the company is promoting its new models with reported heat producing burn times as long as 16 hours.
Like most manufacturers of wood-burners, Murphy is concerned about the lack of additional time for dealers and distributors to sell off Step 1, non-2020 EPA models, by the May 15, 2020, deadline.
“As dealers sell off non-2020-certified Step 1 units, there will be a downturn in dealer purchases from manufacturers, but not a downturn in consumer sales. Smart dealers already are prepared and have fewer Step 1 models to sell off.
“But dealers will have to replace them with new Step 2, 2020 models. However, dealers are nervous about new, untried products being rushed to market before the 2020 deadline. We at Blaze King don’t care about the deadline for us as a manufacturer. We spent $2.1 million preparing for 2020, and we’re completely ready.”
Blaze King has 13 models now 2020-certified with several new models in the works, according to Murphy. “Our 2020 Princess model produces only 0.44 GPH with a 2.9 cu. ft. firebox.”
Princess (PE) 32 from Blaze King.
Gateway 2300 wood stove from Empire Comfort Systems.
Empire Comfort Systems
Empire Comfort Systems, a long time manufacturer of only gas appliances, is joining the wood stove wars courtesy of its November 2017, purchase of Stove Builder International. Three sizes of non-catalytic wood stoves, and two sizes of fireplace inserts, all 2020-certified, are being added to Empire Comfort’s hearth products offering. “And we will keep adding to this line,” says Nick Bauer, president. “Our customers want these items, and we want to sell more products to our customers. Dealers need to sell more than just gas models.”
Intrepid FlexBurn from Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT).
Hearth & Home Technologies
For Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT), its Vermont Castings (VC) line of wood-burners had a “solid sales year,” says Joe Kuefler, VC Brand Marketing director. “In both wood stoves and fireplace inserts we saw strong sales in the East and less growth in the West. Higher-end wood stoves showed the most sales growth.”
HHT’s Quadra-Fire brand also had “good sales growth” last year with wood stoves selling a “little stronger than inserts,” according to Ken Gross, Quadra-Fire and Eco-Choice Brands Marketing director. While in the Quadra-Fire brand, it’s taller, vertical, European-transitional-styled Discovery Series saw “extreme sales growth,” Gross sees “no evidence” that more modern, contemporary styled products sold well in the industry.
The Vermont Castings line has added more modern, cleaner doors without VC’s traditional cast “webbing” design. “And we are exploring adding more transitional-styled models to the line,” says Kuefler, “but our dealers are not asking for this.” VC’s FlexBurn technology, allowing the stove or insert to burn under 2 GPH with or without an optional, extra cost catalytic combustor, already is available in VC’s Intrepid, Encore, and Defiant wood-burners. The combustor pack is available if the consumer wants higher efficiency.
HHT supports the NSPS and is “focused” on certifying its wood-burners to the 2020 standard, says both Kuefler and Gross. “We expect the majority of our wood-burners to be 2020 compliant this year,” says Kuefler. “We are concerned, however, about the dealer sell-through of non-2020 models,” adds Gross. “Dealers need to be smart about what they purchase, and leverage our dealer programs, and rely on our ability to produce products when they need them.”
John Shimek, HHT’s senior vice president of Brands and New Product Development, also sees sell-through as a challenge to dealers. He warns, “As a total hearth industry, only 15 to 20% of the wood-burners are now 2020 compliant.”
HearthStone did well in 2018 with its wood-burner sales even after a strong 2017, although the company believes it was a smaller wood stove year for the entire industry, according to Dave Kuhfahl, president. “But it was a large wood stove year for us. For example, sales of our Castleton model were up 44%. We’ve had two cold winters, lots of snow, and have a decent economy, so we think we’ll have a good 2019. But a lot depends on the sell-through for our dealers and whether their sell-through deadline is extended.”
