By Bill Sendelback
The past year was a very confusing one for manufacturers of wood-burning products and their dealers. Manufacturers scrambled to get their wood-burners certified to the new NSPS 2020 Step 2 standards, and both manufacturers and hearth product dealers struggled to sell-off non-2020 Step 1 models before the May 15, 2020 deadline. Both groups hoped the EPA would grant an additional sell-through time to help dealers clear out old models. Unfortunately, that’s an EPA action that has not occurred, but the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association is still trying to negotiate a sell-through period.
But despite the turmoil, wood-burners sold pretty well in 2019, surprising many manufacturers, and manufacturers and dealers alike flushed out most of the old non-2020 models, readying showrooms and warehouses for new 2020 models.
Now, with mostly clean pipelines and most manufacturers already shipping 2020 models, this year, 2020, looks like an even stronger sales year for wood-burners. But even as dealers put new 2020 models on their showroom floors and replenish their inventories with these new models, sales of wood-burning products continue to slide downward.
Cordwood appliance sales in the U.S. were up 10% in 2018, but that was after a 17% drop in 2017. And that 2018 total of 192,499 was down 70% from the most recent high in 2001 of 637,856. Wood-burner sales in Canada have also been falling. Sales in 2018 were down 7% to 36,362, and down 64% from the recent high in 2006 of 59,717.
Steel stoves lead the wood-burning stove market, according to Hearth & Home magazine’s 2018 Buyer’s Guide, with 56% of the wood stove market. Cast-iron models captured 38%, and combination cast-iron and stone models were 6% of sales. Freestanding stoves still lead the wood-burning market, totaling 63% of sales, while fireplace inserts were 37% of sales.
Non-catalytic wood-burners were 83% of the wood-burner market, with catalytic models nabbing 17%. But these percentages undoubtedly will change dramatically for 2020 as more manufacturers use catalytic or hybrid technologies to meet the tougher 2020 NSPS standards.
“Last year was a good year for us, but it was the most convoluted yet interesting year,” says Dave Kuhfahl, president of Hearthstone Stoves. “We ran out of non-2020 wood-burners in mid-October and had to switch over to our new 2020 models. We’re now selling and shipping our full line of 2020-certified models.”
Kuhfahl says that some manufacturers may “disappear” because of the costs of 2020 certification, and some others “are not yet prepared. But we expect 2020 to be a phenomenal sales year. Most of our dealers have cleared out their non-2020 inventory, and we started getting early-buy requests as this year began.”
Hearthstone offers two wood-burning fireplaces and an insert tested to the non-cat cordwood 2020 standard. The rest of the company’s wood-burning line features hybrid technology with Hearthstone’s TruHybrid system. “We use full secondary combustion before flue gases go to our stainless-steel combustor for crazy high efficiencies,” says Kuhfahl. “And with this system, the combustor lights-off quicker.”
Also new from Hearthstone is its Green Mountain line of wood-burning stoves and inserts, cast-iron models featuring clean, contemporary styling with “massive” glass windows. Available in five stove sizes and one fireplace insert, the Green Mountain models are designed to be simpler, lower-priced models to compete with steel stoves. “Most Euro-styled stoves have single-burn rates,” says Kuhfahl. “Ours all feature hybrid clean-burn technology.”
Pioneer III wood fireplace by Hearth & Home Technologies.
Hearth & Home Technologies
Sales of wood-burners in 2019 were “a bit soft” for Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT), according to John Shimek, senior vice president of Product Innovation. “Sales of wood-burning fireplaces were flat, and while sales of fireplaces were up and sales of both wood stoves and inserts were down by double-digits, insert sales were stronger than that of wood stoves. Much of this sales slow-down was because dealers last year were concerned about taking on too much non-2020 inventory. But our dealers’ inventories now are in good shape. Once we get through the early part of this year as dealers take on 2020 models, we expect a good sales year buoyed by strong consumer demand.”
Shimek sees a growing demand for smaller wood-burners to fit with today’s smaller new homes, and less demand for heat with these more efficient new homes.
