Scoping Study:

Reducing Smoke Emissions From Home Heating With Wood



Prepared for

Environment Canada


Hazardous Waste Branch

Planning & Coordination Division


Prepared by

Gulland Associates Inc.


March 31, 1997





Executive Summary. 2

1. Introduction. 4

Wood Heating Appliance Categories. 6

2.  Industry and Market Profile. 7

2.1 Heating Appliances and Decorative Fireplaces. 7

2.2 Woodburning Appliance Manufacturing in Canada. 8

2.3 Profile of Wood Energy Use in Canada. 9

2.4 Why is Wood Heating in Decline?. 11

2.4 Regional Variations and Patterns. 11

2.5 Other Characteristics of the Market and the Users. 12

3.  Technology Profile and Regulatory Environment 15

3.1 Background to Emissions Regulations. 15

3.2 The Effect of Regulation on the Products and the Market 18

3.3 The Positions of Provincial Governments. 21

3.4 Implications of a Regulation. 21

3.5 The B.C. Emissions Regulation: A Model for Canada?. 22

4.  Purchase Motivation. 24

4.1 The Cost of Heating With Wood. 24

4.2 Purchase Incentives. 24

4.3 Obstacles to the uptake of advanced technologies. 25

5.  Prospects for Reduced Emissions. 26

5.1 Some Strategic Options. 26

5.2 How the Stakeholders Can Contribute. 27

6. Conclusions. 30

7. Recommendations. 30




Executive Summary


This study reviews existing sources of data to profile the use of wood burning appliances for residential heating.  The profile consists of four elements:

·        the extent and patterns of wood energy use;

·        the characteristics and capabilities of wood burning appliances and of the industries that manufacture and supply them;

·        the features and status of regulatory initiatives to reduce environmental impacts;

·        and the constraints and opportunities that could influence efforts to promote more environmentally friendly wood burning appliances and user practices.

Wood is by far the most prevalent renewable energy source in Canada; about one fifth of single family dwellings are heated to some extent with wood.  Even those householders who report the use of wood as a supplementary fuel tend to use it to provide a large part of their total heating needs.  Despite this surprisingly high usage level, wood heating is declining in Canada.  A number of reasons have been cited for the decrease, including the appeal of improved gas hearths, the low cost of natural gas, and negative publicity regarding the environmental appropriateness of wood heating.

Since wood heating regained popularity in the late 1970s in response to high conventional energy prices and worries about security of supply, wood stove technology has been transformed.  Better looking and performing stoves and the ability to watch the fire as it burns have added to the desirability of using wood as a fuel for space heating of living areas.  Used this way, wood offers good prospects for the displacement of fossil fuel consumption and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  In most regions outside large urban centres, it costs less to heat with firewood purchased at market prices than with oil, propane, electric resistance and wood pellets, but it is more costly than using natural gas or a ground source heat pump (depending on electrical power rates).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated the emissions from wood stoves and fireplace inserts since 1988 by restricting manufacture and sale to those appliances that are tested and certified as meeting particulate (smoke) emission limits.  Wood stoves that are laboratory tested and certified by the EPA emit an approximate average of 5 grams of particulates per hour of operation during in-home field tests.  This level of particulate emissions is between one fifth and one tenth of that emitted by conventional wood burning stoves. 

Canada has no federal regulation or guideline that is applicable to wood heating.  Responding to concerns about air quality, the province of British Columbia adopted a regulation in 1994 that functions in all material respects identically to the EPA standard; in fact B.C. references both the EPA regulation and the Canadian Standards Association B415.1 standard that is harmonized with the EPA requirements.  No other province has adopted a regulation mandating wood stove smoke emission limits, although several have expressed interest in doing so.

The smoke emissions from individual wood burning units are also strongly influenced by the quality of fuel and by the operating techniques employed by users.  Creative public information programs could promote the techniques of responsible wood heating and help Canadians who heat with wood to use them effectively.

Advanced wood stoves that meet the EPA and B.C. requirements operate at higher efficiencies than conventional wood stoves, resulting in annual fuel cost savings of between $150 and $350 on firewood purchased at market prices.  These substantial annual savings make upgrading to advanced technology an attractive investment.  These savings are acknowledged by industry specialists to be a primary motivation in the decision by householders to upgrade from conventional appliances.

Regulatory action by the U.S., and subsequently by B.C. has had a significant effect on the Canadian market; it is estimated that of all current wood stove sales, somewhat more than half are of certified low emission models.  The relevant industry, as represented by the Hearth Products Association of Canada (HPAC), supports the adoption of a national regulation similar to that adopted by British Columbia in 1994.  Based on recent consultations conducted by the HPAC, there is reason to expect that a majority of provincial ministers of environment would respond positively to a federal regulatory initiative on wood burning appliances.  The B.C. experience suggests that the administration and enforcement costs to support such a regulation would be low.

Despite the performance and environmental advantages of advanced wood heating technologies, the older conventional technologies are still far more prevalent in Canadian homes.  Obstacles to the uptake of advanced technology wood stoves include the absence of an emission regulation, the higher cost of advanced stoves, resistance to change on the part of purchasers, and a lack of information.  These obstacles could be minimized through the mechanism of a Canada-wide emission regulation, combined with effective public information and incentives for wood heat users to upgrade.

A significant reduction in smoke emissions from wood heating is achievable, but will depend on the combined efforts of a number of stakeholders.  The federal government has a key role in the establishment of a Canada-wide emission regulation, and in the formation of and support for partnerships aimed at developing and disseminating information in support of the public's environmentally appropriate use of wood as a heating fuel.  Likely partners include the hearth industry, other departments or agencies of government at all levels, financial institutions, the insurance industry and public health organizations.  All the identified partners could support and participate in programs such as stove change-outs, clean burn demonstrations, and programs to distribute public information.

The research for this study revealed that there is inadequate information available on how Canadians use wood fuel to heat their homes.  More specific information on the attitudes of the users, the types of appliances currently in use, and the way they are used is needed to guide the development of effective public education materials.  Research into the performance characteristics of the various appliance types is also needed.  These two data sources—user profiles and appliance characteristics— are required to develop projections of environmental impacts and as a base line against which to measure progress in reducing negative impacts.

1. Introduction


Wood ranks as the fourth most popular home heating fuel in Canada, after gas, electricity and oil.  About one in five single family dwellings is heated to some extent with wood.  Householders who heat with wood attract little attention from the media or from government, and the companies that supply equipment and fuel are small, widely disbursed and low-profile.  As a result, the significant contribution of wood to the residential energy supply mix can be surprising, even to those with some involvement in housing and energy issues.

Wood heating does tend to attract media and government attention when wood smoke causes noticeable impacts on local air quality or when nuisance smoke emissions cause friction between neighbors.  The periodic complaints about smoke pollution from wood burning create the image of wood as a sort of delinquent heating fuel, the use of which, some say, should be minimized for environmental reasons.  Wood may also be viewed as an old-fashioned, rather crude way to heat houses, and therefore expendable because other heating options are readily available and have no discernible environmental impacts at the point of use.  And, in light of publicity campaigns that promote urban tree planting and rural reforestation programs, and that condemn clear-cut logging, the image of people cutting down trees and burning them, even for heat, is no longer a positive one.  The identification of wood heating as a problem to be solved, rather than as one of the four key residential energy options, could create a policy dilemma for governments and therefore raises the question:  Are there strategic benefits from the continued use of wood as a heating fuel?

Wood is defined as a renewable energy source, along with wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy.  As one of the few renewable energy sources—each of which has regional and/or site-related limitations—wood can at least be seen as a potentially strategic fuel.  Canada's reliance on fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal makes it among the world's highest per capita emitters of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.  Both energy and forestry scientists agree that, provided harvesting is conducted in a sustainable manner, the combustion of wood for energy uses contributes no net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere when the normal forest regeneration period is considered.

The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio was the site of an historic international agreement to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000.  One of the UNCED documents states:

The need to control atmospheric emissions of greenhouse and other gases and substances will increasingly need to be based on efficiency in energy production, transmission, distribution and consumption, and on growing reliance on environmentally sound energy systems, particularly new and renewable sources of energy.1

Wood energy could serve as one of the strategic options in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion.  The Canadian government and the public have used wood energy strategically in the past.  In the late 1970s, when oil prices rose rapidly and there were widespread concerns about the security of energy supply, hundreds of thousands of Canadian households fell back on wood as a reliable energy source that sheltered them from the uncertainties of the conventional energy market.  They were assisted in doing so through the Canada Oil Substitution Program, a component of the National Energy Program.  If, in the face of mounting evidence of global warming/climate change and the continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions, government is forced to employ the tax system to create disincentives for the consumption of fossil fuels, the public would undoubtedly turn again to wood as a secure and price-stable energy source.  But exchanging greenhouse gas emissions for poor air quality due to more wood smoke emissions would not be a desirable outcome.  This raises the question:  Under what conditions can wood be used as an environmentally appropriate fuel?

Wood should be viewed as a conditionally renewable energy source in the sense that wood fuel acquired using unsustainable forestry practices is not truly renewable.  Sustainable energy production from trees was addressed in a 1993 paper titled, "Residential Wood Heating: the Forest, the Atmosphere and the Public Consciousness", in which criteria for the consideration of wood as an environmentally appropriate fuel were offered:

·        An increase in the use of wood as a fuel for residential heating can occur within the framework prescribed by current principles of environmental sustainability.  This framework could be generally described by the following points:

·        The integrity of the forest, including the trees, the soil and the site, is maintained.

·        Species diversity within the managed forest is maintained or enhanced.

·        The requirement for the use of non-renewable fossil fuels is reduced, resulting in reduced concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

·        Air shed pollutants are minimized and those that are released do not produce health impacts on the population.2

The first two points in the list above are important and deserve attention, but they are not addressed in this report.  The third point, that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by fossil fuel displacement, suggests that wood should be converted to usable energy at the highest practical efficiency.  That, and the fourth point recommending that air pollution be minimized are key aspects of this report and are discussed in the context of the conversion technologies (stoves, etc.), their performance characteristics and the householders who use them to heat their homes.

This report gives an overview of how wood fuel is used in Canadian homes.  Special attention is given to initiatives designed to reduce the environmental impacts and increase the effectiveness of wood burning for home heating.  Its function is to provide background information to assist in the analysis of environmental policy options.

