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Clearing the Air: Heat With Wood

Clearing the Air: Heat With Wood

Has the prospect of spiraling home heating oil and gas prices sent you into a tailspin about how best to keep your family warm this winter? If you can’t see the forest for the trees, consider those trees for warmth.

One hundred percent of my home is heated by wood. We have three woodstoves–one for the main house, one in a detached studio and one for a wood-fired hot tub. The crisp air and fall foliage usher in the beginning of the wood heating season here in the Northeast. The firewood has been seasoned, cut and stacked. Our stoves have had their seasonal safety checks and we’re all ready to fire those babies up. The only problem is this nagging feeling I have about heating with wood. At the beginning of the season, the first dancing fires with their radiating heat have such a relaxing effect. By the end of the season, I have had enough. Tired of hauling wood and cleaning up messes, I also have a flicker of doubt wondering about the impact woodstoves have on our environment. Here are some pros and cons.

PROS
Cost-savings after the initial outlay for the stove and wood (from sustainably managed woods) is great.
People who heat with wood do not contribute to fossil fuel by lessening their dependence on foreign oil.
Wood stoves provide light, warmth and ambiance, even when the electricity goes out.
New, high-efficiency wood burning stoves have little effect on climate changes. No more carbon dioxide is released than the natural forest would release if left untouched–less greenhouse gas emissions creating more heat and consuming less wood that emit fewer pollutants.
Buying local wood employs local workers and preserves open space.
Generally, wood stoves are easier to install than a furnace or fireplace.

CONS
Due to the population density of cities, many enforce wood burning bans to reduce air pollution.
Wood for stoves and fireplaces that don’t use sustainable wood are wasteful.
Ash and soot require cleanups.
It takes some extra time and effort to keep a fire burning.
You need safety provisions for children.
Wood heat sometimes irritates respiratory illnesses.

I moved over and became a full-fledged proponent of wood heat a few months ago after viewing the Pete Seeger documentary The Power of Song. Watching this 89-year-old man chop wood and load up his woodstove and then bask in the glow of its warmth was an inspirational moment. So much to admire about Pete and now this–a rich love and lifetime devotion to heating his home with wood. It was a wood-heating muse moment and I redevoted myself to finding a stove that fits my commitment to the environment and sense of style.

Since the stove that heats my house is a workhorse, it needs to be replaced every 15 years or so. It will soon be on its way to Freecycle. The old stove will be fine for augmenting a gas, electric or oil heating system by offsetting high costs but because of the amount of wood-burning we do, we need a more efficient burner soon.

Wood stoves have come a long way. The new wood stove designs that combine modern eco-technology with modern style are exciting. I particularly like the Scandinavian inspired models made by Wittus, Rais and Morso. Their longer lifespans also makes them more desirable than the older models.

As Pete croons, “If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.” For now, I’m reusing my woodstove one last heating season. Then I am moving on to one of those beauties above. Given the heating alternatives (with the exception of solar), clean-burning, efficient wood stoves might just be the thing to keeping your heating budget from going up in smoke.

Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.

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Ronnie Citron-Fink

Ronnie Citron-Fink is a writer, editor and educator. She has written hundreds of articles about sustainable living, the environment, design, and family life for websites, books and magazines. Ronnie is the creator of Econesting, and the managing editor of Moms Clean Air Force. Ronnie was named one of the Top Ten Living Green Experts by Yahoo. Ronnie lives in New York with her family.

20 comments

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12:05PM PDT on Mar 17, 2014

You absolutely cannot 'clean the air' by burning wood.
What is the matter with you?

11:54AM PDT on Mar 17, 2014

I sent the following to the BC Teacher Magazine, which did not print it. Too offensive for all those teachers like Ronnie who somehow know better?

I just attended the year end wind down for my old math/science department. There were retirement speeches, some gossip, food and a bonfire. Why the bonfire?