While HHT offers non-cat technology in some of its wood-burning lines, the company offers hybrid technology in its Vermont Castings brand, technology that combines secondary air, tube-type technology with a catalytic combustor to finish the cleanup of emissions.
“There is a divided camp regarding catalytic technology,” Shimek says, “but catalytic technology has come a long way since its early days, and combustors have gotten a lot better, more durable, and cheaper. The replacement costs of combustors are down considerably, and catalytic technology now is everywhere in our lives, as in our automobiles and microwave ovens.”
Much of HHT’s research and development activities were “tabled” last year as the company readied its wood-burners to meet the new 2020 standards. “This allowed us to weed out some of our slow sellers,” says Shimek. “Consumers will see better burns with this new technology, but we should see retail prices up only slightly.”
While HHT plans to offer new models later in 2020, it is now highlighting its EPA-recertified Quadra-Fire Pioneer III non-cat fireplace featuring a 4.1 cu. ft. firebox, which HHT says is the largest 2020 wood-burning fireplace. The Pioneer III also features HHT’s Smart Burn technology that automatically controls the fire even without electric power.
Lopi Endeavor wood stove from Travis Industries.
It was a “strong” sales year for wood-burners at Travis Industries, according to Kip Rumens, vice president of Sales. “Dealers were very cautious early in 2019 because of their inventories of non-2020 models. But sales really took off when our new 2020-compliant models hit the market.
“We expect a very strong wood year in 2020. Dealers already have our new 2020 products, and their performance is even better, cleaner than we expected. That was our number one concern for our 2020 models – that they worked well in the field.” Sales of fireplace inserts were strong in 2019 for Travis, and Rumens expects insert sales again to be strong in 2020.
Black is back, says Rumens. He sees a trend in wood-burners away from “fancy trim” to simpler, black styling.
Travis did not simply tweak its existing models to meet the 2020 standards but “invented” new fireboxes, most using non-cat technology and tested with cordwood. Travis’ hybrid models, too, were tested with cordwood to try to duplicate real world use. Other features on Travis’ 2020 wood-burners include ash pans on medium and large Lopi models, new doors with new door seals and larger glass windows on all of Travis’ NexGen-Fyre stoves. The very popular Lopi Endeavor wood stove also got a bigger firebox, and engineering to allow it to draft better and start easier.
Empire Comfort Systems
Empire Comfort Systems entered the wood-burner market late in 2019 with the addition of wood-burner models from its earlier acquisition of Stove Builder International to add to its previously gas-only offerings. “Our dealers certainly sell wood-burners, too,” says Nick Bauer, president. “We want to better serve our dealers, and most would prefer to deal with fewer suppliers, so we thought wood-burners were a natural fit for us. Adding to this category has already helped us gain new customers.”
Empire Comfort now offers three wood stoves and two fireplace inserts, all 2020 non-cat models. The company will add two EPA-certified wood-burning fireplaces in 2020.
Archway 2300 insert from Empire Comfort.
Osburn 3300 from SBI.
Stove Builder International (SBI)
Last year was a “record year” for wood-burner sales at Stove Builder International (SBI), according to Marc-Antoine Cantin, president. “The economies of both the U.S. and Canada are doing well, and it was brutally cold in some areas. While dealers were clearing out non-2020 models in the U.S., our Canadian sales were a bit stronger percentage-wise. Some dealers were very concerned about their non-2020 inventories, but most were pretty clean by the first of this year. However, some home centers still have old non-2020 models.
“We think the conditions will be similar for 2020 – pretty good economies, no recessions, and most non-2020 clear-outs done early. We expect a better 2020 in the U.S. with dealers buying 2020 models earlier in the year.”
Cantin says he is always surprised by the sales strength of SBI’s larger models, so when the company launched its 2020 models, it finished its larger models first. “Maybe it is because of the colder weather and the need for heat, but I think it is because it does not cost that much more for a larger size.” Cantin also sees the growing trend continuing toward modern styling. “These models exceeded our forecasts for last year.”
