How Good is Burning Wood?

Oct 5, 2010 by

With a good part of the country entering the heating season, fireplaces and woodstoves that have been inactive for months are about to be put to use again. If you’re part of the green movement, it’s logical to question the green value of burning wood. Does this age-old activity help or hurt our quest for more sustainable living? The answer (as you probably guessed) is “it depends.

Firewood qualifies as a green “biofuel” in many parts of the country –especially in rural northern areas with plentiful forests. When harvested sustainably, it’s a renewable resource, and when you buy firewood from a local supplier, you’re supporting the local economy. That’s a lot better than buying fuel oil or natural gas sourced halfway around the world.

The grey area in this green discussion has to do with how cleanly wood is burned. Burning wood the old-fashioned way, in an open fireplace, scores high on romantic ambiance but very low on energy efficiency and air quality. Wood that is wet or not properly seasoned won’t burn efficiently, and will put harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. The only sure way to burn wood cleanly and efficiently is to use an EPA-certified wood stove or fireplace insert, and to burn only dry, well-seasoned wood.

Does this mean that you need to stop using your fireplace and invest in an EPA-certified wood stove? Not if you just use the fireplace occasionally, and don’t depend on it to heat part of your house. But if you’re interested using wood as a fuel to keep your house warm, a good-quality wood stove would be a smart investment. Here are a few other tips you can use to get the most out of heating with wood:

  • Buy a right-sized wood stove. Have an experienced wood stove dealer help you select the right EPA-certified model for your space.
  • If you don’t cut your own firewood, buy it from a local supplier who harvests firewood sustainably.
  • Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood. Don’t burn household trash in your stove.
  • Make sure the woodstove is safely installed. Adhere to the clearances and specifications provided by the manufacturer. Make sure to have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a licensed chimney sweep at least once a year.
  • Consider installing ceiling fans to help distribute the air warmed by your stove.
  • No matter what type of heating system(s) you use, improve your home’s overall energy efficiency by having an energy audit done, and by making at least some of the improvements recommended as a result of the audit.

Contact Dr. Energy Saver today for  energy saving tips and more ways to reduce energy bills.

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