Once upon a time, almost all newhouses came with a wood-burning fireplace. That’s how important the product was to American life. A fireplace is still a desirable feature, but traditional wood-burning fireplaces are slowly disappearing as gas products grow in popularity and concerns about air pollution force more jurisdictions to institute no-burn days for non-certified products.
“About five or six years ago, we saw the writing on the wall,” says Thomas Stroud, senior manager for codes and standards at the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association (HPBA) in Arlington, Va. The fear was that only EPA-certified products—wood inserts, wood stoves, and pellet-burning products—would be allowed.
But now a handful of fireplace manufacturers are working with the EPA as part of the Low Mass Wood-Burning Fireplace Program, and it may just save the category.
“The goal of the program is to encourage manufacturers to produce clean wood-burning appliances that reduce air pollution,” says Kathy Repp, brand manager for Heatilator at Hearth & Home Technologies in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Traditional wood fireplaces have become pariahs in some jurisdictions because the combustion process contributes to air pollution. Unlike traditional non-certified fireplaces, however, the new low-mass units reduce particulate emissions by 75 percent to 90 percent. Stroud says some products will be certified to burn with their doors open or closed, while others may only be certified with the door closed.
A new generation of open-faced wood fireplaces would be welcome news to consumers who prefer a wood fire, and it could reverse the downward trend wood fireplace products have been experiencing over the last 10 years.
The program covers zero-clearance fireplaces as well as masonry units that burn wood. So far, only a handful of companies have signed the agreement with the EPA to participate in the program, but Stroud says those companies are responsible for about 90 percent of the products.