New from SBI is the Ventis brand of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces made for Olympia Chimney Supply. SBI will market the Ventis line in Canada, and Copperfield Chimney Supply, a division of Olympia, will market these Ventis models in the U.S.
Also new from SBI are the Osburn 3300 and Enerzone Solution 3.3 wood stoves featuring “north-south” front-to-back loading. And SBI is introducing the Osburn Everest, a mid-sized, EPA-certified, ZC fireplace featuring retractable glass doors.
FP25 fireplace from Pacific Energy.
Pacific Energy Fireplace Products
Despite dumping of non-2020 models in some markets by “several manufacturers,” wood-burner sales were up by double-digit percentages at Pacific Energy Fireplace Products, according to Cory Iversen, North American Sales manager. “Wood-burner sales for us were up in the East but down in the West.”
Most of Pacific Energy’s wood-burners are now 2020-certified, “catalytic free,” says Iversen, and the remainder of the company’s line of wood-burners will be 2020-certified by April including what Iversen describes as the first wood-burning fireplace to be 2020-certified with non-cat technology.
Pacific Energy is actively promoting that its line of 2020-certified wood-burners are certified without the use of catalytic combustors. “Our research indicates that the usability and durability of a catalytic combustor in a wood stove is significantly overstated by some in the industry,” Iversen says. “It is well documented that the performance of a combustor declines in direct proportion to use. We see no justification for the higher initial cost and increased maintenance.”
Astria Plantation fireplace from Innovative Hearth Products (IHP).
Innovative Hearth Products (IHP)
Innovative Hearth Products (IHP) saw a lull early in 2019 in its sales of wood-burners, but sales “finished the year strong with strong demand,” according to Michael Lewis, vice president of Marketing. “After the market trepidation from preparing for the 2020 standards, let’s hope we can get back to regular business. People still want wood-burners, so we expect demand to continue.”
In addition to IHP’s BIS brand of EPA products, the company offers decorative wood-burners. “This category, including cheaper, entry-level fireplaces, is declining as more builders and consumers go to direct-vent gas, vent-free gas or electric models. But the large, premium, decorative fireplaces are selling very well. People still want a big, open-faced wood-burner as a focal point of their room.”
IHP’s EPA line now is all 2020-certified with all stoves, inserts, and some fireplaces using non-cat technology while some fireplaces use hybrid technology. Lewis points out that the total costs to re-engineer, develop and 2020-certify each model can approach $100,000 including $20,000 to $30,000 in testing costs.
IHP will be introducing new decorative wood-burners later this year.
Napoleon’s High Country 8000 wood fireplace.
It was a relatively flat sales year for wood-burners at Napoleon Fireplaces, down a little in the U.S. and flat in Canada, according to John Czerwonka, vice president of Hearth Sales. “We were just so focused on our gas and electric models, plus getting our wood-burners ready for 2020. And we had a significant inventory of non-2020 models to move while dealers were reluctant to take on non-2020 products as they waited for our 2020-certified models.
“Sales of our decorative wood-burners were up slightly with the higher-end models in this category up by double-digits. Fortunately, our dealers worked through their non-2020 models, and our inventory started this year bare bones of old models, so we are in a good position.”
Czerwonka is excited about 2020, seeing wood-burner sales picking up and “certainly a better sales year. There is a high sense of confidence in the U.S. economy. Consumers are parting with their money and want bigger and more deluxe fireplaces. Homebuilders of medium- to high-end homes also want bigger, clean-faced fireplaces with more features. Today’s homebuyers want choices to make their fireplace their own.”
While attending the January International Builders Show in Las Vegas, Czerwonka says he was “astounded” by the increase in interest in electric fireplaces.
New for this year are Napoleon’s 2020-certified wood-burners including five new stove models and inserts. Napoleon primarily has used non-catalytic technology and one catalytic model in its new 2020 lineup. “When we bring out new, larger models, we will probably have to use catalytic technology to meet the standards,” says Czerwonka. He says while preparing for 2020, Napoleon took the opportunity to redesign and modify many models to update their styling. “Some of our 2020 models are redesigned, but some are brand new.”
