State to impose new wood-fired boiler manufacturing rules

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(Host) The state is poised to impose new rules on the manufacturers of outdoor wood-fired boilers. Officials say the increasing number of the units being used to heat Vermont homes is creating air quality problems, especially for those who live near them.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The state estimates there are 1,200 outdoor wood fired boilers in Vermont and the number is growing. So are the problems associated with the boilers. In the most extreme examples people have been driven from their homes by the smoke and ash generated by a neighbor’s boiler.

Chris Jones is with the Vermont Air Pollution Control Division.

(Jones) “In more than one case the families had to move out of their house and sell their house at a loss. We’ve got that clearly documented in once case and I’m quite sure it’s happened in other cases.”

(Zind) That’s why the state is planning to set new guidelines for the design of outdoor wood burning boilers – requiring them to meet specific emission standards for the amount of soot and ash produced by the units. Jones says right now there are no federal EPA standards regulating boiler emissions as there are for indoor wood stoves.

(Jones) “We estimate that an outdoor wood boiler would emit ten to twenty times more of the particulate matter and pollution than a certified EPA woodstove.”

(Zind) Jones says even an older, poorly designed wood stove is far less polluting than many outdoor wood boilers. The new state rules would go into affect next year and won’t apply to wood boilers already in use. There are already rules governing the installation of outdoor wood boilers.

Jones says the state has nothing against the units. It just wants them to pollute less.

There are a number of different wood boiler designs on the market and it’s expected some manufacturers will have an easier time meeting the emission standards than others. The industry says it’s worked with the federal government to establish voluntary standards – and it questions the testing methods used to measure emissions from wood boilers.

Nate Hamblett is with the Farm Yard Store in Derby. He sells about 60 outdoor wood boilers a year. Hamblett says he’s been getting literature from the manufacturer of the boilers he sells encouraging him to speak out about the proposed Vermont regulations.

(Hamblett) “They’re worried because they may not be able to meet them, apparently.”

(Zind) Hamblett says many problems with wood boilers are a result of poor installation, but he thinks some design changes are also in order.

(Hamblett) “I think the stove companies have enough technology to develop other stoves and meet the standards if they’re realistic. Some regulations I think are proper and should be done.”

(Zind) The outdoor wood boilers Hamblett sells cost between $8,500 and $10,000 with installation. It’s likely the cost will go higher if the emission standards are required.

The legislative rules committee will hold a hearing on the new rule Wednesday morning at 8:00 at the State House.

For VPR news, I’m Steve Zind.

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