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.
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.
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.