Czerwonka, too, thinks that the average cost of $100,000 per unit to certify and bring 2020 models to market is “light.”
Zero Clearance unit from Spartherm.
Spartherm, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hearth products, and headquartered in Germany, saw “good” sales in 2019 of its wood-burners throughout North America, according to Markus Aumann, Export Sales manager. The company had been concentrating on the Canadian market with its wood and vented gas products, but in 2019 began efforts in the U.S. “Our unique products are becoming well known with architects and designers.”
Unique models such as Spartherm’s three-sided, corner, and see-through fireplaces are the company’s best sellers. “Our straight-faced, one-sided units have not yet taken off as well, even though these models are priced in line with North American-made products, perhaps because there are just so many single-sided fireplaces already on the North American market.”
For 2020, Spartherm has launched a complete range of wood-burning, zero-clearance fireplaces, freestanding stoves, and fireplace inserts, all certified to the NSPS 2020 Step 2 standards. Featuring very clean, minimalistic, European designs, all have fully adjustable combustion air controls, large ceramic glass doors, and 6-inch chimney connection. “We’ve been very pleased at the dealer reception of these new products,” says Aumann.
The Stûv 6 Line of wood-burning inserts.
“We’ve had four years of very strong sales growth,” says Vincent Boudreau, president and CEO of Stûv America, “but 2019 was a little slower for our wood-burner sales, our core business. We will still see sales growth this year, 2020, but not as much as we saw in 2016 through 2018. The first quarter of 2020 will be a mirror of 2019 as non-2020 models are sold off in the field.”
All of Stûv’s wood-burners are 2020-certified using non-catalytic technology. The company also offers EPA-certified models using a single-burn-rate. “I am very ‘pro’ single-burn-rate models. These models have sold fantastically for us, but you have to explain to the customer how to use them,” Boudreau says. “You can reduce and manage the burn rate and still be clean-burning simply by managing the amount of wood in the unit.”
New from Stûv is its Stûv 6 fireplace inserts, available in three models. The company’s Stûv 16 insert requires a 24½-inch fireplace opening, limiting the fireplaces it can fit. The new Stûv 6 is a clean-faced insert made to fit almost all fireplaces with lower openings. It features a light gauge, galvanized-steel convection shell into which the insert “engine” is installed. Then the Stûv 6 is slid into the fireplace. The unit also features Stûv’s patented glass door system offering the largest fire view.
Pearl 3600 fireplace from ICC/RSF.
After a slow summer as dealers flushed out non-2020 wood-burners, ICC/RSF had a “very strong” end of 2019, according to Dan Bonar, vice president of Residential Sales. “When the season started, consumers did not seem concerned whether the product was 2020-certified or not. They just wanted product. So since we had no inventory, we were literally building product for homeowners.”
That momentum apparently continued into this year as ICC/RSF posted its strongest January ever. “Sales have been extremely strong, and based on this early season, we expect a strong sales year. Every distributor has asked for more product than we expected. We are fully booked.”
Bonar has seen an “enormous” 30% sales increase so far this year in the company’s decorative wood-burning fireplaces. “This has become a great market,” says Bonar. Sales are up on the company’s high-efficiency lines, too, but Bonar sees contemporary, cleaner aesthetics as being more important than expected. “People know all our units will heat, so they want more contemporary models.”
The entire RSF line of wood-burners is 2020-certified. Two new wood-burners are the traditional Pearl 3600, and contemporary Focus 3600, both using the same, new, 2.1 cu. ft. firebox.
Novo 18 by Supreme Fireplaces.
Supreme Fireplaces had “huge sales growth” in 2019 in both the U.S. and Canada, according to Anastasia Marcakis, Sales manager. “And with our growing wood-only line, we are confident that we will see continued sales growth this year, maybe not the huge increase we saw in 2019, but definite growth.”
Like most manufacturers, Supreme is seeing the growing trend toward cleaner, more contemporary models. “And we’re seeing more interest in larger fireboxes with the biggest glass windows so the customer can enjoy the wood fire,” Marcakis says.
