What Distinguishes Wood Heating from other Energy Options?
If you happened to read the most recent energy discussions and debates about global energy concerns, you might think that wood heating doesn’t even exist. The majority of environmental activists and policy makers don’t even discuss it’s benefits. Even worse the majority of attention wood heat does attract in the media is largely discussing concerns about air pollution. As a consequence, wood heating has often been reported as a problem to be dealt with, rather than an opportunity to be pursued. Almost all governments do not advocate using wood as a fuel source for homes. It seems as if it’s one of the only renewable energy sources they don’t feel happy to talk about.
The fact that wood heating is continually ignored by policy makers and criticised in the press demonstrates that policy, which typically focuses on urban areas and large cities, fails to consider all locations and lifestyles. Additionally, the fact that no big multi-national companies are invested in wood heating means that there has been very little lobbying in the company of high profile politicians and legislatures making the argument for wood burning. Therefore, even though wood heat continues to be utilised by millions of households throughout the country, it continues to go under-reported by the media and policy makers.
In the modern, hyper-convenient world, wood heating is a refreshing change, since it’s labour intensive, rough and highly manual. Families who opt for wood heat often appear out of touch with the modern age amongst them. Are these people who choose to take a step back into a time gone by? Or have they discovered something incredibly beneficial not reported by the regular Joe?
The suppliers and users of wood burning technology are partaking in an arrangement that actually decreases the net greenhouse gas emissions while the majority of people speculate the implications of global warming. The wood-heat households utilise one of the most ancient renewable energy sources, reducing the strain on already stretched sources and increasing costs of dirty fossil fuels. The users of wood fuel also support their local economies by making purchases of wood in the community. The truth is that they understand far more about the impacts of energy production and usage than most others who make a monthly payment to their utility company. The highlight of wood heat in the present day is that modern, everyday families are making the choice to invest in their future.
Opting to warm your home using wood is more than just a simple heating choice. It is a lifestyle choice that signifies a willingness to become self-sufficient, instead of giving into the convenience and idleness of the modern age. Choosing to heat with wood helps build a closer relationship with the environment and bow to the seasons of the year.
To the outside a woodlot may be viewed with disdain, since it is often seen as a place of destruction, but to the owner it is alive and a place that requires careful and caring management. The woodlot caretaker constantly assesses the state of their trees, watching them change throughout the generations. The woodlot owners family reaps the monetary benefits of providing a renewable fuel to the community. This is an extremely delicate way to produce energy in contrast to the harsh excavation required to extract coal.
Firewood is the ideal fuel source, it offers value for money, is easily accessible in many parts of the country and is a truly renewable energy. The environmental affect of burning wood is easily monitored by all with visible smoke emissions, helping users to monitor their use and take responsibility.
However, with so little attention from policy makers and others standing up to defend fuelwood, households who choose to heat with wood could, before long, be hit with obstructive limitations. The groups and individuals who want to see wood burning restricted are gaining momentum and an increasing number of governments are seeing wood heat an as a pollution issue to be resolved, rather than a renewable energy that requires reform.
A Popular Energy Source
Wood is undeniably an essential fuel resource for properties throughout the country, especially in urban locations. With more than 11 million families, around 10 per cent of the US utilise wood heating as their primary heating source, or to work alongside other types of heating.
With a drive around the country roads and woodland regions, piles of firewood next to homes is a sure sign that firewood remains a key energy source. Each year during the winter trees are cut for logs and come spring split and stacked to allow them to dry in the sun. By fall, it is transferred to the house to be piled up again and during winter households use it as a means of heating. It is a annual cycle that has occurred for a millennia.
Fuelwood is more than a simple energy choice, it is a renewable energy source that helps to support the local community and the make finances go further. Despite this, many groups and campaigners are attempting to have wood fuel banned due to air pollution and many also highlight that with increasing firewood use, their is an increasing threat looming over the future of our forests.
The need for a fair debate of firewood for home heating is belated. This article aims to investigate how wood heating impacts communities, their health and welfare of its users and how it impacts our environment. It also discusses the issues associated with wood smoke air pollution and the impact on our woodlands and forests.
Wood Smoke Air Pollution
The air pollution associated with wood burning is perhaps the most concerning criticism against wood fuel, therefore it’s the perfect place to begin.
The concerns about air pollution due to wood smoke caused by household wood burning has been a hot topic since the revival of wood heat in the 1970s. Wood smoke contains hazardous substances including toxins and carcinogens and has substantial health implications if inhaled in large concentrations. It is particularly harmful to children, the elderly as well as individuals with allergies. The type of wood smoke emitted can be categorised into three major types, these include smoke emissions from neighbors, airshed concentration that occurs when too much smoke is emitted in a restricted areas such as basins or valleys, and indoor air pollution resulting from wood heat appliances.
