Does EPA Exempt / Decorative means poor efficiency?

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Czech Ivan from NJ

New Member
Nov 11, 2023
New Jersey, USA

How can one tell when EPA Exempt / Decorative means poor efficiency vs. when the manufacturer just didn’t want to be bothered with the testing?​

I had my heart set on importing one of the many amazing wood-burning hydronic ZC fireplaces manufactured in Europe for integration into my gas hot water baseboard heating system. While my town’s very friendly and receptive building department deliberated for 15 months whether to allow a unit tested by European labs to European standards to be installed in the single family home I own, I constructed my foundation and three-story chase. Ultimately, the town had to say NO on the foreign units.

So now I’m choosing a wood-burning hot-air ZC fireplace. The house is 3100 SF, very well insulated. The criteria are:

Insulated chimney pipe only, no air-cooled chimneys. So all models from Travis Industries except for one are disqualified.

Vastly prefer when the installation manual specifies any UL-103HT chimney pipe, rather than needlessly restricting the installation to a subset of brands and models.

No catalyst. Why spend the money saved on reduced natural gas bills on a replacement catalyst every five or six years?

Outside combustion air inlet required. Obviously, using heated inside air for combustion makes no sense.

Top gravity-vent knock-outs for convection air output required. Why would one choose not to pull the hottest available convection air by using side outputs?

Prefer bricks over panels for firebox lining.

Would like secondary air injection and a well designed glass air-wash.

This is a retrofit through a 2x6 exterior wall so units with the flue collar as far back as possible from the face make installation much easier.

Prefer smaller chimney IDs over larger ones. Almost no one on the American market seems to include dampers on the flue collar any more and retrofitting one is probably not permitted. So the hole to the outside that lets cold air in when the fireplace is not in use might as well be as small as possible. Considering the area is a square function of the ID, this is more pronounced than it may appear at first glance.

When one pours this rant into the current American ZC market, out comes the Pacific Energy FP30 Arch LE and the Kozy Heat Z42 . ……but here’s the rub. I built a monster of a chase. The dimensions inside the 5/8 type-X sheetrock are 66” wide by 39” deep. So to select such a puny glass viewing area of the above two models after killing myself building a chase that can fit almost anything on the market seems like a dumb waste.

That FINALLY brings me to my point. The Wilkening GranView, the Stuv 21-105 SF, the Stuv 21-125 SF and the Spartherm Varia M-100h all offer the large viewing areas my wife and I would vastly prefer, never mind improved home resale value, but they are all rated Exempt / Decorative. Other than comparing the ridiculous mish-mash of apples-to-oranges BTU ratings, is there any way to tell whether each of these Exempt / Decorative units will put out the BTUs and the manufacturer just didn’t want to be bothered with the testing or whether the unit is just another pretty builder box that sends all the heat up the chimney ???

Thank you in advance for any and all input.
the unit is just another pretty builder box that sends all the heat up the chimney ???
Probably ^ ^ ^
I know it sucks (big time!) but I think I'd change your away with the "fireplace" and just do a stone hearth/ faux chimney and a free standing stove...just no point in going to all the work/expense and then it doesn't even work well! Plus free standers are much cheaper, and you'd have almost unlimited selection too.
No catalyst. Why spend the money saved on reduced natural gas bills on a replacement catalyst every five or six years?
Because they work...and are not that expensive to replace...I'd rather do that than buy some uncertified POS!
Not having any EPA certification and testing is not only cheaper, it allows the sales department to make vague and often exaggerated claims of efficiency, output, etc.

For a big fireplace with a large fire-viewing window, there will be some tradeoffs like a bigger 8" flue. Otherwise, there could be side effects like smoke spillage when the door(s) are opened. A big firebox will require a larger flue.

For a contemporary look with a large window, take a look at the Valcourt Mundo II (FP12R).
They also make the larger Waterloo (FP15A), but that requires an 8" flue system.
Thank you everyone for the input so far.

