Current Emissions Issues
by Jim Buckley, 1997
A Western fireplace builder warns the industry: Be aware of air quality issues. Fireplace emissions regulations are upon us, he tells us, and it will profoundly change the masonry fireplace industry. - Editor, Masonry Construction, Fall 1995
If you live east of Colorado, you probably haven't noticed yet. But there's an issue gaining momentum in the West that will dramatically change the masonry fireplace business as we know it. This issue is fireplace emissions regulations.
This magazine has touched on the subject before (see "Can Wood Burn Clean?" Masonry Construction, September 1993), but without conveying the sense of urgency the subject now demands. It's a scientific and fairly complicated issue but here is it's essence.
Masonry fireplaces are already outlawed in most of Colorado and parts of Nevada, and California. They will be outlawed in all of California, Washington and probably also Arizona, Oregon and other states in the West in the next year or two. Already some regulators are working on a national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fireplace emissions standard.
"Outlawed" means masonry fireplaces will not be permitted in new construction nor in remodeling - unless they are "certified". Certified by whom? That part is not clear. The EPA specifically exempted fireplaces when they began regulating wood stoves 15 years ago. There is no agreed upon testing method for fireplaces and the EPA doesn't want to create one. Yet the states, which are required to clean up their airsheds, are deciding "if it ain't EPA 'certified' then it ain't gonna be permitted."
Remember what happened to wood stoves.
It's instructive to look at what happened to stove manufacturers in the 1980s when EPA regulation began for them. Before EPA regulation anyone with a welder and a garage could build and sell stoves. When regulation began most of these "manufacturers" couldn't afford the development costs and the testing and simply went out of business. Now there are only a handful of stove manufacturers and the price of stoves has gone up.
If masonry fireplaces are going to be regulated nationally, as I think they are, who among us will invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to do the engineering, build testing labs and pay for official certification? The mason in Chicago who builds 35 fireplaces a year? The brick manufacturer in Texas who is giving away the fireplace market because he can't make brick fast enough as it is? The cast iron damper manufacturer in Tennessee who hopes the EPA never finds out he's still in business? A block manufacturer in Arizona or a flue liner manufacturer in Ohio?
Collectively or individually someone must do it or the masonry fireplace will be history. Some already think it is. Some metal fireplace manufacturers are betting on gas and giving up on wood-burning fireplaces. They may be wrong, but at least they are addressing the issue. The masonry industry, charged with "stonewalling" by the metal fireplace guys, is simply not paying attention.
Product development and testingHere's an alternative scenario: I think clean-burning "new technology" masonry fireplace cores will be developed on a proprietary basis within a supportive environment created by our associations like WSCPA.
It's conceivable that we could develop and test clean-burning fireplaces as an industry. Western States Clay Products Association, perhaps with help from the Masonry Fireplace and Chimney Association and/or the Brick Institute of America would be the most likely industry sponsors. But such an industry effort would be cumbersome and slow and, because the industry associations would not want to favor any particular proprietary products, a generic approach would probably stifle promising new technology and innovation. I don't think the industry will step up to the task of developing clean-burning masonry fireplaces.
Rather, those of us who are most interested, and have specific and often conflicting and competative ideas about what makes fireplaces efficient and clean-burning, will be more likely to develop the technology and pay for testing. These proprietary masonry core units, certified and labeled, will be sold more like factory-built metal fireplaces than like masonry fireplaces are now. You will be able to surround the core with brick, block or stone but you won't be able to change the parts of the design that make it burn clean - the firebox, throat, damper or even the combustion air system or the glass doors - unless the fireplace was tested in that configuration.
The good news is that masonry is still the best material with which to build a fireplace. Even the better metal fireplaces have refractory masonry firebox liners. Masonry doesn't melt, warp or corrode with high temperatures and acidic environments. Cleaning up the emissions mostly means finding ways to burn up the smoke and, the hotter the fire, the cleaner it will be. It's kind of lucky, in a way, to be last. Whatever those metal guys come up with to make fireplaces burn clean, we can do it better because we can do it hotter. Being forced by the emissions issue to develop better masonry fireplaces is probably good for the masonry industry. I think we'll get our fireplace market back, once again making the masonry fireplace the focal point of our residential masonry market.
Comparative tests show promiseSome of us Westerners got together last March at McNear Brick in San Rafael, CA to test masonry fireplaces at a lab set up by Dennis Jaasma, an emissions testing engineer at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI). Paul Tiegs, director of OMNI Environmental Services, Inc., came down from Beverton, OR with his field sampler emissions testing system. We brought Jerry Frisch's Condar emissions testing system we've been using here in Washington to develop clean-burning masonry heaters, Rosins and Rumford fireplaces. The project, funded mostly by the Western States Clay Products Assoc., was to compare testing methods and find out if we could reduce masonry fireplace emissions by using a prescriptive design that could be written into the building code or promoted generically.
The experience was enlightening. We thought we might be able to do something generically, like specify a certain firebox proportion, or flue size to come up with a clean-burning masonry fireplace. Instead we found that more development work is needed and that little things, like how the wood is stacked to where the combustion air comes from can make a big difference.