Wood Heating Appliance Categories




Space Heater



A free-standing appliance designed to heat the space in which it is installed and adjacent spaces.  Wood stoves, also called woodburning space heaters and colloquially as airtights, are by far the most common wood heating device in Canada, used by almost 90 percent of households that use wood for heating.  Advanced low emission, high efficiency wood stoves are readily available on the Canadian market.


An insert is essentially a wood stove that is adapted by the manufacturer for installation within or partly within the hearth area of a masonry or factory-built fireplace.  A properly installed insert of good design can deliver heating performance on par with a wood stove


Unlike conventional metal or brick fireplaces that deliver very low heating efficiency, advanced fireplaces perform at about the same efficiency and smoke emissions levels as advanced wood stoves, so they can be used for serious home heating.


Pellet stoves burn a manufactured fuel made of dried, compressed wood "flour", processed from sawdust.  An electric motor driven auger moves the fuel from an integral hopper to a small combustion chamber.  Pellet stoves operate with low particulate emission levels.


Evolved from a European tradition, more masonry heaters have been built in Canada in recent years.  Although they have specialized operating characteristics, masonry heaters have been shown to produce very low particulate emissions and deliver good performance for serious heating.


Wood-fired central heating systems are available in several forms: add-on furnaces for connection to existing oil or electric furnaces; combination furnaces that burn oil or electricity in addition to wood; and boilers that heat water and use a system of pipes to distribute the heat.  Central heating with wood is not as common today as it was 20 years ago.


A specialized appliance that uses wood fuel to heat a cook-top surface, a bake oven and sometimes, a reservoir for domestic hot water.  Cooking ranges are not common in Canada, although a few models are still available for sale in specialty stores.


Gaining popularity recently, particularly in rural Manitoba and Ontario, outdoor boilers are contained in a small shed and use insulated underground piping to deliver heat to the house.  They are controversial because they tend to emit high levels of airborne particulate matter.


2.  Industry and Market Profile


2.1 Heating Appliances and Decorative Fireplaces

The range in efficiency is wide

Wood can be burned solely for the pleasure of viewing the fire in a fireplace that, with a net efficiency of around zero, is strictly decorative by design.  At the other end of the spectrum, wood can be burned in a device boasting a seasonal efficiency of 75 percent and which is easily capable of heating an entire house.  The range in heating performance of the wood burning appliances currently in use is extremely wide, so distinguishing between various types according to heating capability and usage patterns is a key part of estimating the use of firewood for either aesthetic or heating purposes and projecting the environmental impacts of this use.  A failure to account for these variations would introduce significant distortions in any estimate.

Decorative does not equal inefficient

The task of differentiating decorative from heating appliances is not as simple as labeling all fireplaces as decorative and considering the rest — wood stoves, furnaces, boilers, cooking ranges, and so on — as heating appliances.  Such a simple analysis is contradicted by the fact that the most efficient and effective wood heating devices available today are highly decorative fireplaces and wood stoves that look entirely appropriate installed in a well-appointed living room.

Air Control and Heat Exchange Define a Heater

The presence of two physical characteristics tends to separate decorative appliances from heating devices.  First, wood heaters have a means to control the flow of combustion air to the fire permitting the user to regulate the rate of burn; and second, they have a means of transferring heat from the exhaust gases to the room.  Decorative appliances have neither characteristic.  One exception to these criteria is a masonry heater, which does not control combustion air flow, but compensates with a massive heat exchanger that captures the fire's heat for slow release over several hours.



2.2 Woodburning Appliance Manufacturing in Canada

Location of Manufacturers

Statistics Canada tracks wood burning appliance production in its quarterly report, Shipments of Solid Fuel Burning Heating Products (Catalogue 25-002)3.  The publication includes a listing of reporting manufacturers.  The list for the last quarter 1996 edition shows the following distribution of manufacturers by province:

Nova Scotia               5

New Brunswick          2

Quebec                      8

Ontario                       16

Manitoba                    2

Alberta                        1

British Columbia       7

Total                            41


See Appendix A for the names and cities of these appliance manufacturers.

Production peaked in the 1980s

The wood burning appliance manufacturing sector grew quickly in the late 1970s and early 1980s in response to strong market demand.  Wood stove production peaked in 1984 at 79,000 units and fireplace production peaked in 1987 at 61,000 units, according to the Statistics Canada report on shipments of these products. 

A ten year decline

The number of wood burning appliance manufacturers in Canada has been falling gradually since the "boom years" of the mid-1980s.  Since then there has been a steady decline in production, most notably of decorative factory-built fireplaces which have been largely replaced in the marketplace by gas fireplaces.  In 1996, about 40,000 wood stoves and only about 8,400 factory-built fireplaces were produced, according to Statistics Canada (Figure 1).  Fireplace insert sales have gradually declined from a high of 17,000 units to 5,700 in the decade between 1986 and 1996.  The production of wood burning central heating appliances like furnaces and boilers has dropped from a high of about 22,000 in 1982 to the 1996 figure of 4,000. 

Pellet stove production in 1996

The Statistics Canada quarterly report was updated in 1996 to include the production of pellet burning stoves; it reported that 1,749 pellet stoves were shipped from Canadian manufacturers plants last year.  This figure is included in the total of wood stoves produced in the accompanying graph.


Figure 1. Shipments of Woodburning Appliances from Canadian Manufacturers

1982 - 1996, in thousands of units

Source: Statistics Canada quarterly report, Shipments of Solid Fuel Burning Heating Products (Catalogue 25-002), 1982 through 1996


According to the Statistics Canada report on appliance shipments, the value of exports of all categories of wood burning appliances in 1996 was $11.7 million on a total production value of $38.7 million, or 30 percent of the output from Canadian manufacturers.  The percentage that exports represent of total production appears to be rising; in 1992 exports were 17 percent of the total, in 1993 they represented 21.8 percent, and in 1994 they rose to 24 percent.  The dramatic drop in total production in 1996 to 58,000 from 76,000 the year before accounts for the abrupt increase in the percentage of exports; in fact, the value of exports has held steady since 1994. 

This significant drop in production of wood burning appliances in 1996 was not reflected in the interviews conducted for this study with wood stove retailers and distributors, most of whom claimed sales in the 1996 year were either stable or up from previous years.  It is possible that the drop in shipments for 1996 reflects the selling through of unsold inventory from the previous year, a year in which sales were lower than in 1996, according to some commentators.


It is apparent that Canada has a balance of trade surplus with the United States in wood heating appliances.  Imports represent a relatively small part of the overall market, with U.S. and European products filling niche markets.  For example, cast iron stoves of advanced design are probably the most significant product category to be imported and they are widely available in stores across Canada.  Imports dominate this product category because there is no Canadian manufacturer of advanced cast iron stoves.  There is no reliable source of statistics on the number of imported wood heating appliances, but industry observers interviewed for this project estimate the volume to be in the 5,000 to 15,000 range.  Several lines of pellet stoves are also imported from the United States, but the entire pellet stove market is small, estimated to be in the 3,000 to 5,000 range each year.


2.3 Profile of Wood Energy Use in Canada

Statistical sources

The primary source of statistical information on wood heating is the annual Statistics Canada report on Household Facilities and Equipment (Catalogue no. 64-202)4.  Each year the report provides statistics on the principal fuels and equipment used to heat Canadian homes.  One year in five the report expands to include figures for fuel and equipment used for supplementary heating.  Fortunately, the report for 1996 presents figures for supplementary heating, and this makes the wood usage profile in this report more useful and current because much of the wood burned in Canada is used to supplement heating provided by other fuels. 


Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) conducted a comprehensive survey of energy use patterns in Canadian houses.  Its report, titled 1993 Survey of Household Energy Use5, provides more details on usage patterns than the standard Statistics Canada annual reports. 


Some provincial governments have conducted various types of surveys which may be useful for specific purposes, but the Statistics Canada and NRCan surveys are the most useful because they provide a national overview, and in the case of the annual Statistics Canada survey, provincial figures.

Table 1. shows comparative figures for 1991 and 1996 on the number of households using wood for heating by province, the percentage of single family dwellings heated with wood and the percent change between 1991 and 1996.  The usage percentages are compared with the total of single family dwellings (not all dwellings) because 99.7 percent of home heating with wood occurs in houses rather than apartments.  The popularity of wood as a home heating fuel varies widely across the regions of Canada. 


Table 1. Distribution of Residential Wood Heating in Canada

Comparative figures for 1991 and 1996

   Total Single

  Wood as Principal Fuel

 As Supplementary Fuel

% of houses

Family Dwellings

# in


% of


# in


% of


   using wood









































































































































































Source: Statistics Canada Report, Household Facilities and Equipment, Catalogue 64-202, 1991 & 1996


 NRCan finds more users than StatsCan

The 1993 NRCan survey produced considerably higher figures than either the 1991 or 1996 Statistics Canada surveys, particularly on the use of wood as the principal heating source.   The NRCan survey found 80 percent more households that use wood as a primary heat source than the Statistics Canada figures for 1991, and 97 percent more than the annual survey reported in 1996.  The cause of these large differences has not been determined, but the NRCan survey is to be repeated using data to be collected in late 1997.  The results may serve to confirm or modify the relative differences between the two surveys.  Table 2. below shows a comparison of summary figures from the 1991 and 1996 Household Facilities and Equipment surveys, and the 1993 NRCan survey.


Table 2. Comparative Figures from Three Surveys on Home Heating with Wood

StatsCan 1991

NRCan 1993

StatsCan 1996













% of s.f. dwellings




Source: Statistics Canada Report, Household Facilities and Equipment, Catalogue 64-202, 1991 & 1996; Natural Resources Canada 1993 Survey of Household Energy Use                       


2.4 Why is Wood Heating in Decline?

A 4% decline in use since 1991

There has been a general decline in the use of wood for both primary and supplementary heating since 1991.  Whereas 21 percent of those living in single family dwellings reported the use of wood as the principal or a supplementary heat source in 1991, five years later only 17 percent reported using wood.  There was a larger reduction in the use of wood as the principal heating fuel than as a supplementary fuel. 

Wood heat retailers report falling sales

Sales of all categories of wood burning equipment declined during 1996, according to a survey of Canadian hearth retailers reported in the March 1997 edition of Hearth and Home Magazine6.  Although the decline in wood stove sales, which is the largest category, was less than one percent, factory-built fireplace sales dropped 9 percent, cook stove sales fell 7 percent and pellet stove sales were also off 7 percent from the year before.  The statistical findings of the Hearth and Home survey may not be fully representative because it is based on a small sample of specialty retailers only.

