Ferreil Furr drove down from Ashton to a store in Silver Spring and found a woodburning stove to put in his house this fall to cut his heating bills. He was tickled to death with it, he said, and sent a van and three men to pick it up.
They moved it into his barn for a few days and just as he was getting ready to install it in his living room, he read in the newspaper that he couldn't get a permit to do so unless the stove was approved by a testing laboratory.
He didn't see anything on his stove to indicate that it had been laboratory-tested, so he immediately called the store, which confirmed that his stove was not approved for installation in Montgomery County.
"You sold me a piece of equipment that I can't legally install in my house," Furr told the salesman.
"I'm sorry but we sell those stoves and people buy them," was the reply.
Montgomery County's one- and two-family dwelling code, adopted in 1977 as homeowners began turning to woodburning stoves to reduce their electric, gas and oil bills, requires residents to get building permits to install woodburning stoves. Permits are issued only for stoves that have been tested by Underwriters Laboratories (Ul), Building Officials Code Adminstrators (Boca), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) or a number of other national laboratories that test to a UL standard called UL 1482.
Prince George's County also requires permits and issues them for stoves that have been tested by one of these national laboratories.
A Montgomery resident who buys a woodburning stove is supposed to bring proof that the stove is tested -- such as a receipt and brochure -- to the Department of Environmental Protection on Executive Boulevard in Rockville, fill out an application, pay $10 and then call for an inspector when the stove is installed.
In Prince George's, the new owner of a woodburning stove must follow the same procedure, taking his documentation to the permits counter in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro. The fee is $15.
Few people do, and the rest run the risk of now only burning their house down with an improperly installed or unsafe stove, but also of voiding their fire insurance policy.
Furr's story ended happily for him after he threatened the store with legal action if it did not pick up the stove sitting in his barn. He then bought an approved stove, got a permit, installed it and had an inspector check the work. a
Tested stoves specify how far from the wall or other combustible areas the stove must be placed. In addition, some have beat shields on the underside and across the back of the stove, mesh over glass doors, and metal plates to deflect the heat from going straight up the chimney. In short, for each model of stove, testing laboratories require certain modifications that will improve the efficiency and safety of the particular model.
Betty Knight of Germantown, who was looking at woodburning stoves in a Silver Spring store, was asked if she knew she needed a building permit to install it.
"Really? I heard it was preferable to have one but I didn't know it would be illegal not to," she said.
"We are a bit disappointed that retailers aren't getting information to people who purchase the product," said Adrian Propst, a Montgomery County building code analyst. About 200 persons a year have applied for permits in the county since the code went into effect.
The Montgomery Consumer Affairs Office is distributing about 500 orange stickers to retailers advising buyers they need a building permit to install their stoves.
"Probably about 15 percent of the people get permits," estimated ACME Stove salesman Al Carroll.
"We're trying to impress upon people that they may void their insurance policy if they install a stove without a permit," said Paul Radauskas, superintendent of licenses and inspection for the city of Rockville. Rockville and Gaithersburg residents are subject to their respective cities' building code requirements, which are similar to the county's.
The good news is that more of the stoves on the market are laboratory tested. Carroll said that three years ago fewer than half were tested; today about 85 percent of the stoves ACME carries have been approved.
"We've posted signs in the store telling customers that we recommend they check with their respective jurisdictions for permit requirements. But some customers won't do that. They take short cuts to save money," said Sylvia MacGrath, merchandiser of woodburning stoves for Hechingers.
So why don't stores carry the tested, or listed, stoves? One salesman said that many of the new manufacturers riding the crest of the sales boom wanted to test the market before spending the time and money to get the model tested and labeled.
Pat Magnotti, cochairman of the Wood Heating Alliance -- a trade organization whose members include about half of the 400 coal and woodburning stove manufacturers -- and owner of three stove stores in Pittsburgh said that a slowdown in sales that began last January is part of the problem. Retailers would perfer to carry only listed stoves, he said, but they can't get rid of the untested stoves in their inventory.
"The demand is there but people aren't spending the money," he said.
"It used to be that the listed stoves were the more expensive ones and many retailers couldn't sell that kind of stove. They were forced to go to imported and domestic stoves that were cheaper. Now retailers are only keeping listed stoves," said Magnotti.
Sales of woodburning stoves have tripled nationwide since 1974 and the number of burns requiring hospital emergency room treatment has risen from about 600 in 1974 to 4,600 in 1979, according to the federal government's Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). It estimates that nationally about 8,000 to 9,000 fires start with wood or coal stoves, resulting in 100 to 130 deaths. The major cause of fires in wood stoves was improper installation.
The commission last month proposed labeling rules that would require that complete installation, operation and maintenance directions be permanently attached to the stoves.
The industry has some reservations that the rules, if adopted, would slow the trend toward laboratory testing, particularly if jurisdictions approve stoves that only comply with the CPSC rules and are not laboratory tested.
"We are concerned that CPSC doesn't require third-party testing to verify data on the label," said Carter Keithley, executive director of the Wood Heating Alliance."We have officially endorsed UL 1482 and encouraged manufacturers to test to that standard. The rules have the potential for undermining the independent testing program."
He said that more than 60 percent of the stoves on the market now are labeled as having been tested.
CPSU project manager Stan Morrow said, "All we're doing is telling them, 'Hey, you've got to tell the consumer how far from the wall to install the stove, and to check with local jurisdiction about building code requirements.' A large portion of the manufacturers tell the consumer little if anything."