Fireplace Efficiency Issues
Notes & Strategy

Exchange between Jim Buckley and Norbert Senf

At 01:58 PM 01/07/99 -0700, you wrote:


>What I was trying to say was that, if you have an open fireplace,
>forget about seriously trying to get an "equivalent to EPA" status for it.

While not perfect, the Washington fireplace test is designed to be an "equivalent" of the EPA stove test and I believe it is. The TAG, including Moberg, Tiegs, all the environmentalists as well as the fireplace and heater builders, in recommendations approved by the Department of Ecology and the state legislature, thought so. It's the best test we have. The Rumfords passed the test open.

The "not perfect" part has to do with not factoring in efficiency and there are those (including Walter who tested himself in his own garage before the fueling protocol was firmed up and Jaasma who wasn't there) who feel the fueling protocol can be manipulated but I think the test is pretty fair and reliable and duplicatable. We tested two Rumfords in a total of more than ten separate tests at OMNI, run, not by me, but by lab technicians, and got confirming reliable results.

Clearly the g/kg "emission factor" standard opens up approval for larger fireplaces than can pass the g/hr "emission rate" stove standard so the metal guys can legitimately get several fireplaces approved that would not pass the stove standard. Also fireplaces have an inherent advantage in that they are one burn rate devices and don't have to suffer the low smolder test that stoves do. The fact that some fireplaces pass the Washington fireplace standard that would not pass the EPA stove standard does not mean the Washington standard is less stringent - only that it is more appropriate for fireplaces.

Less legitimately, I've heard that several metal fireplace manufacturers have pushed the "substantially the same core construction as a model already tested" language to what some consider to be unreasonable levels saying that any fireplace they manufactured with a similar hearth area - even see-thrus - should be approved.

The main criticism of the Washington standard has been the lack of enforcement. The state has neither the will nor the money to enforce the law and I think the metal guys, if they have taken advantage of the lack of enforcement to get non-tested models approved, are disingenuous in broadcasting to the world that "the emperor has no clothes in Washington" and anything can pass the Washington fireplace standard. In fact not anything can pass. Even if all of the fireplaces submitted passed (except for the "substantially the same models" which were not tested and may not have passed) it's reasonable to assume manufactures wouldn't submit models for testing that they knew wouldn't pass.

It's fair to assume that, since fireplaces, which are not operated in a low smolder mode, are generally cleaner than stoves, that all the fireplaces that passed the Washington fireplace standard (which is after all a standard equivalent" to the EPA Phase II stove standard) are, in fact, as clean-burning as EPA certified stoves.

Jim Buckley

1/7/99 Jim, That last paragraph is quite a sweeping claim - I don't buy it. Sure, you can get a low g/kg with a fireplace burning in fast flaming mode only - I doubt that that would pass the "blind field test" criterion, ie., random homeowner with no coaching. People DO smolder their fireplaces, Rumford or not. We do have some OMNI data (sponsored by Western STates) on typical fireplace use. I also suspect that your particular firing method would work well in any fireplace with a straight enough back, ie., the low g/kg is primarily the result of the fueling protocol, and not the particular box that it's burned in. Yes, I've repeatedly heard your arguments to the contrary, but not a shred of data. So - its a good firing method, and consumers should be educated to burn that way (or a modification adapted to sloped backs) if we want to reduce emissions from existing open fireplaces. Somehow the end result, ie., actual air quality, seems to get lost in these logical gyrations. We'll leave efficiency alone for now.

This jives with what we learned from heaters - the fueling protocol has as much effect on emissions as anything. It also jives with Dennis' latest findings, an aging study on EPA stoves in Crested Butte - emissions are dependent on burn rate. Real world number for an EPA stove, by the way, turns out to be around 10 g/kg. This is good news for heaters, because the protocol we were using at Jerry's was real world. Ie., the real world spread between heaters and EPA stoves is wider than lab results would indicate.




I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on my open fireplace theories. I get to feeling kind of lonely sometimes. If you get tired of the exchange, just say so. I'll still support you and masonry heaters. In the meantime and as long as your willing, let me respond:

The statement that "fireplaces, which are not operated in a low smolder mode, are generally cleaner than stoves" is pretty much a direct quote from Paul Tiegs. Have you ever watched a stove test? I have not but Paul suggests the low burn rate is the dirtiest and really un-real-worldly. Heaters and fireplaces, both of which we say are "one-burn-rate" appliances, don't have to suffer the low burn rate phase of the test and so, according to Tiegs, have an advantage in a test procedure that is otherwise calibrated to be "equivalent" to the stove test.