HearthStone is ready for 2020, says Kuhfahl, with the company showing only 2020 models at the Dallas HPBExpo. Included will be the company’s new Green Mountain line of three sizes of wood stoves and three sizes of fireplace inserts, all simple, clean, cast-iron models, 2020-certified with efficiencies of as much as 81%. These new models will retail for less than $3,000, according to Kuhfahl. The company’s new 2020 models feature HearthStone’s new Tru-Hybrid technology, allowing a clean burn while in the by-pass mode, and “uber clean and efficient” with the catalytic combustor engaged, says Kuhfahl.
Green Mountain 60 from HearthStone.
Model GI 545 from Jøtul North America.
Jøtul North America
Jøtul North America saw its wood-burners sell “very well” last year, equaling in sales the company’s gas models, says Jim Merkel, National Sales manager. “The gas market is growing slightly better than the wood market, but woodburning is still going to be here.”
Smaller and larger wood stoves are selling particularly well for Jøtul. “And we’re seeing a nice resurgence in the sales of wood-burning inserts, especially the larger sizes,” Merkel adds. “Traditional styling has always been strong in wood stoves, and we expect it to remain that way.”
Jøtul is doing “very well” certifying its models for 2020, and it expects to release its new 2020 models later this year. Included will be a series of large wood stoves and inserts to be sold as “whole house heaters” by featuring Jøtul’s new, patent-pending “unique fusion of technology,” says Merkel. Jøtul has not yet released details of this technology.
Montecito Estate from Innovative Hearth Products (IHP).
Innovative Hearth Products
Sales of wood-burners were a “mixed bag” for Innovative Hearth Products (IHP), with sales of its EPA fireplaces “up substantially.” But sales of open hearth, or Builder Box, models were down, according to Tom Krebs, executive vice president of Sales and Marketing. “With some state energy codes changing, like in Texas, upper limits are being put on the air leakage or air exchange rate in new homes, so homebuilders are switching to gas direct-vent models if they even offer fireplaces.”
Custom homebuilders still prefer open-hearth models, says Krebs. And he says that IHP’s wood stove sales were up for the first time in “a few years.” Larger and more expensive wood-burners are selling well for IHP, particularly in wood stoves.
IHP early on took the NSPS action “seriously” and now the company feels it’s in “good shape” to meet the 2020 deadline. Half of IHP’s EPA fireplaces are now 2020 compliant, and 75% of its wood stoves are ready for 2020, all using secondary air, non-catalytic technology. “As we tested for 2020, we also made continuous improvements in each model,” says Krebs.
For the third year in a row, wood-burner sales at Kuma Stoves were up 20%, and a high percentage of the company’s 2018 sales were fireplace inserts, according to Mark Freeman, president. “We’ve set a high goal for 2019, which is our 39th year in the industry. Part of our expected growth this year will come from our entry into new geographic territories.”
To prepare for the NSPS’s 2020 deadline, Kuma switched its emissions testing from cribwood to cordwood. “This is like real world usage, the real wood people use every day,” says Freeman, “so there should be no surprises when these stoves are put into use by the consumer.”
Kuma now has four models certified for 2020 and four more awaiting certification paperwork. The company’s new 2020-certified line will include a taller, vertical style with wood storage under the firebox. Kuma is using hybrid technologies, a combination of catalytic and secondary air technologies. “When testing with cordwood, testing begins when you light the match on a cold start. After that, secondary air burn handles 95% of the emissions. Yet this technology is still very affordable.”
Cambridge from Kuma Stoves.
High Country NZ5000 from Napoleon Fireplaces.
Wood-burner sales have been “fairly flat” for the last few years for Napoleon Fireplaces, according to John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales, with 2018 sales up only 1%. “We anticipate 2019 sales of wood-burners to be flat or down slightly because of the uneasiness and uncertainty in the market as a result of the roll out of 2020-certified models. Some dealers are waiting for the new 2020 products.”
This concerns Czerwonka, as most manufacturers and dealers attempt to sell off non-2020 inventory before the May 15, 2020 deadline. “It is a balancing act at all levels,” he says. “Dealers tend to be more conservative with purchases, and some will dial-back purchases and focus only on 2020 models.”