Maybe to counter my many letters against needless smoke. People did have to constantly move out of the smoke. Nobody roasted anything and the kids were jumping on a trampoline far away. The hostess complained that the fire needed to be stoked to lessen the smoke and the host carefully used a hose after our event to show safety.

There were two groups, one around the fire and the other away from it. I sat in the smoke and did not complain. I recalled how one teacher with fancy vehicles had once mentioned long ago that he was proud to save money by burning wood. And although people coughed in the smoke, was there any solid evidence of long term harm to health?

There was my lymphoma, because the nodes are storage sites for particles that the lungs cannot otherwise deal with, but cancer takes decades to develop. The Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) claims that wood smoke is 12 times more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke (http://www.familiesforcleanair.org/). Also google a legal case by Woodriver Elementary of Fairbanks, Alaska against nearby wood burners.
So I sat in smoky comfort that chemo can cure me again if necessary. I cost the BC Health system well over

8:35AM PDT on Mar 17, 2014

Burning wood is comparable to smoking tobacco. Both are proven killers, though wood smoke is far more concentrated and far more prevalent in outdoor air. Before the smoking bans, one could at least choose not to patronize smoking establishments. Now, with the wood burning craze at an all time high and growing, there is almost no clean air to breathe anywhere--even on our own property. See www.burningissues.org for the hard facts about wood burning. And enjoy a flame and fire of natural gas or propane--they are far more energy efficient and sustainable, and they don't send people with asthma to the emergency room.

8:57PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

This is insane. An article like this, promoting wood burning, on a site that claims to care for the health of people and the environment???
Shame on you for publishing this garbage. I have removed the link to your site from mine.

Shirley Brandie http://WoodBurnerSmoke.net

10:08AM PDT on Mar 14, 2013

Seriously, I think you are nuts to consider heating with wood. The health effects on your neighbors are egregious. Why not just go in their house and have a cigarette? It is amazing how stupid people are about this. http://burningissues.org/car-www/index.html

7:40PM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

The American Lung Association "strongly recommends using cleaner, less toxic sources of heat. Converting a wood-burning fireplace or stove to use either natural gas or propane will eliminate exposure to the dangerous toxins wood burning generates including dioxin, arsenic and formaldehyde” see http://www.lungusa.org/press-room/press-releases/cleaner-alternatives-for-winter-heat.html

The GFC has forced the Greeks to learn the hard way that burning wood is one of the most polluting, unhealthy things anyone can do. One fireplace can be as polluting as 1000 cars - http://www.grreporter.info/en/fireplace_pollutes_air_much_1000_cars/8814

New research by the IPCC also shows that methane and black carbon emissions from wood stoves cause more global warming than heating the same home with gas or a reverse cycle electric heat pump - http://woodsmoke.3sc.net/greenhouse

If there's only one thing you can do to improve health, or reduce pollution or global warming - please follow the advice of the American Lung Association and get rid of that wood stove!

6:56PM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

"clean-burning, efficient wood stoves " no such thing smoke is smoke and it kills. Why promote clean air and burn does not make sense
http://burningissues.org/forum/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=841

6:28PM PDT on Mar 12, 2013

"Clear the Air" by burning wood... that's like saying "Clear the air" in your child's bedroom by smoking a cigarette in there!

10:22AM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

I used to heat with wood, however not every fell tree is acceptable for burning. Eventually, I had to turn to purchasing wood for the stove. Not cheap either. Then there was the mess with the ashes, bugs in the wood. Chimney cleaning, possibility of fire in the chimney, lugging the wood indoors had gotten to be a problem also. I gave my stove away, and got a gas log insert. I still have the fire, more control over the temperature, lovely to look at, and no mess. It cost me about the same for the propane per year as it did to buy the wood. A whole lot less labor is involved.

4:04PM PDT on Apr 8, 2010

I use wood from copse thinning and forest management. I also use Dura logs and compressed cardboard logs when I can afford to buy some. I love a wood fire, the dancing flames and cozy warmth is wonderful.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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