I didn't think that free standing stoves had glass areas that large. I'd ask for some make/model(s) but it's not a good fit in the middle of the end wall of that room at this point.

I'm OK with flue IDs up to 10" but would prefer 8" or smaller. When I said I would like to avoid large flue IDs, I was referring to the 12s and 14s from companies like AcuCraft, which back when I stared my chase footing / foundation were not tested to UL standards (happy customer base surrounding the manufacturer who did not care about that). .....and that was not a typo. Back then, none of their models were tested to any UL standard by any lab, never mind EPA, but they built tanks that weighed thousands of pounds that I loved. Today, the models I would have wanted from AcuCraft are all discontinued and their present offerings are tested to UL and EPA standards but I'm not interested in any of them.

BeGreen, you're absolutely right: I originally took the Valcourt Mundo II off my list because it's so narrow, compared to those mentioned in my original post but surprisingly, the glass is just as large as the 42" wide units. I've pulled that one back in to my short-short-list because your comment made me see that fact and their "modern gravity vent kit" is among my favorites. However, I'm not a fan of it only weighing 427 pounds; I've always been of the heavier usually means something is built better mindset.
My problem with the Valcourt Waterloo is the lack of convection air knockouts on top. I don't know anything about this business but, based on dimensions, knockout locations, manual similarities, etc, it seems that the same basic box is also offered as the Empire Saint Claire 4300, the HearthStone WFP100, the Osburn Horizon, and the Ventis HE350. I rejected all of those because of the lack of top convection air outlet knockouts. It's a shame because they all look otherwise great. Funny how the same basic box winds up certified with all different complements of chimney pipe choices, isn't it?

So for now, my short-short-list has grown from two to three but I'm still terribly curious about the lager four units I mentioned in my original post; the Wilkening GranView, the Stuv 21-105 SF, the Stuv 21-125 SF and the Spartherm Varia M-100h. Does anyone know of any first-hand experience with any of these? Surely someone is tempted to throw out the old "Google is your friend" line right now. Believe me, I've looked all over and am most surprised that there's nothing on this forum about any of them. Some are mentioned here-and-there in presale terms but no mention anywhere in post-sale, post-installation experience.

Thanks again!
I’m curious - have you decided on a ZC fireplace? Which ones are on your short list?
Good evening Mr. Havermeyer,

If I understand all the various overall dimensions, required clearances and glass viewing areas correctly, most recently we’ve:

Added the Valcourt Mundo II because BeGreen brought to my attention how large the glass is, despite how narrow the overall box is on this one.

Removed the Pacific Energy FP30 Arch LE because of its tiny glass viewing area.

Removed the Stuv 21-125 because, where the existing studs land in the existing wall through which my new chase penetrates, the overall width of this box is not convenient; just like a ½” wider than would meet spec in my chase and associated wall penetration.

So that leaves:

Stuv 21-105 SF

Spartherm Varia M-100h

Wilkening GranView

KozyHeat Z42

Valcourt Mundo II

I would have very much liked to have the MagnumHeat Magnum ZC on my list but apparently government overreach got to it before I did (I spoke with them) but that’s a topic for another day (and thread, haha).

Some months ago I had the opportunity to speak with the gentleman that owns the Hydro to Heat Converter URL and he told me how, for many years up until three or four years ago, he was importing some of the hydronic units manufactured in Germany but the same sad factors completely wiped him out. My guess is that, when you remove the heat from the fire box so efficiently (as water would), it’s impossible to keep the emissions down to currently passable levels. ….or, the manufacturers just get tired of paying the certifying labs again and again to test to ever evolving standards and decide that it’s just not worth it for however many units of each model they might sell. ….except for the giants, who typically lobby for the overreach because it serves to wipe out their smaller competitors. This applies to any industry, not just wood burning appliances. Meanwhile, Europe is so much more crowded than the US but, for some reason, it’s fine over there; at least a hundred different hydronic models from more than a dozen manufacturers in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Italy, Ireland, etc. selling like hotcakes.