Czerwonka and Napoleon still feel very strong about woodburning over the long term. “Wood-burners are a big and important part of Napoleon’s product portfolio,” he says. “We love wood.”
Napoleon is also updating and re-engineering many of its current wood-burning models to meet the 2020 standards. “A lot of these have already been tested, and we are awaiting certification paperwork,” he says. Included now are three wood stoves in small, medium, and large sizes, and two fireplace inserts. One of the new wood stoves will be catalytic and the rest will use non-cat technology. All will feature contemporary/transitional styling. “We will have more 2020 models by the end of the year, including two new High Country brand, 2020-qualified fireplaces.”
Cory Iversen, Pacific Energy Fireplace Products.
Pacific Energy Fireplace Products
Pacific Energy Fireplace Products saw a modest 2018 sales increase in its wood-burners for a “very, very solid sales year right across the board,” according to Cory Iversen, North American Sales manager. The company did see a “good” sales increase in its budget-priced, entry-level True North brand.
Although Pacific Energy will be introducing more modern-styled models, Iversen thinks the shift to contemporary styling in wood-burners has “leveled off” as the demand for traditional styling is holding steady.
“We’re in a good position with our 2020 ‘catalytic free’ models now being sold, and we’ve been very careful with our non-2020 inventory. But there is a lot of uncertainty in the field about non-2020 existing inventories at dealers and distributors, so we don’t think dealers will be making any big bulk buys on non-2020 models.”
A “significant number” of Pacific Energy’s core wood-burners are now 2020-certified, and the remainder will be 2020 ready in the first half of 2019. “All of our models will be ‘catalytic free’ with efficiencies just as good or better than catalytic models,” Iversen adds.
Regency Fireplace Products
Wood-burner sales for Regency Fireplace Products were “up a little” after a very strong 2017, says Glen Spinelli, president. Like other manufacturers, fireplace insert sales were “really good while stove sales were flat. We thought wood-burner sales would be off more last year, but with cold weather, our fiscal year sales picked up. We expect more of the same for 2019. Wood-burners are a major part of our business. Sales are usually stable – not way up or way down. But we could see sales skyrocket temporarily as dealers purchase new 2020 models for showroom displays.”
Regency is now shipping only 2020-certified wood-burners. A new model from Regency is a large, EPA-exempt, wood-burning fireplace with a guillotine glass door. This new model can be used with gas logs. “We’re seeing an average of four hours longer burn time with our new 2020 models,” says Spinelli. “We believe there is a strong market for wood-burners, so we are investing heavily in wood. But we hope the EPA will now leave our industry alone.”
I2500 from Regency Fireplace Products.
Model A-3RL-80h from Spartherm.
Spartherm had a “steady” 2018 sales year for its wood-burning fireplaces, according to Markus Aumann, Export Sales manager for Africa, Asia, and North America. “We have concentrated on the Canadian market since 2016,” he says. “This year, 2019, is the year that we will start efforts to officially sell in the U.S.”
Spartherm has had its most success in North America with its “angled” or corner fireplaces. “We think this is because this design is a new concept in wood-burning fireplaces. We have found that there is a demand for new designs in fireplaces from architects and designers.”
Spartherm is testing some of its models to meet the NSPS’s 2020 deadline and to increase its offerings in North America. “The investment to have new products 2020-certified is very high,” says Aumann. Rather than displaying at the Dallas HPBExpo, the company will wait until its new products are completed and “then have a proper launch.”
Osburn Matrix 2700 from Stove Builder International (SBI).
Stove Builder International (SBI)
Sales of wood-burners in 2018 were up by more than 15% at SBI, according to Marc-Antoine Cantin, president. “It was a combination of a very cold winter, a good economy, lower inventories in the field, and the improvement in new home construction.” Cantin sees a big demand for 2020 models. “These are the only models dealers want to buy. They are already scared about their sell-through of their non-2020 models. This dealer sell-through thing is serious for us as an industry.”
