Wood Heat Largest Growth Fuel in the US

The energy crisis of the 1970’s created a tremendous growth in wood burning. 

This exponential growth helped to create the present day chimney service industry.  As people burned more wood, chimney fires were prevalent and chimney sweeping became the newest cottage industry in the United States. 

Many of us “old timers” in the sweeping industry referred to this period as the glory days of chimney sweeping.

After the economy improved and the public adjusted to the higher cost of heating from electric and oil, wood burning fell to a new low during the 1990’s.  There was a new challenge for chimney professionals: deterioration of chimney systems resulting from high efficiency oil and gas furnace use. 

The lining systems of masonry chimneys lost containment of liquids, gases and heat.  The deteriorated flue systems failed and in some cases blocked the free passage of exhaust from oil and gas furnaces creating carbon monoxide poisoning in homes. 

It was at this time that a state association of chimney sweeps, the Massachusetts Chimney Sweep Guild, launched the Target 69 Project

This program was based on the U.S. Census numbers released showing that 57% of homes were heated by gas and 12% of homes were heated by oil. 69% became the total of homes using both gas and oil fuel. 

The "target" of the Target 69 Project was to focus information for  homeowners on the potential dangers lurking in their chimneys from their furnace flue systems. 

The message was successfully delivered and, today,  the majority of homeowners understands the importance of having their furnace flue systems inspected annually by a chimney professional.

This same U.S. Census Bureau report back in 1988, listed wood burning as less than 5% of homes. 

Twenty five years later, the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey reported that 12% of all American homes now burn wood as their main source of heating fuel, compared to only 7% of homes heated with fuel oil. 

This change represents a doubling of wood heat use in homes and a reduction of 5% for oil fuel usage.

But wait!  The Alliance for Green Heat headlined in September 2013 that the 2012 Census Shows Wood Heating Continues Growth /Streak.

According to recently released U.S. Census statistics, 63,566 more families used wood or pellets as a primary heating fuel in 2012 compared to 2011, which amounts to an increase of 2.6%, making wood again the fastest growing heating fuel in America. See graph to view the growth of wood heat use state by state.

 

 Wood Heat Use in USA

 

 While this news is received with great enthusiasm, there are some serious wood heat industry concerns on the horizon. 

The Environment Protection Agency is revising the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new residential wood heaters. 

The standard is expected to require manufacturers to redesign wood heaters to be cleaner and lower emitting. These new standards would apply only to new residential wood heaters and not to existing wood-heating appliances. 

The EPA has a 90 day comment period and expects to release its new rules by the spring of 2014.      

A separate concern involves 8 states, including all of the New England states, in which a lawsuit has been filed against the EPA. This lawsuit demands the EPA place strict regulations on wood fired boilers.

Reading between the lines, could the fact that geographically the lion's share of oil fuel use in the USA is the North East; and, that oil fuel use has suffered a tremendous cut back, have anything to do with this lawsuit?

In summary; wood heat is now at its highest level of demand in history in the U.S. Draconian regulations threaten the hearth product and chimney service industry. Chimney professionals, hearth product manufacturers/vendors and homeowners together should offer the EPA a better solution to regulations that may not significantly improve the environment and may in fact hurt our industries growth.

Chimneys.com will follow the progress of these new regulations and report as information becomes available.

by Dave Hannah

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