Feel good about heating with wood

There may be those who mistakenly think that wood is an old fuel on the way out. But some traditions are worth maintaining. Like close family bonds, a healthy community, and the rewards of hard work.

Just because wood is a traditional fuel does not mean it should go out of fashion. Wood is a natural fuel, and by using it, you stay in touch with the earth’s natural cycles. You also gain an awareness of the environmental impacts of your energy use.

When you buy firewood, the money you spend does not go to a large utility outside your community, region or even province. It tends to stay close by, circulating within your community and strengthening the local economy.

And there are few things more satisfying than building a natural wood fire on your hearth, then sitting back to delight in its beauty and soak up its warmth. You can feel good about heating with wood in several different ways.

Img5-woodlotThink of firewood as solar energy stored in trees.Yes, wood heating is environmentally appropriate

Did you know that by heating your house with wood, you are taking a stand in favor of the environment? It’s true, heating your home with wood does not contribute to the greenhouse effect the way fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal do. When oil, gas and coal are burned, carbon that has been buried within the earth for a million years is released in the form of carbon dioxide, a by-product of combustion. The result is an increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the main cause of the greenhouse effect.

Although carbon makes up about half the weight of firewood and is released as carbon dioxide when the wood is burned, it is part of a natural cycle. A tree absorbs carbon dioxide from the air as it grows and incorporates this carbon in its structure. When the tree falls and decays in the forest, or is processed into firewood and burned, the carbon is released again to the atmosphere. This cycle can be repeated forever without increasing atmospheric carbon. Heating with wood, therefore, does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Moreover, when wood energy displaces the use of fossil fuels, the result is a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Wood heating and the forest

If the destruction of tropical rain forests causes global warming and if planting trees in Canada is a good strategy to control greenhouse gas concentrations, then how can using wood for home heating be justified?

Good question.

The answer lies in the natural cycle of growth, maturity, decay and re-growth of trees and forests. A healthy forest is not a museum, but a living community of plants and animals. When trees are used for energy, a part of the forest's carbon "bank" is diverted from the natural decay and forest fire cycle into our homes to heat them.

The key to ecologically sound and sustainable wood energy is to ensure that the forest remains healthy, maintains a stable level of variously aged trees and provides a good habitat for a diversity of other species, both plants and animals. You can do your part by insisting on firewood that is harvested using sustainable forestry practices. Ask your fuel wood supplier about the origins of the firewood and make it clear that you are concerned about the sustainability of our forest resources. And finally, don't demand a load of perfectly uniform pieces; there are better uses for long, straight logs than burning them.

Getting the most from your firewood

tiedpostendssIt's natural. It's renewable. Heck, it grows on trees!One of the great things about wood heating is that you are in control. There are steps you can take to conserve fuel and produce less smoke. For example, by buying your firewood early and storing it out in the open to dry for at least the summer, you’ll get more heat for every dollar you spend. Also, make sure the wood is sized correctly for your stove, fireplace or furnace – both the length and diameter influence the quality of burn and ease of use. If you have access to them, burn softer woods like poplar, aspen and birch in the fall and spring and save the more valuable fuels like maple and oak for the coldest part of the winter.

If your woodburning appliance is older, you might want to take a look at the new generation of wood heaters. The stoves, fireplaces and furnaces that are certified as having low smoke emissions by the U.S. EPA are also about one-third more efficient than the older models. By choosing your firewood carefully, by storing it to dry properly, and by burning it in an up-to-date appliance, you can reduce by almost half the amount of wood needed to heat your house. And you’ll be doing the environment a favor at the same time.