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Analysis of Change-outs

Last Updated: November 15, 2016

Analysis of Stove Change-out Programs

The Alliance for Green Heat undertook an in-depth look at the 35 U.S. wood stove change-out programs that operated in 2016. Wood stove change-out programs provide a monetary incentive for wood burners to surrender their old, usually uncertified, wood burning device in exchange for a discount or rebate on a new, typically less-polluting appliance.

Change-out programs almost always require participants to submit proof that their old device has been destroyed or recycled so that it cannot be reused or sold on the second hand market. Some active wood and/or pellet stove incentive programs do not require residents to trade-in an old wood appliance and we did not include these programs in our analysis. In addition, we did not include programs that offer wood or pellet boiler (hydronic heater) incentives unless they also require participants to trade-in an old wood stove, such as in the Fairbanks, Alaska change-out program.

The map depicts the location of U.S. wood stove change-out programs and wood or pellet burning stove and boiler incentives as of September 2016 (some of these have since closed). It is important to note that change-out programs often have limited budgets and end once the funds are depleted, so programs that exist today might not be offered next year or two years from now. The yellow stars represent the change-out programs and the red circles represent the state biomass stove or boiler incentives that do not include change-outs. See:

Map: Location of the 34 U.S. change-out programs of 2016. The state of California is home to nearly half (13) of the nation's active change-out programs. The state of Washington has the second-most with seven programs. In 2016, nearly all change-out programs are located in the Pacific Northwest or West Coast and the Northeast.

Change-out program types or models

Although most change-outs have the same primary goal—take as many old wood-burning devices out of commission as possible—they follow slightly different structures. This year's wood stove change-out programs can be organized into five basic types: voucher programs (58% of programs); rebate programs (23% of programs); grant programs (10% of programs); zero-interest loan programs (6% of programs); and tax deduction programs (3% of programs).

Details about the different program types are explored in the table below and a full analysis of the differences is here.  

About 25% of change-out programs do not allow wood burning appliances as replacements

In contrast to some of the most famous early change-out programs—such as the nearly 2 million dollar one in Libby, Montana—which focused on replacing uncertified wood stoves with new certified models, over 1 in 4 of active wood stove change-out programs currently do not allow or place severe restrictions on wood-to-wood replacements. In areas where air quality is very poor, not incentivizing the installation of new cordwood appliances may be a good idea. This blog provides some of the shortcomings of change-out programs that allow wood-to-wood replacements.  

Four out of the 34 change-out programs we analyzed do not include any incentives for new cord wood appliances: Thurston County, WASan Lorenzo County, CASan Luis Obispo County, CA; and New York State (although New York offers a wood boiler change-out program that allows residents to replace older wood boilers with qualifying cordwood models). An additional 5 programs only provide incentives for residents to replace a non-compliant heating device with a wood appliance in special circumstances, such as if they lack access to natural gas, use wood as a primary heat source, or are income-qualified.

Nearly all 2016 change-out programs continue to include pellet stoves as incentivized replacement options. All of these are grant programs that fully fund the cost of replacement devices. Grant programs are usually designed to replace the uncertified wood heating devices of low-income wood burners.

In general, 2016 change-out programs are held in areas that are in or close to EPA non-attainment. These programs are usually administered by the local air quality agency and have a singular purpose—to lower ambient PM2.5 emissions caused by wood stove smoke.

As a result, several of these programs do not incentivize wood or pellet replacements so as to limit the number of new wood smoke producing appliances installed. Stakeholders on the West Coast, in particular, seem more apprehensive about allowing even low emission wood burning appliances or pellet appliances in change-outs.  Public comments made at a recent Oregon Department of Environmental Quality public meeting illuminate this trend.

Heat pumps, which utilize electricity, are becoming incentivized more and more in change-out programs (about a third of 2016 programs include them), along with natural gas and propane. This year, twenty-four change-out programs considered gas appliances as a standard replacement option, while only twenty considered wood a standard replacement option.    


Note: This represent the standard replacement options only. Selected applicants may be eligible for additional options (e.g., certified wood stoves).

