Heating With Wood: Why Wood Heat Is Renewable Energy

A leading wood-heat expert explains in epic detail why wood is an essential energy resource.

  • Heating with wood
    EPA-certified woodstoves cut wood smoke by up to 90 percent compared with older, so-called “airtight” stoves.

  • Heating with wood

John Gulland’s involvement with wood burning began in 1974 when he built a woodstove for his own home. Since then he has gained professional experience in virtually every aspect of heating with wood, including product design and manufacture, retailing, standards development, policy and market analysis, laboratory research, professional training and writing. Most recently he helped launch The Woodpile, an advocacy project attached to the popular woodheat.org website. 

By any measure, wood is an important residential energy resource, especially outside large urban areas. More than 10 million U.S. households — a little less than 10 percent of the total — use wood as their main heating fuel or to supplement other heating fuels. More than 25 percent of Canadian households are heating with wood.

A drive through small towns and down country roads in forested regions confirms that fuelwood is a significant energy resource. The long rows of piled firewood standing in yards serve as proof. Every winter, the wood is cut from woodlots, and every spring it’s split and stacked to dry in the summer sun. In the fall it’s moved to the house and stacked again, and in winter it keeps families cozy warm. It’s a seasonal ritual, that has been recurring for generations.

Firewood for home heating is an indigenous, renewable energy resource that helps families stretch their household budgets and strengthen their local economies. And yet, an increasing number of vocal activists are clamouring to have wood burning banned from their communities because of air pollution, and even some environmentalists warn against the increased use of firewood, fearing negative impacts on our forests.

A balanced assessment of firewood for home heating is long overdue. This article explores how burning wood contributes to the prosperity of rural communities, to the health and well-being of their inhabitants, and to the environmental sustainability of our society. It also tackles the problems of wood-smoke pollution and forest resource impacts.

Smoke Emissions

Wood-smoke pollution is the most serious negative result of wood heating, so it’s best to deal with it first.

Charles Horsken
10/18/2019 8:04:37 PM

I first started heating my entire house with wood in 1970 with a Jotul 118. I am still using that same stove to heat my camp in the early spring and fall. Dry seasoned wood, from my own property and the work to get it ready is my GOLDS gym. I am 78 and still heat my home, here in NH with a wood furnace, a 1787 Farm house using a Scotsman indoor wood furnace from Nova Scotia controlled by a thermostat. It is in the basement, no mess upstairs, I put about 2 weeks supply in the gantry, refilling it every two. I keep a chord in the basement in case we get snow. I have used that since 1981. replacing the original one after 25 years. I have a 85 acre certified organic farm, half forest, some pasture the rest for growing. I have ba back up gas stove in the summer kitchen and an oil burner connected to the hot air and the wood furnace for when we are away. Could not think of any other way to heat my home, constant heat, the warmth of a stove in the room and all that heat going up into the house. Wood heat is AWESOME

3/7/2010 2:07:13 PM

Bat, wood heat is green. Like everything else in life there is doing it right and doing it wrong. A properly combusted wood fire will produce no more particulates than oil or NG. Properly combusted you get steam and CO2, unfortunately most, even EPA approved items don't. Even then if you look at the net environmental effects of the energy sources wood comes out way ahead.

3/7/2010 1:50:14 PM

jgulland replied to my concerns by quoting Dr. Anthony Trofymow "I think that for upland temperate forests any methane production from wood decay termites is likely balanced by methane oxidation in the soil by methanotrophic bacteria and thus there is likely zero net release of methane from wood decaying in upland forests." Methanotrophic soil bacteria do not jump into the air and digest the methane there. They do work on the methane produced by the degradation of the stump and roots of a tree and subsoil organics. Speaking from DIRECT experience methane builds up in many slash piles especially during wet seasons, and both the last 2 summers have been very wet in NE Ontario, and when the slash piles are in swampy terrain, somewhat common as they are used to fill and support equipment movement. Mr Trofymow and I are thus speaking of 2 different sinks. Once the methane enters the atmosphere It will have it's negative effect. If he is indicating that the natural migration of air through the soil allows the soil organisms to clean out the methane I would appreciate specific references to journals and articles to support this contention. I am well aware that methanotrophic bacteria exist and how they work, I very much disagree they provide balance in human disturbed systems.

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