All new wood-burning room heaters and central heaters sold and installed are now required to meet EPA certification standards. As a consumer, it pays to check and compare the listed emissions of stoves that you are considering; often the lowest-polluting appliance is also the most efficient, meaning that they provide more heat per cord of wood. A properly installed, correctly used woodstove should not release smoke in your house, nor should the smoke impact your neighbors.
Replace old, dirty wood heating appliances
Appliances are getting cleaner. Consider replacing your woodstove if it is currently in use and manufactured before 1988. Most woodstoves manufactured since 1988 must be EPA-certified to meet air pollution standards. Besides emitting less particulate matter pollution, an EPA-certified woodstove uses one-third less wood than older stoves to produce the same heat.
This improved efficiency means a cord of wood will go farther, and you will spend less time chopping and re-loading your stove. And EPA-certified woodstoves emit half the air pollution. Just as furnaces or water-heaters have a range of efficiency, so do wood stoves. Gas-burning appliances are the most efficient and cleanest. Wood-pellet stoves tend to be the most efficient and cleanest burning wood-burning appliances. The worst polluting wood-burning appliances are fireplaces and outdoor wood boilers.
Before you buy: Conduct a home energy audit
When evaluating heating appliances, it is important to consider overall heating demand. Consider conducting a home energy audit before investing in any heating equipment. A home energy audit and weatherizing of your home will help ensure that you are not losing energy through windows, doors, cracks or poor insulation.
Making energy-related improvements to your home will save energy, money and can help make your home more comfortable and energy efficient. Home energy audits can provide free installation of materials such as programmable or smart thermostats and door and attic hatch weather stripping, in addition to LED light bulbs, water heater insulation and low flow showerheads.
Check with your electricity or natural gas utility about their services. Programs also have no-cost options for income-qualified participants. Resources to assist homeowners with energy audits and energy-saving strategies:
Purchasing your wood-burning appliance
While new EPA-certified wood stoves, fireplace inserts, built-in fireplaces, furnaces and wood boilers are much cleaner than uncertified wood heating appliances, they still produce more than 100 times more harmful fine particle pollution than a gas furnace for the same amount of heat.
Only purchase EPA-certified appliances
EPA maintains the current lists of EPA-certified wood-fired room heater models such as woodstoves, fireplace inserts, built-in wood heaters and wood pellet stoves, and central heaters such as hydronic heaters, and central heaters such as forced-air furnaces.
Find a 2020 certified model
To find the least polluting wood-burning appliances, find the 2020 certified room heaters on the EPA-certified lists. The permanent label will say the heater is certified to comply with 2020 particulate emission standards. Or look for EPA's 2020 hangtag in the showroom.
Buy a quality appliance from a reputable dealer
Buy the right size for your home and have it properly installed for your comfort and safety. For appliance installation look for a National Fireplace Institute (NFI) certified professional.
See if you qualify for financial assistance
Programs like Environmental Initiative's Project Stove Swap provide financial incentives to consumers and businesses to replace older wood heating appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies.
Consider alternate fuels and technologies
Using alternatives to wood such as natural gas or propane to fuel your heating appliance can help you burn cleaner. Or consider if an air source heat pump could meet your needs.
Purchasing cleaner wood-burning appliances
Wood-burning room heaters include woodstoves, fireplace inserts, wood pellet stoves and built-in fireplaces designed for heating. Federal standards revised in 2015 have brought even cleaner wood stoves to the market. And the stoves will become cleaner as the federal standard tightens by 2020. Some stoves meet the 2020 standard already. For information comparing different wood stoves see the Alliance for Green Heat.
Central heating by heating water
Wood-fired boilers, which are commonly called outdoor wood furnaces, heat water that is transferred in pipes to where the heat is used. The technical name for these is hydronic heaters, since they transfer the heat via a heated liquid in pipes. Federal standards for wood-fired boilers (hydronic heaters) went into effect in May 2015. “Outdoor wood boilers” now must be certified as meeting federal pollution standards. These new emission standards will make available outdoor wood boilers more efficient and significantly cleaner. Better operating boilers will improve air quality for owners and communities where people burn wood for heat.
Consulting with experienced heating contractors will help determine proper sizing of the outdoor wood boiler. And then, consider if it is worthwhile to have propane or oil backup fuel, rather than oversizing wood boilers. The boiler works best if it doesn’t have to be throttled back, an operating condition that can produce the most pollution.
Determine if your community has adopted restrictions on the installation and use of outdoor wood boilers. These requirements can include limitations on their use during warmer months, required stack heights that differ from the manufacturer's recommendations and set back distances from your home as well as your neighbors'.
Central heating by heating air
Federal standards for small (<65,000 BTU per hour) and larger wood-burning forced air furnaces went into effect in May 2016 and May 2017, respectively. All forced-air furnaces must now be certified as meeting federal pollution standards. These new emission standards will make newly installed forced air furnaces significantly cleaner and improve air quality in communities where people burn wood for heat.
Fireplaces and retrofits
Most new fireplaces are for enjoyment, rather than heat. Most aren't required to meet federal pollution emission standards. With limited or no air pollution controls, they release more air pollution per wood burned compared to an EPA-certified room heater. Fireplaces that are designed as built-in heaters and must be EPA-certified to be sold, can be found on EPA’s list of certified room heaters.
However, EPA offers a voluntary partnership program with manufacturers of fireplaces designed to burn cleaner. If a fireplace model is tested and shown to emit less than the voluntary program emission limits, EPA will list the model as “qualified” and the manufacturer can highlight this by advertising the model with a qualified hangtag. Fireplace retrofit devices, designed to reduce fireplace pollutant emissions, can similarly be qualified. See EPA's cleaner burning “qualified” fireplaces and retrofit devices.
Firepits, portable fireplaces and chimineas
Most residential wood burning firepits, chimineas and portable fireplaces models sold have no air pollution controls, so they produce a lot of pollution when burning wood. EPA does not regulate the smoke from portable fireplaces, fire pits or chimineas. Some manufacturers sell wood-burning firepits designed with better air flow for improved combustion. These may burn cleaner. Gas-burning firepits are the cleanest choice for local air quality. Check your local regulations about using firepits in your neighborhood.