Now, is it fair? Is it real world? I think so based on the way the appliances are actually used. From my own observation here in Washington, where it's often not very cold - just damp and chilly - it's the stoves that pollute the whole valley, smoldering away all day at low burn. If they had a heater or a fireplace they would only fire it briefly once or twice a day. I don't think most people would allow a fireplace to smolder like that and Paul says it's flat out impossible to reduce the burn rate that much unless you have an airtight door and cut the air supply way down.

More anecdotal observation - the chimney fires of the 1970's and 80's were clearly caused by European-style air tight stoves operated incorrectly. I remember us all bragging about how long our Jotul or Morso would keep a fire and I remember all the chimney fires. Fireplaces and leaky old pot belly stoves never used to lead to that many creosote fires. Creosote means poor combustion and means particulate and other emissions were probably high. I don't think it's difficult to understand that open fireplaces burn inherently cleaner than stoves.

As for my tipi fires - I don't think it makes any difference except in the first few minutes after starting or adding new logs. It does help to keep the steam and volatile gases that pour out of the ends of the logs at first in the fire. My Rumfords will pass any test Walter's will, tipi fire or not, partly because Walter doesn't understand or maybe doesn't trust the venturi and doesn't make his throat opening small enough. Rumfords will perform better than regular fireplaces because they are taller and we delay turbulent mixing and cooling of the products of combustion with dilution air because of the laminar flow under the airfoil throat. I figure we keep the gases hot about four times longer than in a low fireplace with a slanty back and turbulence right behind the lintel right over the fire.

Your comment: "Yes, I've repeatedly heard your arguments to the contrary, but not a shred of data. So - its a good firing method...." is fair enough. My Rumfords are cleaner than regular fireplaces according to precious few actual tests of the Rumfords compared with questionably accurate data on regular fireplaces. I have a theory that seems plausible to me. It would be nice to prove it, perhaps by paying you or Jaasma to conduct comparative log cabin fire and tipi fire tests in both regular and Rumford fireplaces. I'm interested enough that I might pay for a couple of extra tests next time we have to do any testing but time and money to build two fireplaces and test them is a problem. When are you going to do more testing in Jerry's lab? Maybe that would be the best place.

Again, Thanks.


Jim Buckley


Moberg has tested his new "improved" Rumford to the Northern Sonoma test. I don't know what Walter's objective is but he is also running down the Washington standard and pushing for acceptance of the Northern Sonoma test procedure,

- just a really wild guess, but, could it be -- political opportunism ??? - Norbert

which, as far as I can tell, is going to end up almost exactly the same as the Washington procedure. Only I worry that Walter will have a little more say so and will do things like require a grate and not permit a tipi style fire in order to give his slanty-backed Rumford a little advantage over my straight-backed Rumford. Bottom line is I am still promoting the Washington fireplace standard as valid. It just needs to be enforced. I agree with you about "taking the high road". That's why we've made all our test results public and invite criticism. In the Bay Area I would promote acceptance of the Washington Standard which I think is the best fireplace-appropriate standard which is equivalent to the stove standard so far, but I would recommend that regulators only accept fireplace models that have actually been tested. I have no problem accepting a better standard should one come along. - Jim

- I am interested in the dioxin debate and you still didn't answer my question about the MHA objectives in the Bay Area.

Not sure what the question was re Bay Area. I support your efforts to promote the WA standard, since the Sonoma protocol has some problems for heaters (3 back to back firings, which is very unreal world, although it shouldn't pose a problem - it simply means you might have to tune your air supply specifically for the Sonoma test). Our wish list, of course, is contained in the position paper that we sent to Berkeley Basically, we're asking for equivalent to EPA status based on the heater being signed off by an MHA certified heater mason. Ie., no testing required due to the proven inherent clean burning nature of the product.

Let me know what we can do to get in synch re. Bay Area -- thanks.


---------------------------------------- Norbert Senf----------

Masonry Stove Builders

RR 5, Shawville-------

Quebec J0X 2Y0-------- fax:-----819.647.6082

---------------------- voice:---819.647.5092

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