Speculation on the causes of decline

Although there are no survey results explaining why Canadians are moving away from wood as a heating fuel, most of the hearth professionals interviewed for this study cited three main reasons: more acceptable alternative hearth options, the availability of low cost conventional fuels — mainly piped gas — and an increasingly negative public attitude regarding the environmental implications of heating with wood. 

Although gas fireplaces have been available for many years, it has only been in since the late 1980s that the designers of these appliances have succeeded in producing a simulated wood fire that is an aesthetically acceptable alternative to a real wood burning fireplace.  Using ceramic or pressed fibre artificial logs, simulated charcoal beds that glow red, and sophisticated burners that produce a realistic yellow flame, gas fireplace makers have achieved a gas fire that is surprisingly similar to a wood fire.  The energy efficiency of these gas fireplaces has also improved with the introduction of direct-vent, sealed combustion technology, which also makes installation simple because these units are side-wall vented, needing no chimney.  The technical and aesthetic advances in gas technology combine to make a gas fireplace an attractive option, particularly for householders living in urban or suburban areas.

Gas distributors, which are large and well-financed companies, have embraced the gas fireplace as a good way to increase load and monthly billings as well as appliance sales at their company stores.  The marketing of these fireplaces is aggressive, with flyers regularly reaching every household served by the distribution network and offering discounts and attractive payment terms that represent relatively modest increases in the monthly gas bill.  These utilities invariably market gas fireplaces against wood burning units by emphasizing the cleanliness, safety and automatic convenience of gas fireplaces.  In contrast, the marketing of wood burning appliances is done mostly by small, specialty retail stores that lack the corporate marketing strength of the gas utilities. 

During the 1990s the piped gas network has been expanded into areas where wood burning had been popular.  Two of many such examples are the Highway 17 corridor in the Ottawa Valley and Victoria Island in B.C.  In both cases the novelty of gas fireplaces and the low cost of the fuel has driven strong sales of gas hearths to replace wood burning units. 

Provincial lung associations across Canada have established publicity programs that tend to discourage Canadians from heating with wood because of the perceived threat of indoor smoke pollution that can inhibit lung function in small children and can worsen lung problems in older adults.  The combined result of aggressive anti-wood marketing by gas distributors and hearth dealers, and cautionary messages from health organizations has been to challenge previously positive public attitudes towards wood burning.


2.4 Regional Variations and Patterns

Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island

Since low cost piped gas is not available in the Atlantic provinces, there must be other explanations for the most dramatic percentage reduction in wood use that have occurred there, particularly in Newfoundland and PEI.  A retailer who sells mostly propane fireplaces in St. John's gave several reasons for the 11 percent drop in wood use since 1991.  He said that wood stoves are messy, unsafe, require too much work and the provincial government has enforced restrictions on firewood cutting on the Avalon Peninsula, which has pushed up the cost of firewood.  It is no surprise, therefore, that people shopping for a hearth in St. John's may not receive a positive sales presentation about wood heating.

Despite the reduction in usage in the past five years, Newfoundland still has among the highest provincial concentration with 20 percent reporting wood as their primary heating source and a further 13 percent using wood to supplement other fuels.  This total of 33 percent of houses is a dramatic drop from the 44 percent reported in 1991.  There was also a significant decline in reported usage on Prince Edward Island, from 49 to 39 percent of houses. 

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

Householders in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have been consistent users of wood fuel for heating.  The decline in reported usage is more moderate in these two provinces at only 5 percent and 7 percent respectively.  Dealers in the Atlantic provinces report the increasing popularity of propane gas fireplaces for their convenience and cleanliness, despite the high cost of the fuel.


Quebec has a high frequency of wood burning and, in contrast to the general decline in wood use, there was a significant increase in the number of households reporting wood as the principal heating fuel: from 113,000 households in 1991 to 140,000 in 1996.  A reduction in supplementary heating with wood and the increase in the number of households in the province combined to produce an overall reduction in wood usage of 4 percent.


Only three percent of those living in Ontario houses report wood as their principal heating fuel and only 7 percent use wood as a supplementary fuel.  This is the third lowest provincial frequency of wood fuel usage after Saskatchewan and Alberta.  From 1991 to 1996, the number of people using wood as their principal heating fuel fell by 12,000, while there was a 21,000 household increase in the use of wood for supplementary heating. 


Heating with wood is not popular in the prairies, yet this is the region with the least drop in usage during the five year period under review.  The stable usage may indicate that only a core group of householders remain; those whose location and/or income level make wood heating the most practical option.


Between 1991 and 1996 there was a massive reduction from 61,000 to 37,000 in the number of people using wood as their primary heating fuel, possibly a result of negative publicity about wood heating and air pollution.  During this five year period, British Columbia established a mandatory emission regulation for woodburning appliances and this action might have sent a signal to the public that wood heating is not desirable.  There was a small increase in those using wood as a supplementary fuel since 1991, possibly reflecting a shift in usage within individual households.  Wood burning in the lower mainland around Vancouver has declined substantially, but it remains fairly popular in the interior and the northern part of the province.  A distributor of wood stoves in B.C. noted that periodically the media picks up wood smoke stories from Washington state where wood smoke emissions regulations are among the most aggressive in the U.S.  Rumours that wood burning will soon be banned circulate on a regular basis, and although no basis in fact exists, the result is to suppress wood stove sales.

The Territories

No usage statistics are available for the northern territories, although it is known that wood remains an important fuel in areas where trees are abundant.  A retailer in Whitehorse, Yukon reported that wood burning appliance sales have been flat recently while sales of high efficiency oil-fired heaters has increased.


2.5 Other Characteristics of the Market and the Users

Wood stoves are most common

About 60 percent of principal wood heating appliances are wood stoves, 33 percent are forced air furnaces and 2 percent are boilers.  Almost all (98.5 %) householders who use wood as a supplementary fuel do so with a space heating stove.  This category would probably include some fireplace inserts, which are essentially wood stoves adapted to fit into masonry fireplaces.  Wood is used as a cooking fuel by 51,000 households according to NRCan and by 30,000 according to StatsCan.


The NRCan Household Energy Use Survey found that 31.2 percent of those living in houses, or 2.2 million households, reported having a woodburning fireplace.  While that figure is undoubtedly falling due to gas conversion, when added to those who heat with wood, it reveals that an impressive number of Canadians have owned and operated wood burning devices.

Wood systems are newer than other options

Wood burning appliances used for primary heating tend to be newer than other heating appliances: according to NRCan 1993, 70% of wood appliances for primary use are less than 10 years old; StatsCan finds that 58 percent are less than 10 years old.  In contrast, more than 60 percent of all other principal heating systems are more than 10 years old.  Wood stoves used for supplementary heating are also relatively new: 62 percent are 10 years old or less.  This finding implies that people change their wood stoves with some frequency, although there are no data to suggest why.  Part of the reason could be that during the last 10 years in particular there have been significant improvements in aesthetic appeal and performance of wood stoves and, since many of these stoves are in living spaces rather than basements, this may have prompted homeowners to trade up from the "black box" wood stove they bought in the late 1970s or early 1980s.  If this analysis were proved correct, it might also suggests that if people knew more about the new technology wood stoves, they might upgrade, not just to reduce smoke emissions, but to take advantage of all the other improvements in the technology, like clear door glass, higher efficiency and more attractive designs.

Wood users like to stay warm

People who heat with wood keep their houses almost one degree warmer during the day than all others: the average daytime temperature for a wood heated house is 21.3°C and the average evening temperature is 21.6°C.  The average temperature over night is about the same as for other energy sources at 19.1°C.  Source: NRCan 1993.

Supplementary wood use is serious use

Wood heat specialists over the years have speculated about what householders really mean when they indicate the use of wood as a supplementary fuel in the home.  Theoretically, supplementary use could mean very occasional use, perhaps only once or twice a month or supplying only 5 to 10 percent of total heating requirements.  It has been reported that the term supplementary can be misleading because of the influence of home insurance companies.  Many insurers impose a significant surcharge on policy holders claiming wood as a primary heating source.  Families that use a wood stove to provide a large majority of heating needs, but have a central heating system for back up heating, may claim the wood stove is only used as a supplementary source to avoid paying higher home insurance premiums.  Others may think of their extensive, complex and automatic oil, gas or electric furnace the primary system even though they use a wood stove to supply the majority of home heating.

The NRCan study sheds light on this issue and offers some surprises.  It reveals that Canadians who report the use of wood as a supplementary fuel use it to provide a large part of their total heating needs.  For example, 60 percent report using their stove more than four hours per day in winter, and a further 15 percent use theirs between one and four hours each day.  With 75 percent using their stove every day, this is much more than casual supplementary use.  Wood consumption figures confirm this finding.  Fully 40 percent of supplementary users report consuming four or more cords per year, a high figure considering that four cords can be enough fuel to heat a small house for an entire winter.  A further 29 percent of supplementary users consume between one and three cords of wood per winter.  About half report heating the entire house with their wood stove, while a further 35 percent heat only the basement.  Electricity is the main energy source being supplemented in Canadian homes (53%) followed by oil (22%).

Not a lot of fuel switching going on

Given the general decline in the use of wood for heating in all regions of Canada, it follows that relatively few people are switching to wood from other fuels.  Fuel switching is usually motivated by price variations and, except for an increase in propane prices in the 1996/97 winter, most energy prices have held steady for several years.  In fact, specialty retailers suggest that one of the more significant shifts in hearth usage in the past few years is from wood to gas as homeowners remove wood stoves and fireplace inserts and replace them with appliances that burn piped gas or propane.


The purchase of a new wood burning appliance is more likely to be motivated by the need or desire to upgrade an existing unit or to include a wood heater in a new house or renovated space.  The retailers interviewed for this study confirmed that fuel switching is not usually a primary reason to purchase, but that upgrading from existing units is a significant component of the market, as are changing houses, building new houses and renovating existing houses.

Aesthetics are important

The motivations behind the purchase of a new wood burning appliance can be more complicated than for other energy sources.  For conventional heating equipment like oil and gas furnaces or electric baseboard heaters, the initial equipment cost and the cost of the fuel are the primary factors influencing the purchase.  But for wood burning equipment other influences can come into play.  Since the majority of wood burning appliances are space heaters located in living areas rather than central furnaces hidden in utility rooms, the look of the appliance is an important consideration at the time of purchase.  The development in the mid-1980s of effective "air wash" systems for the glass panels in firebox doors had an important impact on the use and performance of wood burning space heaters.  With clear glass for unobstructed fire viewing, the wood heater was no longer a plain box, but became an attractive and desirable part of the living or family room decor. 


