How to Burn Wood Responsibly
There has been a lot of criticism regarding the harmful effects of wood-burning, but it is a practice that many consider an environmentally friendly method of heating your home when in a fireplace or stove. The difference between wood-burning being good or bad for the environment is dependent upon two factors: smoke pollution and deforestation. When the wood being burned is sustainably harvested and the amount of smoke from a fire is minimized, wood-burning is a responsible choice.
Deforestation is a valid concern, but the U.S. has made a lot of progress toward ensuring that tree harvesting is offset with aggressive re-planting efforts. Sustainable wood harvesting involves being selective about the trees being harvested so that as trees are cut, an acceptable level of biodiversity and biomass is permanently maintained on the site.
According to many foresters, heating with wood could increase by 50% or more in many areas without placing undue stress on the forest resource. The key is for forests to be managed sustainably, which takes into account uneven-aged selective harvesting, removal of poor quality trees, dense stand thinning, leaving standing dead trees to be used as wildlife habitats, and leaving seed trees of all present ages and species.
Burning the Right Wood
The type of logs on the fire have a lot to do with how environmentally friendly a fire will be. The logs need to be properly processed, which means that they are cut to the appropriate length and split to a range of sizes suitable for the appliance. When the wood is the correct size and length, building fires that are clean-burning is easy.
Burning the right wood begins, however, with being properly seasoned. It usually takes between six and nine months for wood to dry. It must be split and stacked in a place where the sun and wind can both get to the logs, and the wood needs to be protected from the rain. The different types of wood require different lengths of time to dry out, and there are some logs that need a full year to dry out naturally.
If the wood is not seasoned, it contains too much moisture. There is a lot more smoke when you burn green wood because the fire can’t burn efficiently. More energy goes toward burning out the moisture than toward producing heat.
Using an Efficient Appliance
Traditional fireplaces have a dismal 10% efficiency level, which means about 90% of the heat goes up the chimney. There are many advanced fireplaces and combustion stoves available, however, which burn wood much more efficiently and 90% cleaner. When you burn wood with a modern appliance approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the results is lower outdoor emissions, and another benefit is a smaller chance of having to deal with smoke spilling into the home.
Wood stoves have benefited greatly from modern technology. An excellent way to convert a traditional, inefficient fireplace into an environmentally friendly appliance is with catalytic or non-catalytic fireplace inserts or wood stoves. A catalytic stove has chambers which increase the fire’s combustion rate and actually burn the smoke. A non-catalytic wood stove also has better combustion, but it occurs inside the firebox. These are just two examples of the many modern wood-burning appliances available today.
Maintaining the Chimney
Chimney maintenance is another part of the equation in managing to burn wood responsibly. If a chimney isn’t cleaned or inspected, it’s possible that using the fireplace could cause a dangerous chimney fire. If the flue lining is cracked, combustible materials in the home could ignite. A chimney that is not properly maintained can’t function at an optimal level and could be a danger.
Responsible wood burning is not difficult to achieve. For more information about efficient wood-burning appliances or to schedule a chimney inspection and cleaning, contact our chimney professionals.
Chimney Solutions, Inc.
1155 McFarland 400 Drive, Alpharetta GA 30004