Today's wood stoves are far cleaner and more efficient than Granddad's â€“ if you buy the right ones. "Newly developed stoves," reports John Bartok, University of Connecticut Extension ag engineer, "reduce creosote and emission problems and burn solid fuels more efficiently. The most significant development has been the catalytic wood stove," adds this alternative energy expert.
Choosing a stove, furnace or boiler begins with your fuel choice â€“ coal, wood or multi-fuel (wood pellets or corn). That hinges on what's most available and economic.
Even a "cheapy" will dent your cash flow up front. That's why industry experts strongly advise considering them as an investment. Consider performance, safety and, above all, longevity.
Rule number one is: Stick with stoves certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they meet EPA's particulate emissions limit. While manufacturers grouse that testing procedures don't reflect real-life use, they admit it's the best method available.
Certified stoves carry a permanent label plus an attached temporary label showing the emission rate and efficiency rating. EPA certifies them in three basic categories: catalytic, non-catalytic and pellet stoves. The agency assigns a default efficiency rating to each category: Catalytic, 72%; pellet, 78%; and non-catalytic, 63%.
A smoking rural issue
Outdoor furnaces or boilers can provide central heat via forced air systems or hot water boilers (now called hydronic systems.) Some burn wood and either oil or gas as a backup in case the wood fire dies down. But as a group, they're notorious smokers by virtue of how they're usually operated.
Few, if any, would meet EPA-certified standards. Most fireboxes are surrounded by a water jacket, a good thing for heat transfer. But it makes complete wood combustion nearly impossible.
U.S. EPA tested two outdoor boilers in 1998. The average of several test runs for each boiler produced an emissions rate of about 50 grams of smoke per hour and 50% efficiency.
Some states are beginning to investigate air environmental quality problems caused by that some states are beginning to investigate. So keep such furnaces a long way from your and your neighbor's house. Consider exhaust vents peaking above residential home roofs. It may soon become mandatory in some states.
Catch a 2006 tax credit
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 takes effect on Jan.1, 2006. It's a tax credit, not a rebate.
It covers 25% of purchase and installation costs (up to $3,000) of an appliance powered by renewable energy.
If you plan to buy a renewable heat unit, do your shopping homework now. But your receipt must be dated in 2006.
Watch for still more information on stoves and furnaces in December's issue of American Agriculturist.