3.  Technology Profile and Regulatory Environment

3.1 Background to Emissions Regulations

Wood stove renaissance 1975 - 1990

The steep rise in oil prices during the 1970s and early 1980s triggered a rebirth of wood as a home heating fuel after decades of decline.  Hundreds of wood stove manufacturers sprang up all over North America to meet the public's seemingly insatiable demand for these simple, low-cost appliances, most of which were of welded steel construction.  The stove manufacturers of the time boasted of the high efficiency of their products, but this was mostly based on the fact that gasketed loading doors allowed control of combustion air flow and made longer burn cycles possible.  The term "airtight", as these stoves were called, was equated with efficiency.  Some manufacturers did experiment with baffles, various gas flow patterns and the use of firebrick linings, features designed to improve combustion efficiency. 

U.S. emissions regulatory strategies

The full negative effects of residential wood burning became evident when hundreds of households located in mountain valley towns of the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. operated inefficient, smoky stoves during winter days characterized by cold, stable air masses.  The combination of mountainous topography, a stagnant air shed, and a high local concentration of inefficient wood burning produced intolerable densities of smoke in several communities.  State regulators, and in particular the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality began to research the problem under intense pressure to take action.

Since investigating, charging and prosecuting individual householders for air pollution violations would have been costly — and controversial because of individual rights issues — other strategies to reduce emissions had to be found.  Some preliminary research had shown that significant improvements in wood burning technology were possible, so it was decided by the Oregon DEQ to develop a regulation that would mandate the best available pollution control technology.  This would be done by requiring all stoves sold in the State to have been laboratory tested and certified as producing smoke emissions during normal operation that were at or below the limits set by the legislation.  Although consideration was given to regulating carbon monoxide and other pollutants, eventually it was decided to regulate only particulate emissions, regardless of type.

When Oregon regulators served notice that they would regulate wood smoke emissions, stove manufacturers embarked on concerted efforts to develop clean burning wood stoves.  The development of a practical, repeatable test to form the basis of a stove certification program was difficult and controversial because of the complexities of batch-fed, solid fuel combustion and the compromises inherent in any test and measurement method.   Finally, a test was developed and adopted by the State of Oregon which enforced a stove certification program in 1986.  With some modifications, the method was subsequently adopted by EPA and enforced nationally in two stages referred to as Phase I in 1988 and Phase II in 19907.

In addition to the stove regulation, the state and local authorities developed publicity and incentive programs to encourage householders to upgrade their wood heating equipment.  Also, in mountain valley communities with serious wood smoke pollution problems, so-called "No-Burn" days would be announced when stagnant air caused by thermal inversions would trap smoke close to ground level.  Under these local ordinances, householders with the new certified wood burning stoves would be permitted to continue using them throughout the no-burn period.  This feature of the rules served as an additional incentive to upgrade to the new equipment.  Communities such as Comox, B.C. have used similar municipal legislation to reduce wood heating emissions during episodes of poor air quality.

The standardized stove emission test

Briefly, the EPA test protocol calls for precisely-specified dimensional Douglas Fir cribs to be assembled and loaded on a live coal bed that is less than 15 percent of the weight of a full wood load; a 5 minute period is allowed to make adjustments according to the manufacturer's operating instructions, then the combustion air control is set to produce one of four prescribed firing rates: low, medium low, medium high and high.  The lowest burn rate is very low; less than one dry kilogram per hour.  This cyclical testing is repeated until there is a record of one valid run in each of the four required burn rates.  Throughout the testing the exhaust gas is diluted with air according to a prescribed ratio and a sample of this stream is drawn through filters of known weight.  The difference in filter weight is used to project total particulate emissions.  The test results are expressed in terms of grams per hour of particulate emissions.  This form of appliance emission rating permits projections of total air shed impacts to be made.

British Columbia regulation

In 1994 British Columbia adopted a regulation under its Waste Management Act which is functionally identical to the EPA requirements.  The motivation for B.C.'s regulatory initiative were serious concerns about air quality in the lower mainland and evidence of air quality problems in some cities in the interior.  Of all the regions in Canada, the mountainous topography of B.C. is the closest to that of the U.S. Pacific Northwest where wood heat-related pollution was first identified and regulated.  More detail on the B.C. wood stove regulation is provided later in the report.

Wood stoves and inserts are regulated

The EPA regulation was designed to include all wood stoves and fireplace inserts because these were seen to be the main heating appliances and the main source of air pollution because their firing rate can be reduced to a smolder, which releases high concentrations of airborne particulates into the environment. 

Through an exemption for appliances with a burn rate over 5.5 kg/h or a fuel/air ratio in excess of 35:1, decorative fireplaces are provided an exemption from the EPA rules.  Central heating appliances like furnaces and boilers, as well as cooking ranges are exempt from the regulation on the grounds that they exist in small numbers and regulation would cause excessive hardship for users.  As a result of this exemption, there has been virtually no improvement in the combustion technologies used in furnaces and cooking ranges.  A few manufacturers have developed low emission/high efficiency fireplaces which they have voluntarily certified to EPA requirements to reach a specific market niche.

Two advanced technologies

Stove makers used one of two main strategies in meeting the new emissions requirements: catalytic technology or advanced, non-catalytic technology.  In a catalyst-equipped stove, the exhaust gas is passed through a ceramic honeycomb element coated with platinum or palladium.  Proximity to the catalyst has the effect of lowering the ignition temperature of some components of the smoke.  Advanced technology stoves—or non-catalytic as they are called in the trade—use firebox insulation, comprehensive baffles and pre-heated combustion air supplied strategically around the firebox, typically through perforated pipes, ducts or chambers, to achieve low emissions.  The expected reduction in catalyst performance over extended periods prompted regulators to impose a more stringent particulate emission limit for catalytic appliances: 4.1 g/h compared to 7.5 g/h for advanced stoves.  These are the legislated limits for particulate emissions in both the United States and British Columbia.

Questionable durability

Field tests of the certified low emissions stoves built before 1990 revealed problems of premature degradation due to heat stressing of internal components.  Some early catalytic stoves had damper and damper frame failures which allowed smoke to bypass the catalyst.  There were also fears of premature catalyst degradation.  Advanced technology stoves also showed premature degradation during field tests in the late 1980s, although the warping and erosion of baffles had less effect on emissions performance than the failures with catalytic appliances.

Improved durability

The durability of low emission stoves has improved considerably so that today, premature stove degradation is not viewed as a big problem.  In most new stoves today, vulnerable parts can be replaced and manufacturers now use more heat-resistant materials such as ceramics and stainless steel.  The performance and durability of catalytic stoves has also improved through better design and use of materials.  The useful life of a wood stove catalytic element is estimated to be 9,000 to 12,000 hours, or three to five years of use, depending on heating demand, user skill and degree of maintenance provided.

Pellet stoves

Wood pellets are dried wood flour extruded into small glazed cylinders about 6 mm in diameter and random lengths up to about 30 mm.  The heat and pressure of the extrusion process reforms the natural lignin in the wood to act as a binding agent; feedstock additives are not normally used by pellet manufacturers.  A pellet stove consists of a fuel hopper having a capacity of about 20 kg with an auger at its base that either pushes or drops the pellets into a small perforated bowl through which combustion air flows.  Combustion of a small amount of fuel is continuous as new fuel enters the combustion bowl and ash is blown or pushed out by the combustion process.  Field testing has shown that properly operating pellet stoves produce low emission levels; usually under 2 g/h.  Only a few pellet stoves have been EPA certified.  Most manufacturers use the 35:1 air/fuel ratio exemption to avoid the process.  The high air/fuel ratio would tend to limit thermal efficiency.

Appliance performance

Now, about fifteen years after the search for improved wood combustion technology began in a concerted way, the performance gains are impressive.  To assist in the discussion and analysis of the various wood burning technologies, three simplified categories of  appliance have been offered in Table 3.  The table presents high, medium and low efficiency ranges, suggests the wood burning technologies that would fit within each range and provides the average particulate and carbon monoxide emissions for the technologies.  Since there will always be exceptions to such general categories, the table is not intended to be definitive, but rather a helpful tool for classifying and analyzing the range of available equipment. 


Table 3.  Summary of Woodburning Appliance Categories and Performance

Efficiency Range

Appliance Category

Average Emissions





60% to 80%

·       EPA/B415 certified space heaters

·       EPA/B415 certified fireplace inserts

·       EPA/B415 certified fireplaces

·       Pellet stoves

·       Masonry heaters


·         EPA/B415 catalytic: pm* 6.5 g/h**; CO*** 44.7 g/h

·         EPA/B415 non-cat: pm 5.1 g/h; CO 77.0 g/h

·         Pellet stoves: pm 1.1 g/h; CO 13.8 g/h

·         Masonry heaters: pm 3.0 g/h; CO 40 g/h




30% to 60%

·       Space heaters (airtights)

·       Wood furnaces and boilers

·       Cooking ranges

·       Fireplaces with gasketed doors and heat exchanger


·         All conventional closed combustion stoves, various studies; pm low of 19.6 g/h; high of 41.4 g/h; CO 165 g/h




-10% to 30%

·       Fireplaces with loose doors and/or no heat exchanger

·       Free-standing fireplaces

·       Open fireplaces


·         Laboratory tests of open fireplaces: pm 44g/h; CO 267 g/h


Source: References 8 & 9

Notes: * particulate matter;  ** grams per hour;  *** carbon monoxide

Debating the baseline data

There has been a long-standing debate regarding the emission rate of conventional equipment since this forms the baseline for all subsequent emission reduction efforts.  Since all tests of wood burning equipment are costly because of the need for specialized equipment, and since in-situ, real world tests are particularly costly, relatively few have been done.  The figures given in Table 3. as the range of particulate emission rates for conventional, medium efficiency appliances (low of 19.6 g/h and a high of 41.4 g/h) and in particular the average of 25 g/h used by the EPA have been highly controversial and are still disputed by industry, which claims the average is closer to the high value of about 40 g/h.  These emission figures were the average of continuous samples taken over a period of a week in wood heated houses.  Unusually low emission figures can result if the weather during the test period is especially cold, because the resulting higher average fuel firing rate is associated with a cleaner burn and lower emission rate.  Distortions in performance can also occur if the user of the system being tested is on "best behaviour" during the week of testing.  Finally, the accepted emission rates include only conventional stoves, ignoring cooking ranges, furnaces, boilers and outdoor boilers, which there is reason to believe may produce higher emissions than space heating stoves.  No attempts have been made to test and profile the average emissions rate of a given appliance over the range of conditions experienced in a typical heating season.

