Each year we receive several beautiful entries in the "Fireplace" category in our "Project of the Year" contest. This year was no exception. I'm sure you'll have a difficult time in choosing your favorite when you visit the Project of the Year Readers' Choice section of the competition found on this Web page.

While masons have traditionally demonstrated their skill in simple, yet complex, structures, there's a dangerous shift in the wind. The EPA recently promulgated tighter ambient air quality requirements that will affect the design of wood-burning fireplaces.

According to Rick Curkeet, chief engineer, hearth products, for Intertek Testing Services and chair of ASTM Subcommittee E06.54 on Solid Fuel Appliances, the EPA-targeted effort to remove airborne particulates will put many heavily populated areas into non-compliance. "States will soon be required to submit pollution-eliminating implementation plans to the EPA detailing the steps that will be taken to attain compliance," said Curkeet.

These state plans will require accurate methods that provide a realistic assessment of a wood burning appliance's emission performance. Curkeet's ASTM committee recently developed two new standards to help: E 2515, Test Method for Determination of Particulate Matter Emissions Collected by a Dilution Tunnel, and E 2558, Test Method for Determining Particulate Matter Emissions from Fires in Low Mass Wood-Burning Fireplaces.

How will these events affect fireplace construction? Most experts believe that manufacturers of fireboxes and flues will revise their designs to help increase a fire's burning temperature. When fires burn hot, they generate less soot and particulate.

The BIA is monitoring these developments. For the last several years, it has been involved in a program that tested the soot-reducing effectiveness of several standard designs found on their Web site. Others also have been active in formulating proper design parameters that achieve clean-burning practices.

Hopefully these efforts will be enough. It's hard to image living in an area where burning wood in a fireplace is banned. It's even a sadder thought that unless we become more active in developing masonry fireplace designs that meet the new EPA standards, our craftsmanship may have one less place to shine.

To learn more about the ASTM Subcommittee E06.54's effort, e-mail Curkeet at rick.curkeet@intertek.com. The group will meet later this month in Tampa.

To read other blog posts by Rick Yelton, click here.