Learn how woodstove emission regulations have improved air quality.
Federal Emission Regulations
During the 1980s, smoky, old woodstoves were blamed for ruining the air quality in a number of valley towns in the Northwest. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forced all new woodstoves to meet smoke emission limits that many observers thought were impossibly stringent. But over the years stove makers have not only managed to meet the limits, but have done so while improving overall stove performance because of the woodstove emission regulations. While it has been argued (sometimes even in these pages) that the EPA regulation is odious because it applies all over the country and unfairly penalizes rural folks in areas where there is no one close by to be bothered by their smoke, I think the EPAs intervention was one of the best things that ever happened to wood burning. Here are a few of the intentional and unintended benefits.
• Air pollution has been cut dramatically; about 90 percent compared to previous equipment.
• The regulations reduced the unsubstantiated performance claims and advertising hype that some manufacturers used.
• The government intervention unleashed a gusher of research investment; we now know much more about how wood burns and further advances continue to be made.
• Ultimately the EPA rules boosted stove efficiency by about one-third on average, which saves householders money and means less pressure on our forest resources.
Proof that the EPA regulation is responsible for all these benefits is that there have been virtually no technical advances in the categories of wood burning equipment that were exempt from the rules-furnaces, boilers, cookstoves and fireplaces.
Seeing the Fire Through Glass Doors
The second great development in the world of wood heat is the combination of heat-resistant ceramic glass for stove doors and the "air-wash" system that keeps the glass clear. An air wash system delivers the combustion air down between the glass and the fire, and prevents the smoke from sticking. The advantages are more than just aesthetic. It allows the user to manage the fire precisely and makes smoldering smoky fires much less likely. Most important, stay-clear glass doors improved the enjoyment of heating with a woodstove and made it a welcome addition to a living or family room.
Together, the EPA smoke emission rules and clear glass doors have transformed the wood stove from a funky, hulking box to a user-friendly heating system that delivers great efficiency and is a joy to watch burn.