The debate about the appropriate base performance figures for conventional equipment highlights a recurring theme in all discussions of wood burning appliance emissions: that very little field research has been done into emission levels, the characterization of emission constituents and the extent to which changes in various parameters affect performance.  Little is known, except in general terms, about the affect of, for example, firing rate, fuel moisture content, fuel species, heating system design and so on.  A good example of the weakness of data used for projections of wood burning emission impacts is reflected in the response by the U.S. Hearth Products Association (HPA) to EPA's 1996 Polycyclic Organic Matter (POM) Emission Inventory for Residential Wood Combustion (see Appendix E).  In HPA's challenge it is noted that in the EPA draft report, the emission factor for all 25 million wood burning devices is based on a total of 14 test runs using only one conventional and one catalytic stove.  Given that there is no sizable body of high quality data, any projections of residential wood burning air emission impacts tend to have low confidence levels.

3.2 The Effect of Regulation on the Products and the Market

Trends affecting performance

The rate of development of new wood heating equipment slowed considerably once the main manufacturers completed their lines of low-emission EPA certified products and the market demand for wood burning appliances slowed in the face of increased popularity of gas hearths.  Despite these influences that tend to inhibit research investments, there have been some developments. 

When the State of Oregon and subsequently the EPA enforced mandatory emission regulations, it was generally believed that non-catalytic advanced appliances could not meet the emission standard with firebox sizes exceeding about 2.5 cu. ft.  This was seen as a serious limitation, particularly in the cold climates of most of Canada where the conventional fireboxes in wide use were well in excess of 3 cu. ft. in volume.  It gave catalytic appliances an initial edge in the market because they could use large fireboxes and still meet the standard.  However, since 1990, several models of advanced technology stoves with fireboxes in excess of 3 cu. ft. have achieved EPA certification.  Manufacturers have employed subtle improvements in firebox and air supply design to achieve low emissions from larger fireboxes.   This development has made the non-catalytic advanced units more competitive with catalytic models and more suitable in a wider range of applications, particularly whole house heating.  Canadian manufacturers are well known for their skill in developing effective advanced non-catalytic technologies and perhaps as a result, non-cats dominate the Canadian market.

Driven by more stringent state emission requirements, most notably in Washington State, which has imposed a maximum particulate rate of 4.5 g/h, stove manufacturers have managed to re-certify updated models of advanced technology units in the 2 to 3 g/h range, far lower than the original performance in the 4 to 7 g/h range.  Not only are fireboxes getting bigger, but emission rates are falling as appliance designers further refine the designs that first emerged in the mid-1980s. 

Impact of emissions regulations

The regulation of particulate emissions from residential wood burning equipment in the U.S. was a watershed event for the industry.  Those appliance manufacturers with sufficient human and financial resources turned those resources to the task of developing a new generation of wood stoves at a time when there was scant evidence that they could succeed in meeting the new emission limits.  Those manufacturers without the needed resources to develop the new products left the industry in a rapid process of rationalization. 

As the new products reached the market in the late 1980s, stove buyers could, for the first time, compare the various options based on reliable performance figures instead of the exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims that had previously characterized the marketing of wood stoves.  With more accurate performance information to work with, stove dealers were better able to advise customers on the most appropriate appliance for their needs.


Evaluating the effectiveness of emission regulations in improving air quality through direct measurements would be a costly and complex process.  The impact on local air sheds of replacing conventional wood heating equipment with certified low emission appliances has not been measured reliably.  Although one such study was conducted in Crested Butte, Colorado, the finding of a 59 percent reduction in fine particulates had a low confidence level because some homeowners simply took out their wood stoves and did not replace them.  Other factors such as temperature and wind conditions during the test period, and the difficulty of distinguishing between the various particulate emission sources also limit the accuracy of before and after studies.

Given the large performance differences between conventional and certified low emission appliances that have been demonstrated in laboratory testing and confirmed in real world in-situ testing, the most practical way to evaluate the benefit of an emission regulation would be to track the uptake of advanced technologies by the public through survey research methods, and project the airshed impacts based on average emission rates for the various appliance categories.  No studies of this type for jurisdictions in the U.S. or British Columbia have been found in the literature.

Research being conducted by the Advanced Combustion Technologies laboratory at NRCan for Environment Canada will provide a better profile of the exhaust components of both conventional and certified low emission appliances.  The results of this work will permit more accurate projections of organic compound emissions than have been possible to date.  As well, survey research being done for Environment Canada will help to characterize the frequency at which advanced technologies exist in Canadian houses, again helping to refine projections of air emission impacts.  Both of these research efforts, while they aim to reveal the key indicators of progress in emission reduction, should be considered the preliminary steps in a larger project to fully characterize appliance performance and usage patterns.

Cost versus performance

With the exception of B.C. residents, Canadians interested in buying a wood stove or fireplace insert can choose between a conventional model or one that is certified as clean burning by EPA.  There are significant differences in both price and performance between the two.  The retailers interviewed for this project reported that the price spread between conventional stoves and EPA certified stoves is between $200 and $500.  In the low price range for a small stove that would heat a seasonal cottage or a large room, a conventional unit can cost as little as $400, whereas the lowest price EPA certified model would be around $600, although most would be $900 or more.  For larger units capable of heating an entire small home, the conventional model would cost between $600 and $800 and an EPA certified unit would be $1100 and up. 

With such a large price spread, one might expect that the low emission units would be hard to sell, but this is apparently not the case.  There are two main reasons why EPA certified stoves account for between 85 and 100 percent of sales in specialty retail stores and over half of all sales in most market areas.  First, almost all certified stoves include features that buyers want and don't usually find on conventional stoves.  These desirable features include glass doors with air wash systems, ash drawers, integral shielding for close installation clearances, decorative plated trim pieces and attractive styling.  Each one of these features adds to the selling price, but also adds to the perceived value of the product, making it more attractive.  The second reason given for strong sales of low emission stoves is that they have been on the market for almost a decade and the general public is beginning to see their advantages.  It is apparently not uncommon for a stove buyer to express the awareness that an EPA stove will ultimately save money because its higher efficiency translates into less wood purchased and burned.  The idea of getting more heat for less wood with the new stoves is "on the street" according to dealers.  Even though comparative efficiency figures are not consistently published by stove manufacturers, the better performance of a low emission model is immediately apparent to a new user.  Retailers made a point of noting that, despite the fact that the stoves are regulated on the basis of particulate emissions, it is the higher efficiency and lower fuel costs, rather than concerns over air quality, that influence the purchase decision. 

The status of conventional equipment

Most of the conventional technology wood heating appliances on the market are models that have been in production for many years, and their designs have not changed substantially since their introduction.  Virtually all conventional wood stoves are priced under $1,000.  Some particularly inexpensive models degrade rapidly when used for serious heating near the limit of their heat output capability.  It is clear that some householders buy and replace these units every few years, reasoning that they are so inexpensive that perhaps five years of use is acceptable. 

Ever since the EPA regulated wood stove emissions in 1988, and in particular, when British Columbia established identical smoke limits in 1994, the expectation has existed in the Canadian hearth products industry that in the near future such regulations would be made mandatory across Canada.  Interviews with key manufacturers of conventional appliances revealed that there are two distinct strategies to deal with the expected regulation of stove emissions.  One strategy is to withdraw from the market when conventional products are no longer permitted; one manufacturer clearly indicated that he would do just that.  The second, more common strategy is to shift production to advanced technology units which some manufacturers are already producing.  Several manufacturers are already prepared to make this shift whenever an emissions regulation comes into effect in their main market area.

Outdoor boilers: a step backward on emissions?

One significant trend in the conventional technology category is the emergence and surprising popularity of outdoor boilers, particularly in rural Manitoba and Ontario.  These units have the size, shape and appearance of a metal-clad garden shed of the type used to store lawn mowers and other equipment.  The metal shell encloses an atmospheric boiler fired with wood.  Insulated piping is run under ground to the house where the hot water is fed through a radiator in the supply plenum of an existing forced-air furnace or sent directly to hydronic radiators throughout the house, before being returned to the boiler for re-heating.  These boilers are usually of simple internal design, although at least one manufacturer offers a catalyst as an optional upgrade.  Purchasers are apparently motivated by the idea that the perceived mess of wood heating is kept out of living areas and the fact that the combustion unit is outdoors eliminates the worry of house fire.  Outdoor boilers, however, are an expensive option, retailing for between $3,500 and $6,000, plus installation which can drive the total price towards $10,000 in some cases.  The units have potential advantages, such as domestic hot water heating and the output to heat two or more small buildings when used as a sort of mini district-heating plant.  However, the units are commonly oversized for the actual load, with the result that their main mode of operation is an off-cycle smolder. 

Outdoor boilers are a controversial product because during their on/off operational cycle they frequently emit a large volume of dense smoke.  Complaints about smoke from outdoor boilers are widespread, prompting some municipalities in North Western and Eastern Ontario to create bylaws banning the products from their jurisdictions, and in one case, forcing the Ontario Ministry of Transport to issue a warning to an operator because visibility for drivers on an adjacent highway was inadequate for safe travel.  While no reliable performance data was found for outdoor boilers, most commentators assume that their delivered efficiencies are low.  The problem of contaminated soil has also been reported when a structural or piping failure led to the spillage of a large quantity of antifreeze into a residential yard in Manitoba. 

In those areas where outdoor boilers are popular, they tend to be the source of most wood smoke-related complaints.  This product category is not included in emission regulations established by the U.S. or B.C.  No data has been found to quantify the use of outdoor boilers or their performance characteristics.  However, since they have apparently gained a significant market share in some regions and since there is some evidence to suggest that they can produce significant smoke emission problems, further research is warranted.  In particular, a study of emissions and efficiency performance would be helpful, as would a survey to determine how many of these units are in use.

Industry supports emission regulations

The hearth industry, including trade associations, manufacturers and retailers, strongly supports the enforcement of mandatory emission regulations for wood stoves.  Although there is some altruism and good corporate citizenship involved in their support, most of the reasons have to do with good business practice.  Here are some of the stated reasons why the industry supports emission regulations:

·        Low emission stoves work better.  They produce a more stable fire that is less likely to smolder and they provide a more consistent and reliable overnight burn than conventional models.

·        People find EPA certified stoves more satisfying to use because of glass air wash systems and other features.  Dealers know that the more satisfied their customers are with their stove, the more likely they will be to encourage their friends to buy.

