Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wood Burning Stoves - A Sustainable Option?

A friend of mine was over for dinner several weeks ago and our conversation turned to wood burning stoves as he and his wife were building a new house, with plans to install a wood burning stove.  Apparently this topic has been a hot one with his friends and family so I thought it would be useful to discuss it further.

Is burning wood bad for the environment? NO.
When looking at how we contribute to an unsustainable society - one of the things we humans do is burn fossil fuels for transport, heating, cooling, cooking and electricity generation.  The result is an increase in carbon dioxide that we emit to the environment.  Burning fossil fuels uses heat energy from photosynthesis but this resource has been buried for hundreds of millions of years and is not currently part of the carbon cycle. By digging it up and burning it, we are creating excess carbon dioxide emissions which push natural cycles out of balance because essentially we are adding a NET introduction of carbon dioxide - we are overwhelming natural system's ability to absorb and store these emissions.

Wood is a renewable resource and is already part of the natural carbon cycle - therefore whether it decomposes on the forest floor or we burn it as fuel, it will release the same amount of carbon back into natural systems.  The heat energy comes from photosynthesis - trees use sunlight to create food needed to grow, in combination with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When you burn wood, it releases the energy (as heat) and carbon dioxide back into the environment. 

That being said, wood burning for heating your home needs a responsible approach:

Burn sustainably harvested, properly processed and seasoned fuel in an advanced combustion stove or fireplace that is vented through a chimney that runs straight up through the building.  (
From, they suggest the following for responsible wood heating:

Process properly: wood is cut to the correct length and split to the correct range of sizes for the appliance.  Having wood the right length and range of size makes it easy to build good, clean burning fires.

Properly Seasoned: fuel is processed in the spring and stacked in an area open to sun and wind for the summer.  You cannot burn without smoke if you are using wet wood.

Sustainable harvesting: involves selective, uneven age cutting so that an acceptable level of biomass and biodiversity is maintained permanently on the site.

Can I burn wood on an open fire in my home?  Yes and... there are disadvantages like smoke, extra effort to keep fires going, less efficient burning and potential for sparks and ash to damage home interiors.  Use Advanced combustion stoves and fireplaces which burn wood about 90 per cent cleaner and one-third more efficiently than older conventional appliances.  That means a lot less smoke outside and lower forest impacts because less wood is used.

Wondering if wood would work for you? 
Visit the following page for Wood Stove Safety Instructions  and the space required to install a wood burning stove safely.


J√łtul (Norwegian Fireplace Maker) offers a Fuel Calculator for your use

Tracy Lydiatt - B.Sc, M.Sc
The Green Families Guru

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