The results of the California test project and the provisions of Washington's new fireplace emissions law are outlined in the two sidebars. More details are available to anyone who is interested. I urge you to at least skim this information to see generally what's involved both scientifically and politically in the fireplace emissions issue. For those of you who want to be players and develop your own clean-burning masonry fireplaces - especially those of you who make flues or dampers or firebrick and are going out of business if you don't pay attention - I urge you to fly out here next week and learn all you can. Time is running out and masonry fireplaces won't survive if only two or three of us are working on EPA certified masonry core units.
Washington's New Fireplace Emissions Law:Legislation passed in Washington requires fireplaces to meet EPA emissions standards for stoves "or equivalency" by 1997. The Washington Fireplace Technical Advisory Group (TAG) , charged by the state legislature with finding a way to test and certify both metal and masonry fireplaces for particulate (PM10) emissions, has just finished its work.
The TAG has recommend that a grams per kilogram (g/kg), rather than a grams per hour (g/hr) standard be used, and that standards for masonry fireplaces be phased in, beginning with 12 g/kg in 1997 and 7.3 g/kg in 1999. The State Building Code Council asked the TAG to provide an exception for custom, one of a kind, masonry fireplaces with the understanding that these uncertified fireplaces would be labeled as "noncertified" and could not be used during "stage one burn bans". The TAG recommendations still have to go through two more public hearings before the State Building Code Council's final vote on November 16th, but it's clear that fireplaces will be regulated in Washington after January 1, 1997.
For a masonry fireplace to be certified in Washington it will have to be tested, either in a lab or in the field, using either cord wood or dimensional lumber, with carefully defined fuel loads, by an EPA Certified testing lab. The fireplace will have to be tested with and without grates and doors and each "test" will comprise three different "burns". The cost for each model and size fireplace tested will likely be $7,000 to $10,000 not counting the development costs (you don't want to spend this kind of money without knowing you're likely to pass) and not counting the fireplace itself and any of the manufacturer's expenses associated with the testing, labeling and certifying. That's for one fireplace. If you want two sizes certified, double it.
Comparative Fireplace Tests in California:Comparing the three testing systems: The Condar system, McNear dilution tunnel and OMNI sampler are all well established methods for testing metal stoves. The Condar has been adapted to test masonry heaters where firebox size, thermal mass and periodic firing set them apart from metal stoves. The McNear dilution tunnel was designed and built to test masonry fireplaces which also have large combustion chambers, some thermal mass and tend to burn with more excess air than stoves or heaters. The OMNI sampler was designed primarily to test in the field rather than in a lab and can be adjusted to accommodate stoves, heaters or fireplaces.
The Condar is really a quick and dirty approximation of the same system used by the OMNI sampler. Both systems rely on gas measurements to calculate dilution factors and ultimately the emissions. The McNear dilution tunnel, on the other hand, compares the flow rates in the tunnel and in the sample train to get the emissions. The McNear system is more simple (more bullet proof?) but doesn't yield as much information. Both approaches are pretty simple, but different, and it was useful to compare the two approaches. I think we all came away with some ideas about how to make each testing system even more accurate and more useful for testing masonry fireplaces.
Open Rumford Fireplace Tested Clean: The open masonry Rumford fireplace tested at McNear, as measured by all three testing methods, was cleaner than any open masonry fireplace previously tested at VPI or OMNI. Open masonry fireplaces (without glass doors), whether Rumford or not, were thought to emit around 22 g/kg and 60 g/hr of PM10. To meet the existing (unrealistic for fireplaces) EPA Phase II stove standard of 7.5 g/hr in California we ran one three-test series with the gas starter left on for most of the test. The average emissions for all the open Rumford fireplace tests (none of the others used gas) was about 9 g/kg and just over 20 g/hr.
PM10 emissions of 7.3 g/kg is thought to be equivalent to 7.5 g/hr in field tests of efficient masonry heaters and fireplaces, based on EPA approved test methods and an EPA definition of "equivalency". We are working to get California, as well as Colorado and Washington, to accept a PM10 emission standard of 7.3 g/kg for masonry fireplaces.
Cleaner yet with doors: The Frisch Rosin fireplace was tested with closed glass doors but otherwise it was similar to the Rumford in design and size. We don't necessarily want to design fireplaces with closed combustion chambers, and we know our customers prefer open fires, but it seems clear that we can burn cleaner in a closed combustion chamber which can be maintained at higher temperatures. The open Rumford "loses" too much heat out the front, as one engineer pointed out. The Rosin, tested with the doors closed and with a combustion air system developed by Jerry Frisch, burned cleaner than the open Rumford with average results of about 4 g/kg and about 13 g/hr.
Based on these tests it would seem that testing efficient fireplaces both with doors open and closed and averaging the results (or perhaps testing them with the doors open but closing the doors on a dying fire) would be successful and realistic.
Summary: Much work, both political and scientific, still needs to be done to develop air quality standards and testing procedures which will result in cleaner-burning fireplaces. The week spent testing at McNear Brick was a step in that direction. The program evaluated and compared all the major testing systems appropriate for testing the emissions from masonry fireplaces and established that clean-burning masonry fireplaces will meet reasonable emission standards.
Current Emissions Issues
Buckley Rumford Fireplaces
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