A new emissions rule could mean changes for pool and spa retailers who sell residential wood and pellet stoves. In February, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final rule on new source performance standards for residential wood heaters, as mandated by Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, limiting the amount of pollution they can emit.

The first stage of the standards, which hadn’t been updated since 1988, will take effect 60 days after the official final rule is published in the Federal Register, anticipated to be sometime this spring. At that point, products that burn a maximum of 4.5 grams of particulate matter per hour are deemed to fit the standard until 2020. Then the particulate-matter emissions limit will drop to between 2.0 and 2.5 grams per hour, depending on the type of wood used for testing.

The change is expected to have less of a short-term impact on the pellet stove market because these products boast a higher burn efficiency, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

The new EPA rule also removes the requirement that stoves have a consumer hangtag featuring key stove emission and efficiency information. The changes do not supersede local codes, and fireplaces, fire pits, outdoor ovens and barbecues aren’t impacted.

This first step won’t be a big issue for retailers such as Doug Deterding, who has purposely been selling stoves falling below those emissions standards for several years.

“Part of the reason for the lower emissions is that you get a higher-efficiency appliance,” said the president of Deterdings, a hot tub, pool and fireplace store with locations in Kearney and Grand Island, Neb. “We’re a specialty hearth retailer, so that’s always been something we promote to our customers — [purchasing] a higher efficiency product to get the best value for your money.”

There’s no need for a retailer to panic if they carry an inventory of products that exceed the emissions limit or aren’t even certified, as some pellet stoves aren’t. Stores have until Dec. 31 to sell the items, said John Crouch, director of public affairs at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.

“It’s worth it for a retailer to review everything and just make sure,” he added.
For Classic Pool Spa and Hearth, which has locations in Gladstone and Beaverton, Ore., the change isn’t anticipated to have much of a short-term effect, though it does have products outside the new emissions rule.

“We have been clearing most of those out with our regular clearances that we do every year,” said Tim Powell, retail sales manager. “Primarily, when we look at replacing them, we’ll certainly be looking at the more efficient burn rates.”

The public health benefits are an aspect that Powell noted. The EPA released a statement that the emissions from new models will be reduced by about two-thirds, which will result in $3.4 billion to $7.6 billion in public health benefits.

Those opposed to the rule will have 60 days after its publication to file a request for judicial review. “Approximately 80 percent of the EPA’s rules are subject to judicial review, and we fully expect this one to be as well,” Crouch said.

While the EPA rule doesn’t eliminate the manufacturing of wood heaters, consumer awareness changes the market for the products. “More and more people are much more conscientious about it,” Powell said. “A lot of people are switching from wood pellets and looking at gas. At this point, our sales are mixed. … We don’t see an impact today, but if it’s more difficult to burn wood and pellets, I think that will definitely make a difference.”

While the tighter standard set to begin in 2020 may seem unattainable, the HPBA emphasizes how long five years is.

“The bigger issues, the step 2 issues that are five years out, no one should assume that those issues won’t receive more discussion,” Crouch said. “Because they will.”