Sustainability of Heating with Wood

Save money and keep your home warm during the winter by heating with wood.

  • Heating With Wood
    Although heating with wood is not for everyone, those who are willing to gather, chop and season their own firewood can significantly reduce the cost of energy during winter.
    Photo by Fotolia/Mikhail Olykainen
  • Energy Generation Content
    The energy content inside of one cord or tonne of wood is significantly greater than what is contained within one kilowatt-hour, cubic meter or liter.
    Illustration courtesy Firefly Books
  • Heating Systems Efficiency
    Though some older models of woodstoves burned at less efficient rates, ranging from 35 percent to 55 percent efficiency, newer, CSA- and EPA-certified woodstoves produce less pollution and are 70 percent efficient.
    Illustration courtesy Firefly Books
  • Wood Heat
    “Wood Heat” by Andrew Jones is a practical, comprehensive guide to help you consider the issues associated with using wood to heat your home.
    Cover courtesy Firely Books

  • Heating With Wood
  • Energy Generation Content
  • Heating Systems Efficiency
  • Wood Heat

Want to heat your rural home without gas or coal? In Wood Heat (Firefly Books, 2014), author Andrew Jones provides a useful guide to using wood to heat your home. Jones dissects the environmental and economical upsides and downsides of heating with wood while providing advice and instructions that are necessary to help you successfully produce enough energy to keep your home warm during the winter. This excerpt, which discusses the sustainability of wood heating, is from Chapter 1, “Who Burns Wood?”

You can buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Wood Heat.

Environmental Impact of Heating with Wood

Wood is not a perfect fuel, but does such a thing exist? All energy generation and consumption by nature creates unwanted by-products, and impassioned arguments about the legacies of coal and uranium mining and natural gas and oil extraction are ongoing. Even famously “clean” energy sources like wind and solar power have been found to have a detrimental impact on the environment.

The biggest drawback and major environmental impact of wood burning is, of course, visible for all to see—wood-smoke pollution. Three aspects of this pollution are discussed and debated, sometimes hotly: nuisance smoke (caused by neighbors inefficiently heating their homes); air-shed contamination (caused by too much smoke produced in areas with a depressed topography, such as a river valley, which is prone to temperature inversions in the winter that trap smoke close to the ground); and indoor air pollution (caused by leaky or inefficient in-house wood-burning appliances).

There is no getting away from the fact that burning wood produces smoke, which is unhealthy to breathe in high concentrations. Even in low concentrations, it can be harmful to children, the elderly and people with lung diseases or allergies. Those who would like to curb wood burning in some communities point out that wood smoke contains toxic chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins as well as known carcinogens such as furans and acrolein. This despite the fact that a poorly fired backyard barbecue or a city bus can emit equally noxious substances.

The good news is that the new wood-burning technology built into today’s certified stoves goes a long way toward addressing all three aspects of wood-smoke pollution. Thanks to the four decades of research since the 1970s oil crisis, we know a great deal more about wood burning. Advanced-technology stoves, inserts, fireplaces and furnaces can reduce wood smoke by up to 90 percent when compared with older, so-called airtight stoves.

11/21/2014 5:01:42 PM

Sorry did not keep formatting. Bottom line Wood=$13.64 per MMBtu Oil=$34.98 per MMBtu

11/21/2014 4:54:11 PM

The article starts off with “ … firewood can significantly reduce the cost of energy during winter.” I only started burning wood a few years ago, and had to justify the cost of stove etc. to my wife, showing the savings advantage of burning wood over fuel oil. I stumbled on the Vermont public service site comparing costs per million btu for various heating fuels, for an apple to apple comparison. Retrieved 11/21/14 from: Comparing the Cost of Heating Fuels April 2011 Type of Energy BTU/unit $/unit $/MMBtu Fuel Oil, gallon 138,200 $3.87 $34.98 Wood, cord(green) 22,000,000 $180.00 $13.64 Kerosene, gallon 136,600 $4.22 $38.62 Propane, gallon 91,600 $3.37 $46.00 Natural Gas, therm 100,000 $1.55 $19.40 Electricity, kwh 3,412 $0.15 $43.46 Pellets, ton 16,400,000 $247.00 $18.83 Dividing BTUs per fuel oil gal into BTUs per cord will give approx. 160 gallons oil per cord of wood. Needless to say the price of the stove was recouped in a short period of time, burning 4 cord of wood per year.

11/12/2014 9:12:39 AM

CaresAboutHealth, your claims are as substantial as wood smoke. A quick search online shows that the Libby wood stove changeout reduced indoor air pollution by 72%. Right from the EPA website. You are full of wood chips on the topic of global warming, which this article was very clear on. Wood heating is the only carbon-neutral option, meaning it is the only one that doesnt contribute to global warming. So who do you work for? The coal industry?

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