US EPA - Environmental Protection Agency

As Wood Stove Changeout Program Brings Cleaner Air to Southeastern New England, EPA Offers Advice for Safer, Cleaner Wood-Burning


BOSTON -- Southern New England will enjoy cleaner air this winter as a result of a Clean Air Act enforcement settlement between Dominion Energy and EPA involving three Dominion power plants in Illinois, Indiana and Massachusetts. The settlement, finalized in July 2013, required Dominion to meet stricter emission limits and to install or upgrade pollution control technology on two plants and to permanently retire a third plant. In addition, Dominion was required to fund a wood stove changeout program, the largest ever included in an EPA settlement.

The changeout program, launched in May 2014, provided $1.8 Million in vouchers to help residents in southeastern Mass., R.I. and eastern Conn. replace older, inefficient wood-burning heaters with EPA-certified or “qualified” units. The American Lung Association of the Northeast (ALANE) administered the program for Dominion.

As of Oct. 2014, ALANE had issued 881 vouchers and announced that the program was officially closed to new applicants. Of the 881 vouchers, 421 went to R.I. residents (Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence and Washington counties), 259 went to Mass. residents (Bristol, Norfolk and Plymouth counties), and 201 went to residents of Conn. (New London and Windham counties).

During winter in the northeast, many people seek to avoid high heating costs by turning to wood as a cost-saving, renewable source of energy. Unfortunately, wood heaters often are inefficient and can emit more pollutants into the air than heating sources that use oil or natural gas. EPA-certified stoves, however, are cleaner and more efficient than uncertified models. EPA maintains lists of EPA-certified stoves and EPA-qualified wood-fired hydronic heaters (also called outdoor wood boilers) on its Burn Wise website ( Older and less-efficient hydronic heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces can produce excessive amounts of smoke that can negatively impact nearby residences.

Residential wood combustion can emit fine particles and toxic pollutants at levels that can harm your health, particularly if the appliance is operated improperly or if it is an older technology appliance. Particle pollution is especially a concern because it can cause serious health effects. Exposure to particles can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. For people with heart disease, particle pollution has been linked to heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and stroke.

Regardless of the type of wood heater used, you should not smell smoke inside your home or see smoke coming out of your chimney at times other than during start up. Everyone can take measures to save money and protect their health and the health of their neighbors.

Here are wood-burning tips to follow:

  • Upgrade to a cleaner burning appliance, (e.g., gas heater, wood pellet or an EPA-certified wood stove.
  • Split and season wood outdoors for at least 6 months before burning it.
  • Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20 percent. Inexpensive meters are available for testing moisture content.
  • Never burn household garbage, trash, cardboard, plastics or foam.
  • Never burn painted or pressure-treated wood, ocean driftwood, plywood or any wood that contains glue. All emit toxic fumes when burned.
  • Keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless loading or stoking the fire to avoid releasing harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide, into your home.
  • Start fires with all natural firestarters, newspaper and dry kindling or have a professional install a natural gas or propane log lighter in your open fireplace.
  • Do not let a fire smolder – this increases air pollution and does not provide heat.
  • Have your heating system inspected once a year with particular attention to vents and chimneys - don’t just rely on a carbon-monoxide alarm.
  • Reduce your overall heating needs and heating bills by improving the insulation in your home; caulking around windows, doors, and pipes to seal air gaps; and adding weather-stripping to doors and windows.

EPA recommends that people replace their old wood stoves with professionally installed EPA-certified stoves. Although many wood stoves manufactured since 1988 are EPA-certified, some heaters, such as most pellet stoves, were exempt from this requirement. EPA is currently updating standards for residential wood heaters to strengthen emission limits for new stoves, to remove exemptions, and to add other types of wood heaters (e.g., hydronic heaters). The new standards are expected to be phased in over a five-year period beginning in February 2015 and will apply only to new wood heaters. They will not apply to existing wood heaters in use in people’s homes. The proposed standards will reduce particle pollution from new stoves and heaters by 80 percent, providing health benefits for everyone.

More information:
- EPA’s efforts to update clean air standards for wood stoves
- EPA info on cleaner wood burning appliances; good burning practices; wood stove changeout programs; and other actions that EPA, states, and municipalities have taken to reduce emissions from wood heaters

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