To Burn or Not to Burn: Wood Burning Heaters

Generally, people think of burning wood as the villain of the renewable energy family. Although it is a renewable resource, it causes environmentalists to shake their heads. Mostly they worry that burning wood means cutting down precious trees for fuel and smoke pollution. Not to mention that wood stoves are not as technologically sexy as glittering solar panels and whirling wind turbines.

As much as some hate the burning of wood as an energy source, wood is a conditionally renewable fuel, period. And as all environmentalists and alternative energy aficionados know, there aren’t too many renewable options available–especially ones that aide in large amounts for the cold weather months. For some, relying on wood burning fuel as a source for heat is a must for survival.

There are many of us that would rather use wood burning heaters rather than electrical or gas heaters. For those select few, do your part for sustainability by purchasing wood that comes from a sustainable source. Firewood should be cut, split and stacked in an open area in early spring to be ready to burn in the fall. Very hard woods like oak may take longer to dry–especially in damp maritime climates. When it comes to burning other elements besides wood–steer clear. Burning waste paper and trash produces elevated emissions of toxic gasses.  Burn clean, dry, uncoated, untreated wood and just enough newspaper to light the fires.

Another tip for burning wood users:  the not so beautiful wood piles that include wood from less desirable species tend to be more sustainable than perfect piles of maple or oak with regular pieces in the classic wedge shape. This is because straight lengths of these high value, slow growing species should be used for furniture, not wood heating. Ugly wood piles are created from a milieu of woods.
The bottom line on the argument of whether or not to burn wood is the cold hard facts. Wood is considered to be a renewable fuel and almost carbon dioxide neutral with the help of trees absorbing CO2. When trees mature and fall in the forest and decompose there, the same amount of CO2 is emitted as would be released if they were burned. When we heat our houses by burning wood, we are flowing along with the natural carbon cycle in which CO2 flows from the atmosphere to the forest and back.

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