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Recommendations for States

Recommendations for states, counties, and program managers

Updated: November 27, 2016

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The following recommendations were adapted directly from Solar Information for Consumers, written by Warren Leon of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). The Alliance for Green Heat used some of that report's language directly and modified it to be relevant for heating appliances.

Buying a new wood or pellet stove represents a major financial decision for many families. Very few consumers are energy experts, and most have little experience buying a stove since they do not switch stoves often during their lifetime. To ensure that they make appropriate decisions, they need sound information.

Just as consumers need good information when making other large purchases, such as buying a car or large kitchen appliance, stove consumers need information they can trust. With traditional products, there are familiar well-established brands and easily accessible product review websites, which include ratings by experts and feedback from large numbers of consumers for those products.

In the absence of such consumer information for wood and pellet stoves, states and counties should step up and provide more information if they want to speed the adoption of new heating appliances.

Many states and counties have policies and incentive programs to encourage change-outs and upgrades. State and county administrators can support those policies and programs by providing unbiased information that facilitates good decision making by consumers.

Here are a few practical steps wood and pellet stove program administrators and regulators can take:

  • Encourage consumers to obtain multiple quotes when shopping for a system, enable them to ask better questions of their installers, and better prepare them for maintenance and operation of their stove after installation.

  • Although most stove retailers deal with prospective customers professionally and appropriately, some salespeople do not have extensive experience themselves. There are routine misleading marketing and sales tactic practices, which can negatively impact the public's perception and acceptance of wood and pellet stoves.

  • It can be difficult to quantify the costs and benefits of a new stove. It is therefore extremely important for consumers to understand the economic assumptions made by retailers and others. Providing guidance about questions to ask and factors to consider, such as possible future changes to their heating fuel rates, can help customers better understand the payback period of a new stove.

  • If consumers feel that the stove they purchased does not perform as advertised, or if they feel misled by unreliable vendors, it will negatively impact the transition to newer, cleaner, and more efficient wood and pellet stoves.  Sound, user-friendly information can limit the number of dissatisfied customers.

PRESENT INFORMATION IN AN EVEN-HANDED MANNER

Currently, there is considerable information available on the internet that is highly favorable to wood and pellet stoves. Wood and pellet stoves do indeed have many benefits, especially in years of high fossil heating fuel prices. Pellet heating has fewer environmental impacts than fossil fuel heating most of the time. Wood stoves have unpredictably high PM emissions, but that is often not seen as a negative by those who are used to heating with wood or who may start heating with wood.

Other alternatives, such as high efficiency heat pumps, have tremendous benefits that consumers need to understand.  In some states where renewable energy makes up a significant portion of the electricity mix, heat pumps are even more attractive. In southern states, rooftop solar PV will be able to cover some of a home's heating load, and financing options such as PACE loans and no money down leasing may make solar PV affordable even for even lower and middle income households. All these options can be provided in a fair, impartial manner to consumers who heat with wood. If the goal is to help households get rid of an old, polluting wood stove and replace it with a better alternative, the more alternatives the better.

States and counties can help by providing pros and cons of all heating options.  They should also remind consumers to beware of wood and pellet stove efficiency claims on industry sites and to always check the list of EPA certified stoves for actual efficiencies.

MAKE CONSUMER INFORMATION EASY TO UNDERSTAND, VISUALLY APPEALING, AND EASY TO USE

Most consumers are used to reading product information on commercial websites where the headlines are large, the content is divided into easily digestible portions, and there are many pictures and graphics. In contrast, many state and local government websites can seem dull, dense, and hard to navigate. (This Online Resource Center is not a good example of a professionally designed site.)

To increase the likelihood that consumers will read and use heating appliance information and make a switch from an old wood stove, states should emulate the format and appearance of the best websites.

Here are a few tips:

  • Separate the information for consumers on its own webpage. Don't mix it in with more technical specifications for installers, or other material that is not relevant to a consumer audience.

  • Speak directly to consumers in a clear, direct manner that assumes the reader has no prior knowledge of cleaner or low carbon heating alternatives.

  • Where appropriate, include short lists of key points so that readers focus on the most important information.

  • Divide the material into short topics and have links or anchors to each section so that consumers do not need to scroll through a long document to find the specific information they are looking for. This approach also has the virtue of highlighting range of topics consumers may want to learn about.

  • On the other hand, it can also be useful to compile the information into a single, well-organized document for consumers who prefer that format or want to print.

DEVOTE AS MUCH EFFORT TO DISSEMINATION AS TO MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT

The best information does little good if the target homeowners don't know about it. For that reason, it is important to develop and implement a strategy for ensuring that the public is aware of and can find the information that they are looking for.

A few states have been successful in creating and marketing stand-alone, consumer friendly wood stove sites such as the Tacoma-Pierce County Smoke Reduction ZoneEfficiency Vermont has a beautifully designed site for heating options but content on wood and pellet heating could be more in-depth and do more to promote emissions benefits of pellet stoves.  Finally, stand-alone websites not only provide flexibility in terms of website design and keep the focus solely on heating options, they also create an easy-to-remember brand that can be marketed widely.

If that approach is not practical, there are still ways to draw homeowners to the consumer information that is embedded in a larger state agency website.

Wood heat program websites should consider:

  • Implementing a media outreach strategy to let the press know about the availability of high-quality, unbiased heating option information on the website.

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  • Encouraging utilities, municipalities, stove retailers, manufacturers, energy organizations, and consumer groups to link to and promote the state's clean heating consumer information.

DESCRIBE THE STATE'S DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN HEATING

Most consumers expect a state to provide clear information about state policies and programs related to wood and pellet stove use and how those policies could impact potential customers. It is best to put all this information in one location, including any relevant state laws, tax credits, and programs.

Websites should include:

  • State requirements on permits and installation.

  • The latest rules and regulations.

  • Any relevant regulations about firewood and the importance of dry wood.

  • Information about PFI certified pellets and the danger of transporting invasive species by moving firewood.

  • Availability of federal tax credits or other potential incentives.

  • Burn ban information including the number of days in recent winters that there have been bans.

  • Any relevant zoning regulations or property setback provisions (the latter so far apply to outdoor boilers only).

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