·        Smoke belching from chimneys gives wood heating a bad name.  If all stoves were clean burning, dealers would be better able to promote wood as an environmentally responsible way to heat houses.

·        Low emission stoves are safer because they produce less combustible deposits in chimneys; fewer chimney fires mean fewer insurance claims and a more positive public profile for wood heating.

·        An emission regulation would level the playing field.  Retailers report that a customer can leave a specialty retail store after hearing a sales presentation on the advantages of low emission appliances and visit a building supply store that sells uncertified stoves and hear exactly the opposite message, i.e. that EPA certification is a gimmick that makes no difference and that specialty stores just sell fancy, over-priced stoves.  Some dealers claim there are also public safety implications to this market dynamic; that is, the specialty store tends to employ staff that have met the professional certification requirements of the Wood Energy Technical Training Program (WETT), and these people pass on safety messages during a sales presentation, whereas this is less likely to occur in a building supply or general merchandiser.  An emission regulation would give specialty stores a fairer opportunity to make the sale and have the opportunity to pass on safety information.

3.3 The Positions of Provincial Governments

The most recent review of the policies of provincial governments regarding the adoption of emission regulations for wood burning appliances was in response to a September 24, 1996 letter from the Hearth Products Association of Canada (HPAC) to each provincial minister of energy and environment.  The letter (see Appendix B) dealt with the adoption of efficiency requirements for gas-fired hearth products as well as the issue of wood burning emission regulations.  The provincial ministers were informed that the industry, through HPAC "would welcome new Canada-wide regulations on wood burning appliances, the same as those currently in place in BC."  The responses of the ministers was generally positive, with some ministers clearly voicing support for action on wood stove emissions and noting the importance of common standards across Canada.  Other ministers expressed reservations about the enforcement costs of additional regulations, yet indicated support for appliance performance standards to be incorporated into safety test standards.  There was a significant range in the apparent familiarity of the ministries with the issue of wood burning emissions; some have a high awareness level and others display little knowledge of the issue.  Some relevant excerpts from the Ministers' responses are contained in Appendix C.

3.4 Implications of a Regulation

What enforcement costs?

The concerns expressed by some environment ministries regarding the administrative costs of regulating wood burning emissions would be significantly diminished by feedback from British Columbia on the experience with its 1994 regulation.  The Air Resources Branch, the group within the environment Ministry that took the lead in developing the regulation, has had virtually no administration and enforcement costs since the regulation came into effect on November 1,1994.  Although the regulation (B.C. Reg. 302/94, see Appendix D) prescribes fines for non-compliance of up to $200,000, none have been levied so far and no significant instances of non-compliance have been reported.  The Ministry attributes the lack of enforcement problems to the industry's general support for the regulation, combined with market-driven willingness of hearth industry companies to report instances of non-compliance that come to their attention.  More exploration of the British Columbia experience may be warranted in order to address concerns over enforcement costs.

3.5 The B.C. Emissions Regulation: A Model for Canada?

The expected route through the energy efficiency act

The environmental impacts from the use of household equipment is most commonly regulated indirectly through measures intended to reduce energy consumption.  The EnerGuide program created public awareness of appliance efficiency through highly visible labeling of the products' energy efficiency performance.  Several provinces, notably B.C. and Ontario, as well as the federal government, have enacted energy efficiency acts which require minimum energy efficiency limits and test protocols to be incorporated in product certification standards.  This approach is favoured because, after the consultations and negotiations result in amendments to testing and certification standards, there is no enforcement role required of the government departments that establish the act requiring standardization of minimum efficiencies.  Energy efficiency becomes simply another requirement for product certification and acceptability in the market place.

Regulation of efficiency is not advised

The regulation of the environmental impacts of wood burning equipment is different.  The EPA wood stove regulation was and is unusual because it is the first North American case in which a home appliance was regulated on the basis of its direct impact on the environment, rather than indirectly through minimum efficiency requirements.  In the case of woodburning equipment it is not just appropriate, but necessary, to regulate particulate emissions rather than efficiency.  This is because the energy efficiency of a wood burning appliance can be boosted simply by increasing heat transfer surface area and limiting combustion air flow to the fire, just as the manufacturers of "airtights" did in the 1970s.  The technology required to minimize smoke emissions, particularly at the relatively low burn rates needed for home heating, is far more complex and difficult to perfect.  EPA certified stoves do produce much lower particulate emissions at low burn rates than conventional equipment is capable of, and as a byproduct, total efficiency rises because of reduced chemical losses in the form of smoke.  Although the EPA does not require average efficiency to be reported on appliance certification labels, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality did, and their list of certified wood burning appliances showed that none had an efficiency lower than 60 percent and that the average efficiency was about 70 percent.  Therefore, there is no need to regulate wood burning appliance efficiency because acceptable efficiency is a byproduct of low emissions combustion.  Also, forcing manufacturers to compete with each other by engineering their products to produce lower and lower flue gas temperatures (which is technically easy to do) is not advisable because the result would be operational problems such as combustion spillage and flue gas condensation in chimneys.

Canadian manufacturers are major exporters

In 1988 when the EPA established its regulation, its influence was felt immediately in Canada.  Canada's largest and most successful wood stove manufacturers, whose export sales often exceeded domestic sales, had been busy developing low emission products for several years and had products ready for certification.  The companies with the most market influence abruptly stopped producing conventional equipment and this sent a strong message throughout the Canadian market that these companies staked their future on advanced technology products.  Canadian specialty retailers enthusiastically embraced the new technologies. 

CSA B415.1 mirrors the EPA requirements

When, in the early 1990s, the B.C. government served notice that it would establish a wood smoke regulation, and it was apparent that it would not simply adopt a U.S. government regulation, the Canadian Standards Association technical committee responsible for standard B415.1 Performance Testing of Solid Fuel Burning Stoves, Inserts and Low-Burn-Rate Factory-Built Fireplaces13, rushed to form a consensus.  Although the committee had been meeting intermittently since 1984, the prospect of its standard being mandated caused its efforts to become more focused.  It soon became clear that the B415 standard could not deviate from the EPA regulation without causing massive disruption to the market.  Even though there were (and are) industry complaints about certain details of the EPA methodology, the fact is that it functions with reasonable effectiveness and has become an integral component of the North American hearth industry.  The industry members on the B415.1 committee argued forcefully that the standard would have to mirror the EPA requirements precisely or every product would have to be re-tested at great expense, and possibly re-engineered at even greater expense.  Eventually, CSA B415 was published in a form such that EPA test results could be deemed to meet its requirements and vice versa.  The CSA B415.1 standard was published in 1991, but had no effect until it was referenced in legislation by British Columbia.

The B.C. regulation under the Waste Management Act administered by the Ministry of Environment makes reference to and accepts both CSA B415.1 and the EPA requirements.  As a practical outcome of this approach, all emission certification testing is done in the United States by agencies accredited by the EPA.  Only those Canadian manufacturers who export wood stoves to the U.S. build low emission products and have them certified because the high costs of product development and certification mean that access to the larger U.S. market is needed to justify the investment.  Part of the EPA wood stove regulation stipulates that testing must be conducted by agencies located in the continental U.S. and which are accredited by the EPA.  There is no mechanism by which a Canadian manufacturer could have a product tested in Canada to the CSA B415.1 standard and have it accepted by EPA for access to the U.S. market.  As a result, there has been virtually no testing and certification done under the CSA B415 requirements. 

Among those interviewed for this project, there was strong support for a Canada-wide regulation based on the B.C. approach.  Provincial governments foresee enforcement problems if they were to act unilaterally and would expect some people to go to neighboring provinces to buy conventional equipment.  On the other hand, a national regulation would be relatively easy to enforce because it would bring Canada's regulations in line with the U.S., its largest trading partner.  The harmonization of wood stove emission standards might also make possible a bi-lateral agreement on reciprocal acceptance of low-emission certification between the two countries.  A reciprocal agreement of this type would have the effect of lowering testing costs for Canadian manufacturers and encouraging the development of Canadian testing facilities and expertise.

What are B415.2 and B415.3?

As noted, B415.1 addresses space heaters such as stoves, inserts and efficient fireplaces.  B415.2 covers central heating systems like furnaces and boilers, and B415.3 is for the testing of site-built and decorative fireplaces, and large factory-built fireplaces.  Neither B415.2 or B415.3 are fully developed and ready for use.  Activity on the two standards is unlikely in the absence of expressed government interest in calling them up in a regulation.

4.  Purchase Motivation

4.1 The Cost of Heating With Wood


The actual amount of money that a given household spends on the winter supply of wood can vary widely.  Some people go into the bush to cut the trees and process the firewood themselves.  Others buy a large truck load in log lengths which they then cut and split.  Still others buy split, seasoned firewood.  Each approach has costs, but some people spend more labour for their winter fuel and some spend money.  There is also a wide range in the price of processed firewood, depending on whether it is purchased in an urban or rural area.  In Table 4. a price of $175 per full cord (4 x 4 x 8 feet) or about $60 per "face cord" (4 x 8 feet x [about]16 inches) has been selected as a common price for split wood in rural areas and small towns.  Delivery costs can push the price towards $200 per full cord in some regions.  Firewood can be twice this price in urban areas.


Table 4. Sample of Annual Heating Costs Using Various Fuels


Appliance Type


Fuel Energy






Heat Loss



EPA certified wood stove






Conventional wood stove






Central wood furnace






Pellet stove - higher cost fuel






Pellet stove - lower cost fuel






Oil furnace, conventional






Oil furnace, high efficiency






Electric baseboard or furnace






Ground source heat pump






Propane mid-efficiency






Natural gas mid-efficiency






Natural gas condensing







1.         Source of base values and calculations is the NRCan pamphlet: Comparing Heating Costs10

2.       Fire wood price: The figure of $175 is an average price for a cord of split wood in rural areas and small towns.  In urban areas the price can be twice this amount.

3.       Price of pellets: Two price scenarios are provided to account for variations in shipping costs and discounts for bulk purchases.

4.       Fuel Energy Content: firewood - megajoules per full cord, pellets - megajouls per ton, fuel oil - megajouls per litre, electricity - megajouls per kilowatt hour, propane - megajouls per litre, natural gas - megajouls per cubic metre.

5.       House Heat Loss: the figure of 10000000 is a factor representing the estimated annual heat loss of a 186/m2 (2000 sq.ft.) house built since 1985 and located in a climate zone similar to that of Ottawa or Montreal.


At $175 per full cord, firewood is less costly to heat with than oil, propane, electric resistance and pellets, but is more costly than using natural gas or a ground source heat pump.

