> Is using a wood fire to heat being Green?

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Is using a wood fire to heat being Green?
Last updated 1:02 pm, Wednesday 30th June 2010

So is burning wood in a fire to heat your house being green or not? This article looks into the 'burning' issue and tries to cast some light on the issue for those trying to work out whether to keep or throw out their wood burning stove.

The environmental impact

So what does burning wood in a stove actually do to the environment? There are three main areas to be considered:
  • The air pollution produced from the actual act of burning the wood;
  • How the air quality inside the building is effected by the act of burning the wood, and;
  • The environmental impact of the act of collecting the wood to be later burnt
Lets examine each of these in turn.

Air pollution

Burning wood 'straight' produces a lot of smoke with complex chemicals that can be unhealthy if breathed in. Basically the wood smoke contains a lot of unburnt elements from the wood that get carried away before they can be burnt off themselves.

Now if one uses a high efficiency wood stove that manages the wood burning process to encourage full combustion of the wood and the gases it gives off - the actual smoke produced consists of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, a few other trace gases, water and a some trace hydrocarbons. Basically these emissions are a lot more environmentally friendly compared to 'straight' wood burning, plus a lot more heat is recovered for your use.

Building air quality

Of course if your stove is 'open' to the internal environment then any gases that don't go up the flu will go into the building; such gases can be bad for your health. Obviously if you have a stove which is closed, this problem is reduced, and if that stove is designed to not 'gas out' into the room when opened then you won't have any problems.

Wood collecting environmental impact

Obviously the further the wood is sourced from where you burn it the higher the consumption of fossil fuels used to deliver it to you. Ideally you want to be growing your own wood, cutting it, seasoning it and then burning it if you can to minimize that usage of fossil fuel.

Climate impact

So does burning wood have an impact on the climate? Actually, if one looks at the bigger picture it does not...  How so?  Well wood contains carbon that was taken from the atmosphere when the tree was growing; so by burning the wood you are only returning to the atmosphere the carbon the tree initially captured during its life. This is basically a variation on the natural cycle of carbon usage that occurs in nature.

Fossil fuel usage, on the other hand, is releasing carbon that has been 'in storage' for possibly millions of years in a short space of time - so compared to the natural rate of carbon turnover this is an artificial injection of carbon en mass into the environment. So actually burning wood in an high efficiency stove is essentially carbon neutral.

In conclusion

Basically, if you have stove which is high efficiency in its wood burning and the wood is locally sourced, then yes, burning wood can be very green indeed.

Can you be even Greener?

Yes, you can!
  • Install heat recovery coils in the chimney or surround to capture otherwise wasted heat and use it to heat water to either heat the rest of your house or just heat your hot water for you
  • Install a heat transfer system. Basically a vent is installed in the ceiling from the room where the stove is to a room you want to heat. A fan is then used to draw the hot air into the other room.
  • Always remember the amount of heating you need is directly proportional to the degree of insulation you have in the rooms you want to keep warm.

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Related Tags: heating, fire, global warming

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