For some households, heating with wood is a smart, sustainable option. Learn about the benefits and costs of using a woodstove to heat your home.
The significance of wood heat as an energy resource can be seen during a drive through small towns or down country lanes: The long lines of piled firewood in the yards prove that heating with wood remains a viable option.
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Every winter, people who choose to heat with wood devote time to cutting up logs, and every spring they split the logs and stack them in rows to dry under the summer sun. In fall they move firewood to the house and stack it again, and in winter they burn it to warm their homes as they begin cutting again for the next year’s supply.
Why do so many households in forested areas choose to heat with wood — a bulky, messy and labor-intensive fuel source? Firewood is a homegrown energy resource that helps families stretch their household budgets, strengthen their local economies and continue a generations-long tradition.
Wood Heat: Understand the Pros and Cons
During tough economic times, more people turn to heating with wood. The U.S. Energy Information Administration data released in October 2012 projects that more than 2.6 million households will heat their homes with wood this year, which is a 3 percent increase over last year.
Yet the topic of fuelwood is all but missing from energy policy debates — few politicians discuss its merits or plan for its strategic use. (Industrial wood energy, however, is getting some attention. A recent report from Duke University points out that advanced wood-combustion technologies can be used to cleanly burn wood to generate electricity. The report shows that this renewable power source could be quickly developed to provide more power in the United States than we currently get from hydroelectric sources. To learn more about this report, read Cleaner Energy From Firewood.)
Wood heating mostly attracts attention when people discuss pollution. Wood smoke has caused real problems in small towns and large cities throughout North America, and an increasing number of activists clamor to have wood burning banned from their communities because of its associated air pollution. Some environmentalists warn that an increase in firewood use would damage forests. As a result, wood burning has become more often identified as a problem to be solved rather than an opportunity to be harvested. Fuelwood is a renewable energy resource that most governments — and even some renewable energy advocates — don’t seem comfortable with.
It is not my intention to trivialize the environmental impacts of wood heating or to deflect concerns by emphasizing the pollution from other energy sources. Wood-burning technology has greatly improved over the past 25 years, however, and I believe wood heating should remain a part of our energy discussions. For example, upgrading to an advanced woodstove can reduce a household’s smoke output from wood by as much as 90 percent!