TOWER—A tiny father-son company that’s operated for three generations in Tower has won a U.S. patent on a device that is completely transforming what the world long believed about the …
TOWER—A tiny father-son company that’s operated for three generations in Tower has won a U.S. patent on a device that is completely transforming what the world long believed about the burning of wood.
For generations, burning wood for heat has been associated with dirty emissions, that used to create environmental and public health impacts in many small and mid-sized cities where wood-burning was common.
That’s why many cities began restricting the use of wood-burning devices by the 1990s and why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually began to regulate soot emissions.
Those regulations culminated earlier this year with the strictest soot standards ever applied to wood furnace manufacturers in the U.S, which now allow emissions of no more than 0.15 grams of soot per hour. Those new regulations have forced many wood furnace manufacturers to cease production, but they have been a boon to Tower-based Lamppa Manufacturing, which has been working to design the most efficient and clean-burning wood furnaces for more than a generation.
That work has finally paid off as the company’s Kuuma Vapor-Fire 100 is now the only wood furnace that meets the strict new emissions standards put in place by the EPA. The company’s Vapor-Fire 200, a smaller furnace than the 100 model, is currently in the testing stages but is expected to meet the new standard as well.
Through computerized management of airflow, the Kuuma furnaces are true wood gasifiers, which allow for complete combustion, with air emissions and efficiency comparable to fuel oil.
The Kuuma furnaces have long been exceptionally clean. For decades, the company has marketed the furnaces as “smokeless,” and as much safer than traditional wood-burning devices because they don’t create creosote buildup on the inside of chimneys.
As early as the 1980s, Lamppa Manufacturing, then operated by Herb Lamppa and his son Daryl, had demonstrated through independent testing that the stoves were both highly efficient and clean burning.
They applied for, and received, a U.S. patent on their Kuuma furnaces back in 1989 but were unaware that the patent had expired after 17 years. That left the company vulnerable to a competitor copying their product, but with little emphasis on emissions control, it appears no competitor made the effort. But when the EPA announced its clampdown, improving wood furnace emissions suddenly became a matter of survival for some companies.
So, three years ago, Daryl began working with a law firm on the complicated task of renewing their patent, to include the numerous improvements he and his father had made to their furnaces since the original patent was issued more than 30 years ago.
The U.S. Patent Office issued the company’s new patent last month, just as the company is ramping up production of their furnaces from a new manufacturing facility in Tower’s industrial park. “The new building and the patent protection really serve to solidify our chance to succeed right here in Tower,” said Daryl. “This is exactly what my Dad,Herbert, envisioned and wanted.”
Continues to grow
Meanwhile, Lamppa Manufacturing is continuing to see record growth in sales, with 2020 sales topping all previous years for the company. For now, those sales are led by the company’s top quality sauna stoves. Those stoves aren’t subject to the same emissions standards as wood furnaces, but the stoves were built with the same emphasis on clean and efficient burning, and they’re now sought around the world. The company has recently shipped stoves to Norway and Sweden, and has another scheduled to go to Italy. Earlier this year, the actress Jessica Lange stopped by the plant to pick up her own sauna stove.
Operations manager Dale Horihan summed up the company’s current situation in two words. “We’re swamped,” he said, as orders continue to pour in for all of the company’s products, led by the sauna stoves. Furnace demand has also been steady, said Horihan, but he expects it will only grow as the economy begins to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
The company, which operated with just five employees a year and a half ago, is now up to 14 workers, including 12 in the shop. That includes five new workers brought on just since September. “It made us nervous bringing all those new people on board, but the orders just keep coming in,” said Horihan.
Horihan and an office manager are both needed in the front office now, just to answer the phones, which ring almost constantly. What was the old saying about building a better mousetrap?