Are Wood Burning Stoves Ecologically Sound?

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Wanting to get away from using fossil fuels to heat your home is certainly a good idea. The high cost of fossil fuels, plus the idea of using a non-renewable energy source to warm your home is unattractive, so finding viable alternatives such as heating with wood can be a good idea – if it’s done correctly.

Since ancient times, wood fires have been used for heat. The earliest of these were open fires in pits. Fireplaces emerged in recent times as a way to heat homes, but while they are lovely to watch, and do throw some heat, much is lost into the atmosphere – this is not efficient for home heating.

Wood burning stoves are a more recent development for home heating. They come in a range of sizes and shapes, with varying heat outputs that are usually measured in kW. Typically made of cast iron or steel, they can be utilitarian or quite ornate. Modern wood burners are about 75% efficient, meaning that about 75% of the heat goes into the room, while about 25% is lost to the atmosphere. Ultra modern pellet burning heaters are another way of using wood for heat, and a very efficient one.

Wood as a fuel is classified as “biomass” or “biofuel”. This means that the source of the fuel is organic. The best kind of wood to use if you have a wood-burning stove is wood that is seasoned ideally for at least two years in a dry place. It must be free of paint; preservatives and nails as these can all emit harmful gases when burned.

Wood pellet burners are increasingly popular and very cost-effective. The pellets are made from the by-products of sawmills. Both wood in the form of logs and wood in the form of pellets are essentially carbon neutral. It is true that carbon is released when wood is burned, but wood left to rot also releases carbon. As a renewable resource, living wood and newly planted trees will be able to sequester much of the carbon released in the burning or decay process. One note – you should never cut a tree down just for the sake of burning it.

Modern wood burning stoves and pellet burners are built to be environmentally friendly and offer an alternative to using non-renewable fossil fuels for heat. Certainly, any fuel, whether it is coal, or wood will have some impact on the environment as it is harvested, transported and used for fuel. Wood however, is at least renewable, and in many cases needs only to be transported a short distance to it’s final destination.

If you are considering using wood for home heating, be sure to thoroughly check out the stove or burner you intend to use, and be sure that the wood you are using is well-seasoned (it burns much more efficiently). In terms of saving money and probably helping to save the environment, wood can be a good heating alternative.

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