'Cleaner' heating options valued higher than low carbon or 'green' heating options
Difference in rebate amounts growing

Of the programs that incentivize wood-to-wood change-outs, wood appliances almost always account for the lowest incentives available to residents who are replacing their old wood appliance. Residents who switch from heating with wood to heating with pellets, natural gas, an electric heat pump (and occasionally heating oil or propane), are normally eligible for significantly higher range of incentives, except for programs that offer the same incentive amount for each appliance. (Low-income residents are usually offered higher incentives across the board, usually ranging from $1,500 to the full cost of the device.)

The average wood appliance 2016 incentive is $910 (out of a total of 20 programs that offer wood-to-wood replacements), while the averages for other alternatives range from $1,290 (pellet) to $4,500 (oil). The median for wood appliance incentives is also the lowest of all heating appliances at $600, while the median for pellet and electricity incentives is $1,500 and $1,000 for gas and propane.

Note: This table represents the standard or "base" rebate; low income or other qualifying applicants may be eligible for higher rebates or different heating options. This chart also does not include programs that cover the full cost of a replacement, or offer a loan or tax deduction.

The Fairbanks program has the highest incentive amounts of any 2016 change-program, starting with $4,000 for wood-to-wood replacements and reaching up to $10,000 for propane and gas appliances. The majority of programs we analyzed kept most base incentive amounts between $500 and $1,000 for wood appliances and between $600 and $1,500 for non-wood technologies (including pellet appliances).

Most of these programs offer 50-100% higher rebates or vouchers for non-wood technologies. However, there remain a number of programs that kept rebates the same across all technology types, namely: the MarinPlacerSan Lorenzo, and San Luis Obispo programs in California, the Portneuf Valley program in Idaho, the Rumford River Valley program in Maine, the Washington County program in Oregon, and the Tacoma-Pierce program in Washington. Half of these programs place restrictions on wood-to-wood change-outs.  

Programs choose incentive amounts, not percent of project

There is a lot of discussion as to the level of incentives and how to "right-size" the amount.  Some programs appear to give too much, and run out of vouchers quickly, while others have had to increase incentive amounts to increase participation. There is little effort by programs to assess and breakdown total costs for consumers and explain how to reduce costs. No program provides a percentage of the final cost of the device and installation, which is the basis for the federal 30% tax-credit system for solar PV installations. The Alliance for Green Heat supports fixed incentive amounts as it can allow budget-minded consumers to cover a higher percentage of their install, often in the 25-50% range.

The attached sheet of cost scenarios for households shows that fixed incentives could cover up to 60% of an install, if the consumer understands how to cut costs.  Consumers that don't need to cut costs and want a higher priced stove are free to use a specialty hearth retailer for the entire project. In the attached scenarios, we show the range of costs for installs of wood and pellet stoves, and use a modest incentive of $600 to turn in an old stove. Then, we include an additional $200 for high efficiency stoves, which helps consumers understand the importance of a more efficient stove and avoid the lower efficiency stoves. We include an additional $400 for low-income families, and then show what percentage of each project incentives cover. These incentive levels are for demonstration purposes and programs can insert levels that they think will achieve their objectives.

Concurrent stove bounty programs are underutilized

Stove bounty or buy-back programs, in which a cash incentive is provided to remove an old stove from a home or prevent the use of a fireplace, are gaining in popularity. The EPA considers the use of stove bounty programs as a best practice in change-out programs. Stand-alone bounty programs can also be very effective, absent a costly change-out, such as this one in Pennsylvania.

Overall it is rare to for change-out programs to allow consumers the option of trading in their old stove or fireplace for cash in 2016. Exceptions include all the Washington change-out programs funded by the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Marin County and the Bay Area programs in California, and the program in Fairbanks, Alaska. The typical bounty amount for recycling a wood stove is $250-$350. The Bay Area offers $750 for decommissioning a fireplace and Fairbanks offers $2,000 for removing a solid fuel burning appliance, including a wood stove or insert or a wood boiler. A statewide Connecticut program offers $3,000 for scrapping a wood boiler that does not meet state siting and stack regulations and/or emits more than 0.32 lb/MMBtu.

