The EPA is about to implement new regulations for masonry fireplace and masonry heater emissions. What's forcing this is that several years ago, the U.S. EPA established levels of PM2.5 (particulate emissions) that are allowed in the ambient air around many cities and mountainous regional areas.

The EPA requires state and local air quality agencies in areas that do not meet those standards to submit their plans on how they will bring their areas into compliance, starting next year.

This 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, some non-compliant areas are looking to regulate wood-burning appliances, other than the already emissions-regulated wood stoves.

The result is that the 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 is tantamount to picking on the little guys (fireplaces/masonry heaters), but what's new?

So how can we help the air quality and maintain our businesses? Simply develop cleaner burning fireplaces and masonry heaters. Then, get them approved by the EPA and get rich. Tests show that masonry products actually burn measurably cleaner than would be normally expected. But, if the numbers the EPA is considering become law, we will still have a ways to go.

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

Jim Buckley, of Buckley-Rumford Fireplaces, Port Townsend, Wash., is deeply involved in supporting masonry, and the Hearth Products Association is speaking for the factory-built fireplaces. 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 yet et is masonry heaters (high-masss heat storage units with slow heat-release characteristics). Like a battery, masonry mass of the heater is charged up with heat, and then releases it to the surrounding livingng space over an extended period of time (up to 24 hours for some).

Coming to agreement

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