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Wood Burning Stoves and Hot Chocolate

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Statistical reports say that only 10% to 12% of Americans own and use wood burning stoves, but I bet the stats on Texomans who own wood burning stoves are much higher. I have one; I love it! I wrote this article for people who have never experienced the warmth and homey feeling that a wood burning stove creates. These stoves heat your home’s physical structure along with the air.

Families and their pets absolutely love them! I mainly refer to wood burning stoves in this article, but pellet stoves are also a great option. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stirred up a cauldron of controversy concerning older wood burning and pellet stoves, but I will get into that issue later.

Consider all of your options if you want to purchase a wood burning or pellet stove. First, you need to find out if your homeowner’s insurance will cover a wood burning or pellet stove. Most insurance carriers will for a surcharge that can raise your rates $30 to $150 year, they may require you to get a pre-approval inspection, and small children living in your home can also increase your rates.

How do you purchase your firewood for heating your home in the wintertime? Firewood dealers sell split wood by the cord or by the rick. A cord measures 128 cubic feet and stacks in 4-feet x 4-feet x 8-feet woodpiles. The size of a rick can be tricky even though it is supposed to be one-half of a cord. The length of split wood logs determines the size of a rick. The standard length of a log is 16 inches which measures out to one-third of a cord. When the wood pieces measure 24-inches long, that is one-half of a cord. Ricks are also known as face cords. Be sure to measure your stove’s fire chamber.

The next issue when buying wood for your stove comes in the form insects and pests. Trees inherently survive with natural defenses to protect them from native insects and pests due to evolution in each region. Buy or harvest your firewood locally because you can unleash an infestation or epidemic harmful to your ecosystem by moving wood from as little as 50 miles away back to your location.

Which species of trees produce the highest British thermal units (BTU)? Some species burn slower than others which makes its wood more energy efficient with more heat per pound of wood. Just like the BBQ master who carefully chooses the type of wood to match his or her secret BBQ sauce or rub recipe, we need to choose the type of wood we burn in our stoves with caution. The gases created by the fire must be hotter than the outside temperature in order to draw the smoke from its fire chamber.

Ask questions when you buy your firewood from dealers. Make sure that they know where their wood comes from, that their wood is not green, and that you know the species of the tree it was cut from. You can find wood dealers that cut their wood at sustainable tree farms.

Do you want to harvest your own firewood? Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge will issue a free Special Use Permit to people who want to harvest fallen wood within 100 feet off the road. On the Oklahoma side of our region, you no can do. At the Fobb Bottom, Hickory Creek, Love Valley, Tishomingo, and Washita Arm Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), you may only harvest fallen wood for campfires. The Oklahoma law, called Title 800, reads as follows: “It shall be unlawful to cut, dig, damage or remove any crops, trees, shrubs, timber (including dead standing trees), water, gravel, sand, earth, rocks, minerals, or other natural resources other than legally harvested fish and wildlife from department-managed lands.”

U.S. federal law governs all of those WMAs and Hagerman, but each state and game wardens enforce the U.S. laws. Unfortunately, no close locations exist in Texoma for cutting firewood on public lands in OK. The Oklahoma Forestry Service recommends contacting tree service firms, city maintenance departments, or homeowners who need trees removed for sources of local firewood.

The problems of discussing government regulations in print arise from its use of language, which even lawyers cannot easily decipher. The EPA defines smoke emission as fine particulate airborne emission in micrograms per cubic meter of air. Meters? BTUS? Really? Americans use the imperial system, also called the American system, but the EPA governs using the metric system.

What did the EPA do in 2014 that caused such uproar about wood burning and pellet stove emissions? Comparatively speaking, the EPA estimates that human lungs may intake between 3,000 and 4,000 micrograms (mcg) of secondhand tobacco smoke of particulates per cubic meter of air in a closed vehicle. Those numbers translate into 0.003 and 0.004 grams (g) respectively. The EPA wants to lower the limit of emissions from stoves per hour to 4.5 grams per hour. By 2020 they mandate a limit of 2.0 grams per hour for catalytic and noncatalytic stoves, and 2.5 for wood burning stoves.

By January 2015, the EPA was ready to finalize its new regulations that banned production on 80% of new wood burning and pellet stoves. On Feb. 3, 2015, the EPA announced that the final rule for wood burning and pellet stoves, “. . . known as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), will phase in emission limits over a five-year period, beginning this year.”

I spoke with Ron Kotrba, Senior Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine, who gave me the great news that most American or Canadian stove manufacturers have already met the new EPA regulations or can do so without too much difficulty. The manufacturers in China and other countries have been more affected by the EPA's emission limitations.

You cannot trade in your old stove for your new one like a car. The EPA considers old stoves inoperable, and you must destroy or recycle them as scrap metal. I thank goodness that a federal SWAT team will not swoop into our homes and confiscate our old stoves; we just cannot resell them. If you have been thinking about a cup of hot chocolate sprinkled with marshmallows in a warm, toasty room now that fall finally descended upon Texomaland, invest in a wood burning or pellet stove. Happy wood burning!

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