Most programs require that participants arrange for the disposal or decommissioning of their old appliance themselves, usually through a qualified recycler. The Tacoma-Pierce buyback program is unique in that it gives residents the option of having the recycler (a subcontractor for the Air Agency) pick up the old stove, but offers $100 more to residents who recycle it themselves at a qualifying facility. One change-out program manager noted that buyback program participants sometimes apply the bounty they receive towards the purchase of a new wood stove, if wood-to-wood replacements are not directly incentivized in the program.

The Marin County program pays residents to trade in any wood stove, not just uncertified stoves or stoves that do not meet stricter state or local standards. All change-out programs in Washington State allow residents to trade-in stoves that are not on the Department of Ecology's approved list (under 4.5 gph for non-catalytic and 2.5 for catalytic). The Bay Area program offers a bounty for decommissioning fireplaces only. To decommission a fireplace a fireplace in this case means to render it permanently inoperable by completely removing the structure or sealing it with concrete. All of these programs contain restrictions about the types of wood appliances that can be used as replacement options.

Note: The higher bounty amount in Tacoma-Pierce is for residents who arrange for their appliance to be recycled, instead of scheduling a pick-up by the Air Quality Agency.

Bounty programs should consider allowing stove retailers to participate just as homeowners can, as they remove many stoves during the regular course of their business, and without a bounty, they do not necessarily have an incentive to keep them off the second hand market. 

Repair programs have not gained traction

Few 2016 change-out programs offer residents incentives to repair broken wood stove parts, such as catalysts, that might be responsible for higher air emissions. Offering to replace a catalyst could provide a more cost-effective way to lower PM2.5 emissions, and also provides the opportunity for educating the stove operator about proper burning practices. A few 2016 change-out programs include incentives to repair wood stoves, including Fairbanks, Alaska and Cheshire County, New Hampshire (now closed). Washington change-out programs funded by the State Department of Ecology also offers repair options on a case-by-case basis, although this is not advertised on program websites.  

The Fairbanks program offers up to a $750 rebate to repair a catalytic converter or "other emissions-reducing components" of an EPA certified solid fuel burning appliance. To pre-qualify, applicants must submit a quote for the repair to the program administrator, who decides if the repair meets program specifications – and is deemed a funding priority – before proceeding with the repair. The Cheshire County program offered a $300 instant voucher for a catalyst replacement (after approval), which had to be professionally installed.

Repair programs tend to have low participation and it's unclear how effective they are.  Stove retrofit programs may be feasible in coming years, as promising retrofit technologies have been extensively tested in the lab.  The deployment of retrofits for field testing is a logical next step.

EPA 2015 emission standards used to qualify

The current EPA regulations allow wood and pellet stoves to emit up to 4.5 grams per hour. In 2020, these standards are scheduled change to 2.0 gph for wood and pellet stoves, or 2.5 if tested with cordwood. Only two of the 34 2016 change-out programs (that provide incentives for wood and/or pellet stoves) require new wood stoves to meet the Step 2 2020 limits: Fairbanks, Alaska and New York. The Northern Colorado program provides higher incentives to wood stoves that meet the emissions ($1,000 vs. the standard rebate of $750). The Maryland and Maine incentive program requires stricter than the 4.5 gram Step 1 but not as strict as the 2.0 Step 2 emission standards. Vermont provides a sliding scale of incentives ($500-$1,500) based on the emissions of the wood and pellet stove replacement. The program requires cord wood stove replacements to be under 3.0 gph at minimum and pellet stove replacements to be under 2.0 gph at mininum. Change-out programs should consider limiting pellet stoves to 2 gram an hour, and also consider stricter wood stove limits.

Professional installation not required in about 25% of programs

About a quarter of this year's change-out programs allow residents to self-install their new appliances. These are all programs that follow the "rebate" model; i.e., they require participants to replace an old device, pass a home inspection, and submit necessary paperwork before obtaining reimbursement. In contrast to the more popular "voucher" model that provides an instant discount off the cost of a new appliance at participating dealers, rebate programs offer more flexibility to consumers at the cost of increased paperwork. They potentially allow consumers to purchase new qualifying wood and pellet stoves at big box stores and install them themselves, or to buy from a retailer, but have a professional other than the retailer install it.  One benefit is that consumers can save significant sums by buying the hearth pad and chimney liner themselves, as specialty retail stores often have high mark-up on those items.  But not many consumers go this route, according to some change-out program managers. Except for the Fairbanks program, all programs that allow self-installation require the installation to be inspected afterward by building code officials.