Note that a household which upgraded to an EPA certified stove at 72 percent efficiency from a conventional stove at 60 percent efficiency would save $159 in fuel costs each year.   Compared with a wood furnace operating at 50 percent efficiency, the savings would be $350 each year.  These substantial annual savings make upgrading to advanced technology an attractive investment.

4.2 Purchase Incentives

There are strong incentives to burn gas

The most significant heating system purchase incentives are offered to Canadians by gas utilities and, to a lesser extent, fuel oil distributors.  Gas distributors have employed aggressive marketing programs offering discounts and attractive payment terms for homeowners who purchase gas fireplaces and other gas-fired appliances.  The marketing is sophisticated, highly seductive and, in the case of gas fireplaces, challenges the safety and environmental appropriateness of wood burning fireplaces, so it should not be surprising that people are buying more gas fireplaces and fewer wood burning appliances than in the past.  Here are some direct quotes from gas company advertising:

·        "A natural gas flame does not produce dangerous sparks.  You don't have to worry about long-burning embers or chimney embers because when the fire is out, it's out."

·        "A natural gas fireplace burns cleaner than a wood fireplace."

·          "And they're easy to use: there's no kindling, no sparks, and no smoky rooms."11

·          "In fact, a typical customer is still paying less for natural gas now than in 1984."12

The Canadian public receives these messages in a more convincing form and with greater frequently than messages suggesting that wood is a viable and appropriate energy source.  Observers of the wood heating appliance market suggest there is evidence that the public is turning against wood energy based on mixed messages regarding its environmental impacts and a misunderstanding of how wood fuel consumption functions in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

Green Communities

The Green Communities program, offered in B.C., Ontario and New Brunswick, was largely  a public information program that helped people make environmentally sound purchase decisions.  Partnerships were established with financial services companies, notably Canada Trust, to provide loans with terms matched to the energy cost savings resulting from purchases.  Discussions were held regarding the payment-based-on-savings for the purchase of low emission wood stoves, but the program was discontinued before this initiative reached fruition.

No incentives for wood

No incentive programs for the purchase of low emission wood stoves were found during the research for this project.

4.3 Obstacles to the uptake of advanced technologies

Rural, low income households

It is almost axiomatic to state that low income earners living in rural areas heat with wood.  Where incomes are low and there is high unemployment, people are better able to spend time on fuel wood acquisition and preparation than to spend money on processed firewood or another processed fuel.  Based on the assumption (and it is an assumption) that low income rural families constitute a significant portion of those who claim wood as their primary heating fuel, does it follow then, that this group is more likely to purchase inexpensive conventional stoves than to spend more on an EPA certified model?  While there is no base of statistical information that can answer this question with precision, the views of the wood heat retailers interviewed for this project shed light on the matter.

Obstacle #1: No emissions regulation

Retailers were asked to identify obstacles to the uptake of advanced technologies.  Virtually all retailers (outside B.C.) first mentioned the lack of an emission regulation as a key obstacle to the increased adoption of advanced stoves.  This answer is not as rhetorical as it may first seem.  The dealers point out that currently the shopper receives mixed and confusing messages from various retailers.  Mass merchandisers, hardware stores and building supply outlets compete in the marketplace primarily on the basis of lower price and tend not to carry the more expensive wood burning models.  Their message to prospective customers tends to be: Why pay more?, which is probably a compelling argument for someone on a limited income.  Specialty retailers have a greater challenge in informing their customers of the more complex efficiency and environmental advantages of the more costly certified products.  A mandatory emission regulation would have the effect of leveling the informational playing field.

Obstacle #2: Price

Ultimately the purchase decision often comes down to price.  While the incremental cost of low emission technology may add only $100 to $200 to the retail price of the product, the additional features, such as ash pan and glass door, that tend to accompany emission certification, increase the price spread to about $500.  At the lowest price points, an EPA certified model can be about twice as costly as a conventional unit.  This is a significant disincentive to adopt the technology.  According to the retailer's responses, the most effective way to influence the purchaser is to point out that fuel cost savings will compensate for the higher purchase price within two or three heating seasons.

Obstacle #3: Tradition

Some of the retailers interviewed for this project mentioned that the customer's age and education or access to information seemed to influence the purchase decision.  Older people who have heated with wood for decades may resist adopting the new technologies and may replace a worn out conventional stove with a new one of similar design.  Their own experience would seem to reinforce this approach; having heated with wood successfully for many years, why would they need to spend more on advanced technologies?  People who have not seen the new appliances operate or have not talked to friends or family members who use and like them, are less likely to spend the additional amount on advanced technology.  Also, many people view wood stoves as simple devices and associate them with practicality, economy, and even frugality.  The new generation of advanced technology stoves tend to be more decorative than traditional stoves.  Large glass panels in doors, modern shapes and bright plated trim may not be the image traditional wood burners feel comfortable with.

Obstacle #4: No access to information

People living in rural and remote areas or small towns far from urban centres may shop for and purchase a new wood stove, yet throughout the process never learn that a new generation of appliances is available.  Many rural areas are not served by specialty wood stove and fireplace retailers, the main outlets for EPA certified models, so advertising messages promoting the advantages of the new technologies would not reach households there.  Dealers and distributors interviewed for this project mentioned rural Newfoundland as a region where the adoption of advanced technologies has been slow.  One Ontario manufacturer noted that a significant proportion of his entire production of conventional stoves goes to the Newfoundland market.

First Nation communities located in rural and remote areas are also examples of this dynamic.  In many of these communities, all building materials and durable household goods are shipped in from building supply distributors located several hundred miles away.  To a large extent, householders in these communities have only the product offerings from a single company to choose from, so they may never learn that other options are available.  A related problem specific to remote communities is the fact that advanced technology stoves tend to weigh more than conventional models because of their complex internal features.  The added weight can be a disincentive to buy them because of the higher shipping costs involved.

5.  Prospects for Reduced Emissions

5.1 Some Strategic Options

A gradual reduction is underway

Assuming the estimate by industry commentators that somewhat more than half of total sales are of advanced technology stoves is reasonably accurate, a significant shift in the stove population is already underway.  This means that the new technologies are well represented in the market place, that they are proven under Canadian conditions, and that there is a sufficient base of professional knowledge and skill in the industry in most regions to support the public in their use of advanced wood burning technologies.

A national emission regulation

Clearly, the best mechanism by which to lower smoke emissions from residential wood burning appliances is to replace conventional equipment with certified low emission stoves.  And the most effective tool available to influence the uptake of the new technologies is a national emission regulation requiring all stoves offered for sale to meet the requirements of CSA B415/EPA standards.  Such an approach is recommended because, although provincial governments express some interest in and support for regulating wood stove emissions, there is no evidence that other provinces will take individual action as B.C. did in 1994.  The willingness of the hearth industry to support a regulation, and B.C.'s experience with high compliance rates and low enforcement costs make such a regulatory initiative a positive step in all respects.  In fact, it is difficult to identify a constituency that would oppose it, aside from those in political circles who oppose any form of regulation on principle.  While there is likely a traditionalist segment of the population that would criticize the government for causing the cost of wood stoves to rise, the evidence of higher quality and added value cannot be ignored.  Note that some conventional stoves consist of little more than an empty steel box with a door.  Given the minimum useful life span of a wood stove of perhaps 10 years, over which time the incremental cost of advanced technologies is spread, the cost impacts do not seem unreasonable.  It is also possible that the price of the least expensive advanced technology stove would come down after a regulation were established as manufacturers seek to fill the low cost market niche formerly filled by conventional stoves; that is, plain, unadorned styling and lacking additional features such as ash pan and large glass door panel.

Public education

There is a significant human factor involved in the rate of particulate emissions from a given wood burning appliance.  A certified low emission stove could be operated to produce very high emissions if the fuel is too wet, is not split to the correct size, is not loaded into the stove correctly and if the combustion air control is closed too much.  Conversely, a conventional appliance can be operated to produce moderate emissions by a knowledgeable, conscientious person using good fuel.  The knowledge and skills required to burn wood effectively are not intuitive; they must be learned and practiced if improvement is to occur.  Without input and support, users may never have their misconceptions and improper techniques corrected.  Public education initiatives aimed at reducing smoke emissions could be effective by providing support to people who heat with wood, regardless of the appliance they use.  A project of this type is being planned in Nova Scotia for the fall of 1997.  It is a prototype partnership between the hearth industry, the insurance industry, the regional lung association and at least two agencies of the provincial government. 

5.2 How the Stakeholders Can Contribute

The importance of partnerships

Wood is unique among the main home energy sources in that its fuel supply sector, aside from wood pellet manufacturers, is all but invisible and is not involved in the trade associations or in discussions of policy.  For all the other energy sources, the fuel supplier has regular contact with the householder, if only in the form of a monthly bill.  This regular contact creates opportunities to pass on various messages, such as helpful seasonal tips commonly included in electrical utility mailings.  More importantly, the fuel supply sector for electricity and fossil fuels is where the financial strength of the industry lies.  In the case of residential wood energy, the largest companies in the industry are the stove manufacturers, only a few of which employ more than 100 people.  The rest of the industry is made up of product distributors, wood stove and fireplace retailers, and chimney sweeps, all small companies employing two to twenty people. 

As a result, the industry does not have the resources to communicate with the Canadian public in the conventional ways that the oil, gas and electrical industries do.  The formation of partnerships with allied industries and with agencies of government is perhaps the only way the industry has of communicating non-commercial messages to the public.

Those Canadian families who heat their homes with wood receive very little support for their efforts.  It is rare for any media, print or electronic, to mention wood heating in either a positive or negative context.  These homeowners are not acknowledged for their use of a renewable energy source, nor are they encouraged to improve their use of wood by using techniques that reduce smoke and increase efficiency.  A public information initiative could help Canadians who heat with wood to understand the techniques of responsible wood heating and take pride in their ability to use them effectively.

What can the Federal Government do to reduce emissions?

With its national mandate, the federal government has a key role in the reduction of residential wood burning emissions.  The Minister of Environment could consult with provincial counterparts with a view to reaching a consensus on a plan to institute a national emissions regulation.  If a consensus is achieved—and there is some reason to believe this is possible—the Ministry could then proceed with a regulatory initiative.  This single step, which experience in B.C. suggests is low in administrative overhead, yet highly productive, could set the stage for some useful partnerships designed to educate the public about advanced technologies and the importance of responsible wood heating practice.

