Why burn firewood?
Like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power firewood is a renewable energy resource. To adequately respond to the ever expanding needs for power, we need to start using more renewable energy sources and less oil, gas and coal. Provided that wood is burned efficiently, heating with wood can be an essential part of the solution. These days burning wood efficiently is not difficult to do.
Non-renewable fuels such as oil, gas and coal release the carbon they contain in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. Burning wood also releases carbon when burned but its use is almost carbon neutral (from a historic perspective) because trees absorb CO2 as they grown. When trees fall in the forest and decompose they release the same amount of CO2 as if they were burned. In other words, rotting is slow oxidation, whereas combustion in a wood stove is fast oxidation, with heat as the main by-product. When considered over the normal tree life cycle of about fifty years, heating with wood can be considered almost CO2 neutral.
When heating our houses with wood, we are simply tapping into the natural carbon cycle in which CO2 flows from the atmosphere to the forest and back. When wood is burned as a substitute for fossil fuels, the result is a net reduction in CO2 emissions. For every cord of wood used for home heating instead of oil, more than a tone of carbon is kept out of the atmosphere. Plenty of households in rural areas and small towns could easily cut their carbon emissions by four tones each winter by substituting firewood for just two tanks of fuel oil.
Old style wood stoves could heat a house just fine but they wasted wood and made a lot of smoke. Since 1990 a new generation of wood stoves, furnaces, and heating fireplaces certified by the Environmental Protection Agency have been available. These advanced technology wood burners generate about ten percent of the smoke of old style ‘airtights’ and burn about one-third less wood to get the same heat.
Done responsibly, heating with wood can be a great way to be kind to the environment. As an added bonus, firewood usually costs a lot less than the traditional fossil fuel alternatives.