SBI already has 14 2020-certified models and plans to roll out 16 more new 2020 models this year for a total of 30. “There is a lot of pressure on all of us to properly roll out these new 2020 models through production. It can take as long as eight months from certification to production. And with the U.S. government shutdown, it could take up to 90 days just to get a new model on the EPA list. We don’t want problems in the field with these new products in our rush to get them to market,” says Cantin.
For SBI, modern styling in wood-burners continues to grow, but traditional styling is still the bulk of the company’s business. With the cold winter of 2018-2019, SBI has had problems filling a big surge of orders for wood-burning fireplace inserts.
“More consumers want to turn their fireplaces into an efficient unit for heat,” says Cantin. SBI also is seeing a trend toward larger and more expensive wood-burners. “We thought consumers didn’t know about or care about 2020 models, but increasingly they are afraid to purchase non-2020 models for fear that non-2020 models might be required to be removed like in Montreal.”
Stûv America’s sales of its wood-burning and gas stoves and fireplaces grew 35% in 2018, according to Nadia Gilbert, Marketing and Customer Service director. “It was an amazing year for us, and we are very confident about the future. Since we are putting a lot of effort into expanding our dealer network, while increasing the confidence in us from our existing dealers, we are forecasting 2019 as another very strong year for Stûv America.”
Stûv is seeing a trend toward smaller, contemporary wood stoves. And the company feels it is “well positioned” for the 2020 NSPS deadline with new, 2020-certified products. “We began back in 2015 preparing for this 2020 deadline,” says Gilbert, “so the majority of our products is already certified or will be before the May 15, 2020, deadline.”
New from Stûv is its Stûv 21-Clad, a contemporary stove featuring “steel cladding,” an innovation developed for the European market more than 20 years ago, Gilbert says. Available in single- or double-sided models with a choice of steel shells and colors, this freestanding model includes a built-in wood storage area. The new Stûv 16-Combo is a zero-clearance fireplace available in three sizes, featuring a wood storage area and a mantel.
Stûv 16 from Stûv America.
Astra 24 from Supreme.
Supreme, too, believes consumers are more aware of emissions in wood-burners. So all of the company’s new models are 2020 compliant, says Anastasia Marcakis, Sales manager. Included in the company’s new 2020 offerings is a full line of EPA-certified, zero-clearance fireplaces. “They feature cast-iron firebox lining rather than refractory. The cast iron looks like refractory, but it is more durable and has better heat transfer and heat retention,” says Marcakis.
Supreme also is introducing a new 2020 wood stove line in three sizes and with contemporary styling.
Lopi Rockport from Travis Industries.
Travis Industries saw “really good” sales of its wood-burners in 2018 with a “resurgence in wood,” according to Perry Ranes, VP of Sales. “Fireplace inserts saw our largest percentage of sales growth in wood-burners, but fireplaces and stoves were pretty close behind.”
Ranes says 2019 will be a “screwy” year for wood-burner sales with the confusion of the NSPS and the issues with dealer sell-through. “But our dealers are still buying our non-2020 models knowing that we will be well ahead of the 2020 deadline with our new models. We hear that at least one manufacturer is getting out of the wood-burning business.”
The “vast majority” of Travis’ wood-burners are now 2020-certified, and the remainder should be certified by August, well before the season begins, says Ranes. All of Travis’ 2020 models are tested to the NSPS’s cordwood standard. “Some with larger fireboxes are using hybrid technology, and others are certified with non-cat, secondary air technology,” says Ranes. “Frankly, I am amazed at what we have accomplished toward getting our 2020 products to market.”
- Blaze King Industries
- Empire Comfort Systems
- Hearth & Home Technologies
- HearthStone Quality Home Heating Products
- Innovative Hearth Products
(formerly FMI & Lennox Hearth Products)
- Jøtul North America
- Kuma Stoves
(Fireplaces, Grills and Heating & Cooling)
- Pacific Energy Fireplace Products
- Regency Fireplace Products
- SBI - Stove Builder International
- Stûv America
- Travis Industries