Updated: May 2014

Helping Families

Town in AustriaWood is the renewable fuel of choice for rural Americans, particularly low and middle-income families. State and federal policies that incentivize purchasing new, clean-burning wood stoves will especially help these families to affordably heat their homes with an ultra-low carbon fuel.

The United States should urgently address its policies toward wood heat as a way of helping low and middle income families affordably heat their homes. The current framework adopted by most states is to prioritize incentives for solar and geothermal, which predominantly excludes ordinary families who could be switching to pellet heat. As a country, we also need to:

  1. Expand stove change-out programs that focus on households that use wood as primary or sole heat source.
  2. Provide greater federal and state tax credits and incentives for new, cleaner and more efficient wood and pellet stoves, putting them within reach of low and middle-income families.
  3. Reduce barriers for fuel and appliance repair in heating assistance programs that are funded by LIHEAP and ensure that energy audits include wood and pellet stoves.
  4. Provide research and development funds to design ultra-clean, low cost wood and pellet stoves.

It makes little sense that even northern states with a surplus of biomass would neglect the population that has been using a renewable heat source for decades, and instead, give priority to the few who can afford solar, geothermal or wind energy. The Alliance for Green Heat believes that all renewables must be pursued, and that we must, where possible, enable low and middle income Americans to use or keep using renewable energy in updated appliances.

Mitigate Health Problems

The dangers of indoor and outdoor wood smoke are more prevalent in low-income communities, where homes are more likely to use wood as a primary heating source. Some Native American reservations have very poor indoor air quality as a result of antiquated wood stoves. Wood smoke can aggravate asthma and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Older adults, young children and those suffering from heart or lung diseases face an increased risk of complications from breathing particles found in the smoke from older, inefficient wood stoves. A properly installed EPA-certified wood stove does not release smoke in your house and reduces environmental pollution.

Change-out programs can allow families who may not otherwise be able to afford a new stove the chance to replace an old unit with an EPA-certified unit. To see if there are change-out programs in your area, click here. If there are no current programs, consider contacting your state or tribal representative and voicing your support for initiating a program in your area.

Affordability and Payback Periods

Wood and pellet stoves typically cost between $900 and $2,500, making them an affordable investment even for low and middle-income families. The up-front costs of installation are usually $500 to $1,000, lower than many other renewable technologies. Because they are a significant source of heat and can easily displace hundreds of gallons of heating oil or hundreds of therms of natural gas, biomass stoves usually have the shortest payback period of any renewable energy technology available for residential use.

Payback periods usually range between 3 and 7 years, depending on how much you use the stove, what fuel you are displacing, etc. A stove that is used a primary or sole heat source that is displacing oil, propane or electric convection heat can pay itself back in 3 years, or even less. A pellet stove that is displacing natural gas may have an exceedingly long payback period, unless the pellet stove is able to heat a smaller amount of commonly used space where the gas furnace used to heat a much larger space.

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