Most of Supreme’s products are now 2020-certified, all using non-cat technology. Last year the company introduced its Novo 18 and Novo 24 wood stoves, and this year it has introduced its Novo 38 model with a 3.8 cu. ft. firebox. Also new is the Lumes, a larger, more contemporary insert with a 3.2 cu. ft. firebox. In many of its wood-burners, Supreme features its patented automatic primary air control coupled with its patented secondary air variable control using a baffle with holes for the secondary air rather than air tubes. And Supreme is using cast-iron or soapstone for its firebox linings for more even heat output.
Kuma Stoves’ Alpine LE Insert.
It was a year like no other for Kuma Stoves, says Mark Freeman, president. “We did very well with our wood-burners, our core product category. After a record sales year in 2018, sales last year equaled that record even with all the confusion of the 2020 NSPS deadline.”
Freeman predicts 2020 will be another good year for wood-burners. “We have a strong economy. A few manufacturers have dropped wood-burners, some are still working on 2020 products, and many have reduced their offerings rather than re-certifying slow movers. Because of all this, we think there will be fewer 2020-certified models available this year, causing holes in the marketplace and not as much for dealers to pick from.”
Freeman doesn’t see prices of wood-burners getting any cheaper. “With the high costs of certification, wood stoves will be more expensive, but we’re holding any necessary price increases to a minimum.” Freeman feels that an estimate of $100,000 each to bring a 2020-certified wood-burner to market is “light.”
Kuma now has eight wood-burners 2020-certified to the cordwood standard using hybrid technology. “When we began development of our 2020 models, two things were non-negotiable; they had to offer long burn times and the glass had to remain clean. We got these with our hybrid technology. We can turn down the stove for a long burn and still have clean glass. We could not maintain clean glass using just a cat, and non-cats needed more air.” Freeman says one of his new 2020 models is certified on cordwood at 82% efficiency while producing only 0.72 gph emissions.
Freeman is looking ahead to the EPA again being required to visit the NSPS in 2023. “At that time, we’ll probably see the standard requiring that testing be done with cordwood rather than cribwood.”
Regency’s Classic F1150 Wood Stove.
Regency Fireplace Products
Last year was a “surprisingly strong” sales year for wood-burners at Regency Fireplace Products, says Glen Spinelli, president. “We were a bit concerned about inventories of non-2020 models, but we sold out everything. Most of our 2020-compliant products were being shipped by November. It was a strong market, and we had a decent sales increase.
“And 2020 started strong with strong demand early. We are committed to wood-burning. I am pretty positive about this year. We may not see a double-digit sales increase, but 2020 will be strong.”
Regency has been doing well with its medium and large wood stoves, and its insert sales continue to be “pretty strong.”
Regency began work on its 2020 models by using catalytic technology to meet the standards. “But in our engineering, we found that we could certify many models using non-catalytic technology. So we’re offering both technologies in our 2020 lineup.” With a new R&D center due to begin operations in May, Regency is developing new models and new sizes of 2020-compliant wood-burners set to hit the market in August.
King KE40 with Parlor Legs by Blaze King.
Alan Murphy, president of Blaze King, was “pleasantly surprised at the robustness” of the company’s 2019 sales of wood-burners in view of the May 15, 2020, deadline to meet the NSPS Step 2 standards.
“It was an unusual year with surprisingly strong early-buy orders and strong sales late in the year,” he said, “but with slow sales in the summer, we ended 2019 with flat sales. We were happy with that, and we attribute even this flat sales year to our consistent sales message that we were ready for 2020.
“We started our efforts early to get all our wood-burners 2020 certified well ahead of the May 15, 2020, deadline, so we were unable to work on new products. But now, with the confusion of the 2020 deadline almost behind us, we can start our research and development efforts for the many new products we’re planning for 2021 and 2022. Our dealers seem to have flushed out their non-2020 inventory, so we’re expecting a strong 2020 sales year.”
Blaze King had an “enormous” inventory going into 2019, says Murphy. “We wanted to be really good on deliveries to dealers. We plan that same strategy – lots of inventory for 2020 to supply what we think will be strong demand.”
