Where do masonry products stand regarding the EPA and the new regulations that are about to be implemented?

The driving force for newer/tighter regulations resulted from actions taken several years ago when EPA established levels of PM2.5 (particulate emissions) that are allowed in the ambient air around many cities and some mostly-mountainous regions. State and local air quality agencies in areas that do not meet the standards are required by EPA to submit plans on how they will bring their region into compliance.

The program forces these jurisdictions to improve their PM2.5 air quality or possibly lose Federal highway and other operating funds. Since wood-burning can be a significant source of PM2.5 particulate emissions, more than a few of the non-compliant areas are looking to regulate wood-burning appliances, other than the already emissions-regulated wood stoves.

As a result, big factory-built fireplace manufacturers and the little masonry guys are going to get hit very hard with requirements to sell and build “clean-burning” fireplaces. This requirement is tantamount to picking on the little guys (fireplaces/masonry heaters), but what's new?

How can we help the air quality and maintain our businesses? The answer is simple: develop cleaner burning fireplaces and masonry heaters. Then get them approved by the EPA and get rich!

Historical and recent tests have shown that masonry products actually burn measurably cleaner than would be normally expected. But, if the numbers the EPA is talking about become the rules we have to live by, there is still a ways to go.

Right now, masonry fireplaces are being addressed with the low mass, factory-built fireplace (Zero Clearance Units). Factory-built manufacturers and a couple of masonry producers/fireplace builders have had several stakeholder meetings with EPA, but so far there are no special accommodations for masonry appliances.

Jim Buckley, Buckley-Rumford Fireplaces, is deeply involved in supporting masonry and the Hearth Products Association and is speaking for the factory-built fireplace groups. If metal fireplaces can meet the bar that EPA is proposing, masonry products will be able to match or exceed their numbers.

The category not covered so far is masonry heaters (high-mass heat storage units with slow heat-release characteristics). Like a battery, masonry mass of the unit is charged up with heat and then releases it to the surrounding living space over an extended period of time (some up to 24 hours).

The Masonry Heater Association (MHA) has discussed the options available for this category of masonry appliances. However, it has not been able to agree completely on the approach to take. It is not an easy subject.

After numerous meetings with EPA officials, we know that they are keen to hear about any program the MHA wants to propose. They would love to get an industry organization that “steps up to the emissions plate” with a fully-rationalized, scientifically-sound, emissions control program which clearly blocks loopholes and virtually guarantees low emissions.

They are really emphasizing “definition.” We believe they mean a masonry heater definition that totally excludes anything that is not a true masonry heater.

A masonry heater definition that is very, very narrow and exclusive will be necessary for EPA recognition, and I have no doubt the keystone of that definition will be an appliance's heat release rate.

Jerry Frisch is a lifetime mason with 60+ years of experience. He operates Lopez Quarries Masonry Heaters, Everett, Wash. Contact him at lopezquarries@verizon.netfor further discussions of this topic.