How successful was Libby wood stove exchange? Not very.

Libby, Montana is often showcased by the wood stove industry as a successful example how replacing old stoves with new ones (and educating people about better burning) can make a real difference.

But if Libby was in Canada, it would still exceed our air quality standards every single year. Is that ‘success’?

As Libby was known to exceed US air quality standards, and as wood heating was responsible for 80% of the area’s PM2.5 emissions, a wood stove exchange program was implemented in 2005-07. 1200 uncertified stoves were replaced, mostly with new stoves. The program cost US $2.1 million, over half coming from government.

While air quality did improve somewhat, every year Libby’s annual average PM2.5 still exceeds Canadian standards and BC’s air quality objectives for maximum levels of PM2.5.

Had the $2.1 million been spent on transitioning people to non-wood heating appliances, the reduction would have been guaranteed to be far greater and the community much healthier; now that would be something worth showcasing!

Additional research from another community in the US also found that while an exchange program helped reduce PM2.5 levels, the community of Keene still exceeded what is acceptable in Canada. The annual average of the community between 2011-2017 (after the exchange program was completed) was 11.1 ug/m3. Canada’s limit is 8.8.

The report “Assessment of a Woodstove Changeout Program on PM2.5 Levels in Keene, New Hampshire, U.S.A.” highlights that transitioning homes to non-wood heating would achieve greater reductions:

“The experiences in both Keene and Libby suggest that woodstove changeout programs can be an effective way to reduce PM2.5 in places with widespread woodstove use and prone to wintertime inversion events. It also suggests that, like in Libby, a woodstove changeout program will only go so far to reduce PM2.5 levels and that additional improvement may require transitioning away from wood heating altogether (Ward et al., 2010). With that in mind, new changeout programs should consider higher incentives for homeowners to transition entirely away from wood heating in these communities.”

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