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Frequently Asked Questions about Renewable Heat New York

What is the purpose of Renewable Heat New York?
Renewable Heat NY is Governor Cuomo’s long-term commitment to help the high-efficiency, low-emission biomass heating industry reach scale. It will encourage quicker development of the industry, raise consumer awareness, support the development of New York-based advanced technology heating products, and develop local sustainable heating markets that use biomass as fuel. Renewable Heat NY also aims to reduce wood smoke, fine particles and carbon monoxide emissions.

What percentages of New Yorkers use wood as their primary home heating source?
Overall, outside of New York City, only 3% of homes heat primarily with wood. However, in some counties, as many as 12% of homes heat with wood, according to the American Community Survey.**

NOTE: **These figures may underestimate wood heating, as the survey does not include counties with populations of less than 65,000 and may not fully capture supplemental heating with wood (for example a home may have a whole house oil-boiler but the residents produce most of their heat with a wood stove).

What is biomass?
Biomass is any plant-derived organic matter available on a renewable basis. While it includes many different types of plant-derived organic matter, Renewable Heat NY focuses on the use of wood pellets and cordwood because these sources are currently able to be most efficiently burned with reduced emissions.

What is the difference between a wood boiler, a wood stove and a wood pellet stove?
These are different technologies. Advanced technology cordwood boilers and high-efficiency, low-emissions pellet boilers are supported under Renewable Heat NY, as are pellet stoves.

A wood boiler, or hydronic heater, has a firebox surrounded by a water jacket. Wood is burned inside the firebox and heats the water, which is then circulated by pipes to the heat distribution system (radiators) of the home. All of the qualified boiler technologies in the Renewable Heat NY program are advanced, high-efficiency and low-emissions designs.

A wood stove is not a hydronic device but instead is installed as a room heater. Fire wood (also known as cordwood) is burned inside a combustion chamber, and heat is radiated off of the appliance into the room.

A pellet stove is similar to a wood stove but it burns wood pellets rather than fire wood, and heat is radiated off of the appliance. Because pellets are much smaller than fire wood, once a room is warm, a thermostat can tell the system to stop feeding pellets into the stove. In this way the heat can be better regulated and less fuel is consumed than with other wood-fired heating systems.

Why are these heating systems used as cost-effective alternatives by many New Yorkers?
Wood heating increased in the U.S. in general and in New York State from 2000 to 2010, according to U.S. Census data. This occurred as the price of home heating oil, the major heating fuel in rural New York State outside of the natural gas distribution system, doubled. Home heating oil has continued to increase by 30% over 2010 prices and is now almost triple (270%) the price in 2000. For those with an existing oil-fired heating system, using wood heat as either a primary whole house heating alternative or supplementing by adding a wood or pellet stove can save significantly on fuel costs.

Why are pellets better than wood chips?
Wood pellets are a more uniform fuel with a low moisture content (just 5-7%) and less ash because the bark has been removed. The more uniform fuel allows for better combustion, higher efficiency and much lower emissions. While commercial wood chip heating systems are available, the wood chips contain approximately 40% moisture and are more difficult to combust than a wood pellet.

How do the modern stoves and pellet stoves compare to older models? Are they more energy efficient and better for the environment? Are certain older models now illegal because they were found to be unsafe for both the homeowner and others in the community?
Energy efficiency values are available for new wood stoves but efficiency is not measured. Instead stoves are assigned an estimated efficiency, typically 63 to 72 percent, while pellet stoves are estimated to be 78% efficient. Wood stoves manufactured prior to 1990 burn fuel less efficiently and have higher emissions. In addition, there currently is no ENERGY STAR rating system for biomass combustion appliances, which makes it challenging for consumers shopping for wood or pellet stoves to know how energy efficient they are. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently updating its regulations, called the Residential Wood Heater New Source Performance Standard. When this is complete (expected in February 2015), wood heating technologies will need to be less polluting and for most designs this will mean higher efficiency too. Systems installed under Renewable Heat NY will exceed these new requirements.

Are there any manufacturers of high-efficiency wood boiler and wood stove technologies in New York State?
Yes. Some high-efficiency products are being manufactured and some are still in the pilot stage. Two manufacturers produce high-efficiency commercial pellet-fired boilers that are installed with thermal storage for optimum efficiency, and three make advanced-design cordwood boilers for residential and small commercial applications.

Does the DEC regulate emissions of indoor and outdoor wood boilers, and wood stoves?
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has adopted a regulation (Part 247) to establish emission limits for particulate matter and operational requirements primarily for new outdoor wood boilers (OWBs) installed on or after April 15, 2011. This includes new cordwood-fired OWBs and pellet-fired OWBs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also regulates indoor wood stoves. Indoor wood boilers are not regulated by DEC or the EPA. The EPA is developing a revised New Source Performance Standard to establish new emission limits for wood stoves and pellet stoves, and to set emission limits for outdoor wood boilers and indoor wood boilers for the first time, as well as other types of wood-fired appliances.

What types of training are available for Renewable Heat NY?
For the residential pellet stove market, NYSERDA has developed a training webinar, “Considerations for Sizing and Safe Installation of High Efficient Pellet Stoves” which is available online. Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractors have received training on this technology and are poised to support interested homeowners.

To support large commercial boiler projects, NYSERDA is providing “Hydronics for High Efficiency Biomass Boilers” training for heating system designers, installers, energy auditors and code officials so they can become proficient in the best practices for designing, installing and operating biomass boilers and thermal storage systems and controls.

See the Renewable Heat NY web page for training information.

Frequently Asked Questions by Technology 

Last Updated: 07/28/2014