During the oil crisis that occurred in the 1970s, the politicians heavily provided support in favor of utilising firewood as a home heating method. Back then it was viewed as viable way to decrease dependence on oil companies. Despite that, over the decades since has seen a gradual rise of new policies that have failed to promote wood heat. Support for wood heating in government policy has declined and firewoods old status as a renewable energy source are never discussed. Today the only time wood burning seems to be discussed in policy is with regards to its air pollution contributions and it’s never promoted as a positive means of heating.
The main arguments made by government officials and non-profit organisations have typically highlighted the toxic chemical components of smoke pollution. They underscore the most toxic compounds including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and furans. There is a tendency for them use fear mongering buzz words without offering very much context, which can be quite difficult to understand to the layman. For instance, it would be more useful to contrast and compare wood smoke pollution to other types of emissions, such as normal fossil fuel appliances or the average auto-mobile, which would also cause concern. Policy makes continue to justify making statements that can trigger a lot of fear amongst the general public and continue to list toxic chemicals found in wood smoke, but this could easily be viewed as a means to discourage individuals to choose wood heating. This asserts even more scepticism when you realise how much criticism other types of energy sources attract by public officials.
The purpose of this article is not to discredit the environmental effects of wood burning or try to put the focus onto the pollution of other energy sources. Yet, the need for a fair review of the pros and cons is needed when policy makers attempt to criticise and assess energy sources. Frequently, organisations or individuals who have concerns about wood heat use conveniently disregard or completely fail to discuss the reality that all energy sources, including renewable energy, still have an affect on the environment. Therefore, to isolate and criticise any single energy resource without providing context or balance is unfair and not likely to persuade the general public.
The air pollution caused by wood heat is critical in certain locations, and for this reason it is essential that the public receive balanced views to help educate and inform them, which in turn will help them to mitigate these risks. In order to help raise awareness, the public should be fully aware of the three types of smoke pollution – airshed, nuisance neighbourhood smoke and indoor air pollution. All three of these need to be tackled through healthy policy and not mere criticism, in the form of public education and if required, regulations. Moreover, governments should be aware that wood heat users in general are very sceptical of any government involvement in private home heating practices.
Modern Heating Appliance Technology is More Efficient
Today, things have progressed tremendously and appliances such as wood burning stoves have seen an increase in efficiency, which is a result of energy abundant smoke being utilised and not wasted. Traditional wood stoves had a efficiency ranging from 35 to a huge 55 for the 1970s new and improved models. However, the majority of external wood furnaces were less than 50 per cent efficient. Amazingly, things have moved on a lot since then, and today EPA certified stoves average around 70 per cent efficiency with no models below 60 per cent.
The innovation in wood stove technology has led to a new species of modern low-emission appliances that consumers can benefit from instantly. This has also resulted in a reduction in firewood usage of up to 35 per cent in properties that have swapped to modern EPA certified stoves. This technology has the potential to be used by households in close proximity to sustainable forests and woodlands. Moreover, the fact that modern properties are more efficient means that there is less of an impact on wood resources. Combined, the strides made in wood burning efficiency and the advancements made in housing energy efficiency can result in approximately double the amount of homes that can be warmed with a specific wood amount contrasted to just 30 years ago.
Community smoke concerns are a cause for concern, with outdoor wood-fired boilers (OWB) attracting a considerable amount of complaints. These appliances are often large, metallic box structures that deliver heated water via pipes to buildings, have earned a reputation for producing a thick black smoke. Various rural communities and small towns have brought in various legislation and by laws restricting their use in various ways, from preventing installation of them completely, or by defining where they can be built in proximity to other properties.
The reason that this issue exists with central heating furnaces, boilers and OWBs today, is that they were exempt from EPA legislation back in the 1980s, with the idea that they were uncommon and therefore did not warrant any legislation. But today they are all very popular in the US and as a result new emissions testing has been enforced resulting in improved and more efficient models. Although, still not perfect by any means, the EPA continues to update the air quality and wood heat emission rules, so further improvements are bound to be made in the near future.
Is Wood Heat Sustainable?
Those who demean wood heat regularly argue that if people turned to heating with wood, air pollution would increase and the woodlands and forests would be obliterated to keep up with demands. Largely, this logic is ridiculous, since firewood is a poor urban energy option and best utilised in rural regions. It’s true that those who are the biggest advocated of wood heat would never claim that is suitable for everyone.
Many regions in the US are sparsely populated and contain large woodlands and forests. Such areas are where wood heating is a great choice. Forestry managers have themselves made the case that wood heating could realistically increase by 50 per cent in various US states without any stress on the trees. The reality is that forests have to be managed in order to be kept healthy, the methods to achieve this are rarely discussed, but include: age-selective harvesting, removal of poor quality trees and thinning of densely populated areas.
Unfortunately, there have been many cases where sustainable forest management has been completely disregarded in favor of profit. Many farmers, for example, have put profit first by clear cutting their woodlands and using the land for crop production. Some unscrupulous people have even made money from buying woodlots, stripping them completely and selling the land off once depleted. These individuals do bear title of a woodlot owner, but by no means help to sustain the land they manage.