NFI and CSIA certification not required for installers

Only one of the active change-out programs, New York State, requires NFI or CSIA certification for replacement appliance installers (in New York's case, pellet stove installers, as specified in the program manual). Several of the California change-out programs instead require that installers are state licensed contractors.

Three programs (that we know of) recommend that hearth appliance installers be NFI or CSIA certified: Sacramento County, California, the New England program (New Hampshire and Maine), and Northern Colorado. The American Lung Association manages the latter two programs.

The Sacramento program requires retailers applying for participation to submit any NFI certifications along with a valid State Contractor's License, which is required. The New England program has a line in the application that recommends installers be certified with NFI or CSIA. The Northern Colorado program similarly includes a bullet point in their retailer's agreement that the EPA recommends hearth installers are NFI certified, and adds a space on the application for installers to write their certification number. Because most change-out programs that offer vouchers do not publicly share the qualifications and application documents for retailers, it is also possible that several other programs may encourage or require NFI or CSIA certification for installers.

Change-out budgets

Many of the 2016 programs have annual or bi-annual budgets under $100,000, apart from a couple outliers, such as the $3 million Bay Area program that is, to our knowledge, the largest change-out program yet. At the same time, the budget size can be deceiving, as programs often are renewed multiple years and receive new funding sources. For example, the Washington State Department of Ecology has spent just under $8.4 million alone on the Tacoma-Pierce change-out program since 2012.

We present a few comparison budget tables below. The first table provides a list of annual and bi-annual program budgets we were able to find advertised. It is not clear in some of these cases if the budget includes administrative costs. The second table lists the budget for a selection of completed change-out programs, the total number of stoves replaced, and an average cost per stove replaced. Most of this information is sourced from different EPA documents and may not always include administration costs. The final table shows a selection of Washington State change-out program costs by community, beginning in 2007, and the total number of stoves replaced as of September 30, 2016. The information in this table comes from a single source.

Selected program budgets

Note: This list only includes change-out program budgets that were publicly available. Some of these budgets may not include administrative costs. All of the Washington state budgets are for two years.

Selected program budgets with number of change-outs and average costs

Note: We assumed a value of $4,000 incentive amounts for programs that replaced stoves at no cost to residents.

Washington State annual program budgets

The results of two other programs are worth mentioning. Between 1995 and 2006, the Idaho state tax deduction program (up to 40% off the cost of a new EPA certified stove) resulted in the change-out of 6,000 uncertified stoves, for a total program cost of $900,000. In addition, the 2015 Jøtul program, a nation-wide stove manufacturer program that offered customers who traded-in an old stove $300 towards a new EPA certified Jøtul model, resulted in the destruction of 1,406 old stoves. Jøtul also donated $10 for each old stove traded-in to the American Lung Association one year and to Operation BBQ Relief in recent years.    

Uncertified stoves are not the only stoves that can be swapped

Traditionally, change-out programs have focused on removing wood stoves that are not EPA certified. EPA certification for wood stoves began in 1988, and in 1990 was set at 7.5 grams per hour, but the standards were recently updated in 2015 to 4.5 grams per hour. Many 2016 change-out programs open eligibility to any stove not found on the recent EPA list, but some incentivize the removal or replacement of EPA certified stoves as well. These programs also tend to not incentive wood-to-wood replacements (or only incentivize them in special cases). For instance, the San Lorenzo Valley program in California allows residents to replace a ten-year or older certified wood stove, with a new pellet, gas, or propane device. However, Washington State programs incentivize the replacement of a 21 year or older certified wood stove with a certified wood appliance or pellet appliance, gas appliance, or electric heat pump. (Currently, these programs replace stoves made before 1995.) The Western Nevada and Plumas, California programs use 1992 as a cutoff date for replaceable wood appliances, and the Alpine County and South Coast, California programs use 1990.