If a national emissions regulation is not seen as a viable initiative, the federal government could support the adoption by individual provinces of standards on emission limits.  This approach is less desirable because it is likely that some provinces, notably in the Prairie region, would not participate and this would lead to a patchwork of requirements across the country.  The wood energy industry has specifically expressed the importance of regulatory harmony across all Canadian markets.  The federal government could assist the process by developing a guideline as a model for use by the provinces.

Other federal departments and related agencies have much to contribute to an emissions reduction strategy based on a multi-stakeholder model.  Natural Resources Canada could provide technical, policy and communications support.  Health Canada might also contribute technical and communications support based on its specialized perspective.  Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has an influence, through research, publications and programs, on heating system selection and use in Canada, and these may be influenced by and have an influence on a national emissions reduction program.

What can provincial governments do to reduce emissions?

Initially, provincial governments could support an emission reduction strategy by endorsing a federal initiative to establish a regulation requiring emission testing and certification.  Should a federal regulation be established, each province could increase its impact by publicizing its support for the use of low emission appliances.  Including effective messages about wood heating along with their other housing-related public information materials would be just one way the provinces could influence current and prospective users of wood fuel.  To have valuable input, governments do not need to get involved in quasi-commercial messages like advice to upgrade to an advanced technology appliance — this can be left to private sector partners.  Governments, however, are in the best position to offer general messages designed to help the public use wood fuel responsibly.  For example, governments can help people to understand that a thick blue-gray plume of smoke from a chimney is highly visible evidence of environmental irresponsibility.  If governments and their partners seeded the formation of a social consensus that visible wood smoke is bad and evidence of a lack of wood burning skill, while offering tips on avoiding smoky fires, a gradual improvement in wood heating practice could result.

If it is determined that a federal emissions regulation would not be established, provincial governments should be encouraged to adopt such regulations within their jurisdictions.  A federal guideline would be of significant assistance to such initiatives.

What can the hearth industry do to reduce emissions?

The hearth industry in Canada has an excellent record of effective collaboration with government in support of the public's use of wood fuel.  When, in the late 1970s, it became apparent that the rapid increase in the use of wood was leading to an unacceptable increase in house fires, the industry worked enthusiastically along side regulatory agencies to put in place an installation code and the array of safety test standards that now form the basis of the wood heat safety components of building codes.  In the mid-1980s, when it was recognized that the industry had a key role in providing the public with accurate and reliable advice and services, the industry partnered with the federal and provincial governments to develop the Wood Energy Technical Training (WETT) program.  When provincial governments decided that they would not regulate the wood energy trade directly as has been done with other home heating fuels, the industry agreed that it would establish a system of self-regulation by issuing certificates of qualification based on WETT training.  Today, the WETT program is a highly successful and respected component of the wood heat safety regulatory system that is endorsed by all provincial governments.  The wood heat industry is experienced in establishing and maintaining effective partnerships and has had considerable success with such ventures.

One example of an industry-driven mechanism to reduce emissions that has been used successfully in the U.S. and B.C. is a program referred to as a stove change-out.  It is an information and incentive program designed to help householders to upgrade their conventional wood burning equipment.  Participation by manufacturers, distributors and retailers combine to create financial incentives (discounts) on the price of advanced technology appliances.  The discount can be contingent upon the householder turning in their conventional appliance for destruction.  This mechanism creates an excellent media opportunity in which a huge pile of "old smokers" heads off to the crusher, presumably to be recycled into new, low emission stoves.  The participation of government in change-out programs is critical in endorsing, not the commercial aspects of the program, but the environmental advantages that accrue from upgrading.

What Can Financial Institutions Do to Assist?

Financial institutions could be effective partners in a change-out program by providing specialized loan programs based on projected fuel cost savings.  The estimated annual savings of between $150 and $350 per year through the use of advanced technologies could be seen as an offset to the cost of such loans.  This approach would give substantial meaning to the concept of resource conservation through technology upgrade.  The participation of government with the hearth industry in promoting such a program among financial institutions would be of significant assistance in creating credibility and a sense of shared interest.

Other Possible Partners

The insurance industry has long been a partner of the hearth industry in helping the public to heat their homes with wood more safely.  Insurance companies play a key role by having contact with the householder whenever there is the potential for a change in risk, such as the installation of a new wood stove.  This contact is a good opportunity to remind people of the importance of a good chimney and proper installation to ensure that their new advanced technology appliance will function safely and to its potential.  As part of a change-out program, participating insurance companies could offer preferred rates to policy holders who use advanced stoves and have had their installations inspected.

Provincial and regional lung associations have been active in promoting better indoor and outdoor air quality.  An initiative planned for the Fall of 1997 in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is expected to include the hearth industry, insurance industry, provincial governments and the lung association as partners to educate the public on clean burning techniques.  If successful, this model could be replicated in other regions.


6. Conclusions

6.1    Wood is by far the most commonly used renewable energy source by Canadian householders.  About one fifth of single family dwellings are heated to some extent with wood.  Even those Canadians who report the use of wood as a supplementary fuel tend to use it to provide a large part of their total heating needs.  

6.2    The aesthetics of the stove and the fire are more important to people now than in the past.  The more attractive stoves and the ability to watch the fire as it burns has added to the desirability of using wood as a fuel for space heating of living areas.  Used this way, wood offers good prospects for the displacement of fossil fuel use.

6.3    In most regions outside large urban centres, it costs less to heat with firewood purchased at market prices than with oil, propane, electric resistance and pellets, but it is more costly than using natural gas or a ground source heat pump (depending on electrical power rates).

6.4    Wood stoves certified as low emission by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency operate at an approximate average of 5 grams per hour which is between one fifth and one tenth of that emitted by conventional wood stoves.

6.5    The smoke emissions from individual wood burning units is strongly influenced by the quality of fuel used and the operating techniques employed by users.  Public information programs could help Canadians who heat with wood to understand the techniques of responsible wood heating and take pride in their ability to use them effectively.

6.6    Certified low-emission wood burning appliances operate at higher efficiencies than conventional equipment, resulting in annual fuel cost savings of between $150 and $350.  These substantial annual savings make upgrading to advanced technology an attractive investment.  These savings are acknowledged to be a primary motivation in the decision by householders to upgrade their older appliances.

6.7    Regulatory action by the U.S., and subsequently by B.C. has had a significant effect on the Canadian market; it is estimated that of all current wood stove sales, somewhat more than half are of EPA certified low emission models. 

6.8    The relevant industry, as represented by the Hearth Products Association of Canada, supports the adoption of a national regulatory initiative similar to that adopted by British Columbia in 1994, which is in all functional respects the same as the EPA requirements. 

6.9    There is reason to expect that a majority of provincial Ministers of Environment would respond positively to a federal regulatory initiative.

6.10  The B.C. experience suggests that the administration and enforcement costs to support the regulation would be low.

6.11  Obstacles to the uptake of advanced technology wood stoves include the absence of an emission regulation, the higher cost of advanced stoves, resistance to change on the part of purchasers, and a lack of information.

6.12  The obstacles mentioned above can be minimized through the mechanism of a Canada-wide emission regulation, combined with effective public information and incentives for wood heat users to upgrade.

6.13  There is inadequate information available on how Canadians use wood fuel to heat their homes.  More specific information on the attitudes of the users, the types of appliances currently in use, and the way they are used is needed to guide the development of effective public education materials.  Research into the performance characteristics of the various appliance types is also needed.  These two data sources—user profiles and appliance characteristics— are required to develop projections of environmental impacts and as a base line against which to measure progress in reducing negative impacts.


7. Recommendations

7.1    The federal Ministry of Environment should investigate the strategy of adopting an emission regulation using the B.C. experience as a model.  An alternative to this preferred approach would be the development of a federal guideline which interested provinces could use as a model for regulations within their jurisdictions.

7.2    Environment Canada should support research designed to more accurately characterize the emissions from the full range of wood burning equipment so that projections of air shed impacts can be made with more precision and so that progress in emissions abatement can be more accurately assessed. 

7.3    Environment Canada should support survey research designed to better characterize the various patterns of wood heat usage, the results of which would permit more accurate projections of environmental impacts.  This research data would also provide insights into how Canadians view wood heating and use wood as a home heating fuel which can be used in the development of effective public information materials.

7.4    Environment Canada should consider supporting research into the full life-cycle cost of wood burning equipment as a component of the complete analysis of wood as a residential energy source.

7.5    Environment Canada should help in the formation of and support for partnerships aimed at developing and disseminating information in support of the public's environmentally appropriate use of wood as a heating fuel.  Likely partners include the hearth industry, other departments or agencies of government at all levels, financial institutions, the insurance industry and health organizations.

7.6    All the identified partners should support and participate in programs such as stove change-outs, clean burn demonstrations, and programs to distribute public information.




1.   United Nations, Agenda 21, Chapter 9: Protection of the atmosphere, U.N. General Assembly, New York (1992).

2.   Hendrickson, O.Q., Gulland, J.F.; Residential Wood Heating: the Forest, the Atmosphere and the Public Consciousness, delivered to the Air and Waste Management Association annual meeting, 1993

3.   Shipments of Solid Fuel Burning Heating Products, Statistics Canada Catalogue 25-002, Year-to-date Shipments, Quarter ending December 31 reports 1982 through 1996

4.   Household Facilities and Equipment, Catalogue 64-202, annual reports 1991 and 1996, Statistics Canada

5.   1993 Survey of Household Energy Use, Natural Resources Canada, November, 1994

6.   1996 Retailer Survey; Hearth and Home Magazine, March 1997 issue, page 36, Village West Publishing, 1997

7.   New Source Performance Standards, Title 40, Part 60, Sub-part AAA of the Code of Federal Regulations, published by The Environmental Protection Agency, United States Government

8.   Jaasma, D. R., Satterfield, G. T., Shelton, J. W., Stern, C. H.; Parametric Study of Fireplace Particulate Matter and Carbon Monoxide Emissions

9.   Jaasma, D. R., McCrillis, R. C.; Comparability Between Various Field and Laboratory Wood stove Emission Measurement Methods; delivered to the annual meeting of the Air and Waste Management Association, 1991

10. Comparing Heating Costs, Natural Resources Canada Catalogue No.:M91-2/43-1996E, 1996

11. Light My Fire, brochure, Consumers Gas Company Store, September 1996

12. Customer newsletter explaining a fuel price increase, Consumers Gas, February 1997

13. CAN/CSA B415.1-92 Performance Testing of Solid-Fuel-Burning Stoves, Inserts and Low-Burn-Rate Factory-Built Fireplaces, Canadian Standards Association, 1992