Many agree that a carefully-managed and healthy woodlot can provide half a cord of wood per acre per year indefinitely – one cord being a pile eight feet long, four feet wide and four feet high. This means that a 20 acre woodlot could provide adequate firewood to heat a household for 2 years. Perhaps that advice is quite dated and not very accurate, it is still referenced by many critics and supporters. The truth is that due to the innovation of new and more energy efficient properties and EPA certified stoves, it would likely require much less than 20 acres. In fact, some studies have present evidence showing that the most efficient homes can be kept warm with as little as 1.5 cords of wood.
Regardless of the many benefits of firewood, it is not the ultimate way to resolve issues with energy costs and green house gas emissions. Firewood is not advised for heating in all locations and regions of the US, for instance, urban and inner city areas, since the emissions are typically higher than other types of heating, and the air pollution in these areas already tends to be quite high due to vehicle and industry emissions. Moreover, the space required to store firewood can be substantial, and in many regions fuelwood costs are too high to justify making the transition from traditional fuels. Even so, heating with wood requires stamina and a level of knowledge to be successful.[
Comparing Firewood to Conventional Heating Sources
Firewood is completely different to conventional types of fuel, since it’s consumers are far more active in its processing and transportation. Those who use oil, gas or electrical fuel sources to keep their homes warm are usually only active in paying a monthly energy bill and perhaps monitoring their thermostats. Therefore, any comparisons between firewood and other types of fuel is likely misguided, since it does not consider the associated transportation, labour and other benefits of wood heat.
Families thinking about making the transfer to wood heat may find it helpful to learn how much they could save in comparison to other types of fuel, which should be evaluated just like any other purchases are. The concern here is that the cost-benefit evaluation of firewood cannot just boil down to money. Since the costs of fossil fuels continue to rise year on year, it’s quite easy to make the case that if you are located in a rural area with a good amount of woodland, then you would most probably be able to save money on heating. However, how can you calculate the other costs of wood heating?
- The maintenance required to keep your home and garden free from the chaos associated with firewood, such as bark, dust and ash
- The labor and physical exertion required to process firewood, from the cutting, logging and storing
- The extra space needed to store your firewood in or outside of your home
- The patience and time required to manage your fire, such as loading more firewood and ash removal
Other advantages are just as difficult to analyse in financial terms:
- The atmosphere and charm of a wood burning fire as a focal point of your home
- The accomplishment of knowing your provide the heating for your household
- The peace of mind knowing you are protected from the price increases of energy companies and power outages
- The natural and comfortable warmth produced by a wood burning fire, as opposed to stuffy convection heaters
Many websites provide price comparison calculators for various types of energy. The way they figure these costs out is quite convoluted, taking into consideration property type, fuel type, appliance efficiency and local energy prices. Although, these methods are inaccurate, since they only take in account the heating of an entire property at a constant temperature. This type of analysis doesn’t take into consideration the wood heating appliances that are used to heat only part of a property or as a secondary heating source. For example, if a wood stove is used instead of a central heating system, then this can result in average energy savings of as much as 30 per cent, whichever type of fuel is used.
Firewood Use Today
Today wood heating has changed tremendously from the old and antique stoves of yesteryear that were inefficient and messy. The efficiency of wood stoves today has increased by 50 per cent and thanks to the EPA continues to climb. Modern stoves don’t create the thick black smoke they used to. Chimney design and efficiency has also improved. Standards for almost all heating appliances have been improved and many are now apart of routine building code regulation. US training and certification was brought in across the board for chimney sweepers, chimney installers, wood heat manufacturers and inspectors. Today, there are a well-established set of rules and regulations for both professionals in the industry and homeowners. Public information and guidelines are now also more well promoted, produced in conjunction with industry and policy makers.
As well as the improvements seen in safety and appliance standards, such as wood burning stoves, that are the most used type of wood appliance, have become far better designed for the mass market. Wood stoves are now available in a wide range of different styles to suit every decor and consumer, from the more traditional antique styles to the ultra-sleek and contemporary wood stoves.
Today there is a wide range of EPA certified wood stoves, as well as direct-vent fireplaces for those who prefer a more flush appearance.
As well as the new regulations and standards, there have been two major technological innovations made in wood heating that have perhaps made the biggest changes. These include the ceramic glass, which can now withstand extremely high temperatures. This put at an end to stoves where glass shattering was always a potential hazard and now wood stoves doors breaking is a very rare occurrence.
Another innovation that changed the face of wood stoves was the glass air wash technology that uses air for combustion via a thin section above and below the glass panel. This air is much cooler than the gases produced via combustion and the air maintains a strong barrier between the glass and the fire, acting to prevent to build up of creosote and soot on the glass. Most modern wood stoves and pellet stoves have these glass air wash systems built-in, which help to keep the glass clean and clear for long periods of time. This innovation has meant that clear viewing of the fire through the safety of ceramic glass is now something most stove users take for granted.