While the EPA wood stove regulations first went into effect in 1988, these seven programs have different cutoff years for eligible stoves.

Consumer education not a large component

Studies that evaluate change-out programs almost always stress the importance of education. Unlike conventional fossil fuel heaters and pellet stoves, how cleanly a conventional wood stove burns greatly depends on the operator and the fuel. The emissions numbers achieved in laboratory conditions are not necessarily a good indication of real world performance. But while nearly everyone agrees that educating wood stove operators on clean burning practices is just as or even more important than replacing old technology, our analysis reveals that the 2016 change-out programs tend to have few wood education requirements (courses or training) that we saw, although this may be due to the fact that many programs try to minimize wood-to-wood change-outs. Hearth retailers educate their customers to varying degrees but more documentation and standardization is likely to improve this process.

Of the programs that discussed wood fuel and techniques, the majority tend to include a link to EPA or a state Department of the Environment wood-burning guide. Although these wood burning guides are well written and contain useful information for stove operators (see: Marin CountyPlacer CountySan Lorenzo ValleySouth CoastPortneuf, and Nevada programs), it is unclear how many program participants actually read them or put the tips into practice. Some change-out programs that expect a fair number of wood-to-wood replacements may mention wood burning practices in their required applications or forms. The Massachusetts program requires the homeowner to certify that they "understand that proper wood burning practices (e.g., burning only dry, seasoned wood) and proper stove operation are critical to the effectiveness and longevity of my new stove." The Fairbanks, Alaska program application asks specific questions about the kind of solid fuel the resident previously burned (moisture content, tree species, etc.), but it is unclear how the information will be used.

The Nevada program application goes further by asking a number of questions on how fuel is sourced and how many hours wood is burned on weekdays and weekends (Washington program applications use similar language). It also provides participants with the option of requesting a 20-minute follow up visit during the heating season in which dealers "conduct an outside observation of the chimney during use, review burning operation, and provide a complimentary moisture content measurement of the firewood." The Columbia Valley, WA program webpage stresses the importance of dry firewood and includes a link to another program that offers to build free woodsheds.

Evaluation and monitoring performance

Change-out programs take different approaches to monitoring and evaluation. For more discussion on this, click here. For most change-out programs, the primary objective is usually reducing outdoor PM2.5 emissions. To calculate the impact of the program on PM2.5 reduction, program managers often use application questionnaires to estimate the amount of air pollutants avoided as the result of the program and, where possible, to make use of the air quality instruments already in place to test air quality in the district. A handful of programs have used tapered element oscillating microbalances (TEOMs) or spiral ambient speciation samplers (SASS) to monitor ambient air quality after a change-out program and have posted their results after sufficient time has passed and sufficient tests have been conducted, since air quality can be affected by seasonal variations and it is difficult to attribute PM2.5 reductions to change-outs. Likewise, some change-out programs have used instruments to measure indoor air quality and posted the results. Programs that are funded by the EPA or other agencies are often required to submit a final report describing how many stoves were changed out and the final costs. Post-program surveys are often used to gather data on stakeholder satisfaction. These are required for all change-out programs funded by the Washington State Department of Ecology.


This analysis was written by AGH staff Melissa Bollman and John Ackerly. We would like to thank the staff of the following change-out programs for their helpful comments, revisions, and suggestions: Spokane, WA, Tacoma-Pierce, WA, Kittitas, WA, El Dorado, CA, Fairbanks, AK, Butte-Silver Bow, MT, Marin, CA, San Luis Obispo, CA, Idaho, Western NV, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine, Phoenix, AZ, Sacramento, CA, Portola, CA, Truckee, CA, Placer, CA, Portneuf, ID, Fort Collins, CO, Mammoth County, CA, Columbia Valley, OR, and Vancouver, WA. We would also like to thank the six participating retailers that we interviewed from the New York State, San Joaquin, CA, Western Nevada, and New England programs, as well as staff from the EPA, HBPA, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, and Washington Department of Ecology for their help and feedback.

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