Murphy chuckles when he sees some manufacturers of non-catalytic wood-burners knocking catalytic technology. “We’ve successfully been selling only catalytic wood-burners for more than 40 years,” he said. “There have been incredible improvements in catalytic technology over those years. Non-catalytic stoves are not the cleanest burning nor the most efficient, and catalytic technology offers more control over the fire than most non-cat models. We offer a 10-year, 100% warranty on our combustors. Over the years, our warranty claims on combustors have been less than one-half percent of our sales.”
Murphy warns that “clouds are again rising” for the wood-burning industry, saying that some state environmental regulators are not satisfied with the 2020 NSPS standards. He’s concerned that, like decades ago, some states may try to legislate their own state emissions standards, different and stricter than the 2020 NSPS standards. “Most pollutants are coming from the millions of non-EPA wood-burners that are still being used,” he said. “We need to remove those with more change-out programs.”
John Crouch, the HPBA’s director of Public Affairs, acknowledges that at least Washington State did consider tougher standards. “But the HPBA responded to challenge that effort,” he said. “We expect other states, too, will consider such actions, but we’re ready, and the HPBA and our affiliates will respond.”
Jøtul’s F500 V3 Oslo.
Jøtul North America
Last year was a “respectable” wood-burner sales year for Jøtul North America, according to Jim Merkel, National Sales manager. Despite Jøtul’s gas-burners growing in sales, wood-burners still represented 46% of Jøtul’s sales. “We’re looking for a good wood year in 2020. Consumers continue to want to burn wood. As we move to new, clean-burn technologies, consumers are starting to be conscious of the advantages of the new generation of wood-burners. Our 2020-certified models have been on the market since late 2019, and we’ll be adding more models this year.”
Merkel says that medium- to medium-large wood-burner sales are “very strong” for Jøtul. A top seller is its small F 602, a model that dates back to 1939, now updated for 2020.
Whether to use a catalytic combustor or use non-cat technology “depends on the model, whichever works best in each individual model,” says Merkel. “Today’s combustors are much upgraded and improved. Twenty years ago many consumers could not adapt to using the bypass to light off the combustor. Our technology moves away from needing a bypass and makes catalytic models easier to use.”
Jøtul’s patent-pending Jøtul Fusion clean-burn technology combines tube-type secondary burn technology with a downstream catalytic combustor that requires no bypass. This technology was featured in Jøtul’s F 500 V3 wood stove, the Wood Products category, and Hearth Best-in-Show 2019 Vesta Awards winner. Jøtul Fusion includes a Jøtul High Flow Combustor with metal substrate that is not welded so it is free to expand and contract under heat, a combustor that Jøtul covers with a 20-year warranty. In non-cat technology featured in some Jøtul 2020 wood-burners, the Jøtul Turbulator features tertiary burn on the stove’s top baffle to burn cleaner.
Last year was a better year for wood-burner sales than most expected. This year, 2020, is expected to be even better. The recently restored federal tax credit for biomass burners, including wood and pellet burners, should help the wood-burner sales success of 2020. On December 20, 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that reinstates the 25C federal tax credit that had expired on Dec. 31, 2017. The HPBA had been trying ever since to get the tax credit reinstated. This legislation offers a federal tax credit of 30% of the purchase price and installation costs of a wood or pellet appliance with an efficiency rating of at least 75%. This legislation is retroactive for purchases from Jan. 1, 2018, and continues until Dec. 31, 2020.
Need to Get Rid of Old Non-2020 Wood-Burners?
Here’s an Option.
- Blaze King Industries
- Empire Comfort Systems
- Hearth & Home Technologies
- HearthStone Quality Home Heating Products
- Innovative Hearth Products (IHP)
- Jøtul North America
- Kuma Stoves
- Lopi Mfg. by Travis Industries
- Napoleon (Fireplaces, Grills and Heating & Cooling)
- Pacific Energy Fireplace Products
- Regency Fireplace Products
- RSF Woodburning Fireplaces
- SBI - Stove Builder International
- Stûv America
- Supreme Fireplaces