Burn wood at home? New rules limit emissions

Federal regulators on Wednesday finalized new rules that will limit pollution from wood-burning heaters, including wood stoves and pellet stoves.

The regulations require stove makers to manufacture heaters with lower emissions, starting this year and ramping up to 70 percent cleaner stoves by 2020. It’s the first time since 1988 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set such standards.

Smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces contains harmful gases and tiny particles that, when breathed in, can aggravate and contribute to a host of health problems, according to the EPA. One dated wood stove can emit as much air pollution as five old diesel trucks, the agency has said.

Before you get too worried, these rules apply only to new heaters. Stoves already used in homes today are exempt, as are stoves in stores now and indoor fireplaces. The limits also don’t apply to new or existing heaters fueled only by oil, gas or coal, or outdoor fireplaces, fire pits, pizza ovens or chimineas.

But if you’re in the market for a new wood stove in the future, you’ll be seeing cleaner-burning models in the showroom. The tighter regulations also apply to indoor and outdoor wood boilers.

Some stove makers — including Jotul North America in Gorham — have argued the rules will make new stoves more expensive, deterring customers from investing in the cleaner-burning models that regulators hope to encourage. 

Bill Bombard uses a press brake to make sheet metal parts at Jotul North America's wood and gas stove manufacturing facility in Gorham in February 2014. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Bill Bombard uses a press brake to make sheet metal parts at Jotul North America’s wood and gas stove manufacturing facility in Gorham in February 2014. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Four in 10 homes in Maine heat with wood, including many households with residents who have asthma or another chronic lung or heart condition, according to a November 2008 Maine residential heat and energy survey. Most of those wood stoves are at least a decade old and inefficient.

They’re also a vital source of heat in Maine, particularly in rural areas and among lower-income residents who may not be able to afford newer, more expensive stove models, critics of the new regulations have said.

Along with the tiny particles, wood smoke contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde, according to the American Lung Association.

In October 2013, the lung association partnered with several other health and environmental groups to sue the EPA, criticizing the agency for failing to update the emissions standards.

Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.