- Why Wood?
Burning a fire during the winter months is a time honored tradition yet antiquated structural designs resulted in too many pollutants and unsafe particulates being released in the air. In recent years, stricter government regulations set forth by the Canadian and US governments insist that fireplaces and wood stoves be redesigned so they’re safer for the environment. Improved designs have made it safe and effective for wood to continue being used as a renewable heat source. Wood pellet stoves are also efficient heating systems and demand for pellets is surging in Europe because burning wood for energy is renewable. Two other fireplace designs that could also have a neutral impact in the environment are electric fireplaces and bioethanol fueled fireplaces.
Electric fireplaces boast the benefit of plug-and-play technology. They are stand-alone units. They include a mantle and generate a significant amount of heat, although not enough to heat an entire house or office building. They do, however, create the ambiance of burning wood in a fireplace, making them an easy way to heat a home or office building. However, because electric fireplaces rely on the electricity, by running one frequently, your electric usage would spike and you could expect to see a higher electric bill on your next billing cycle.
If your home or office building’s electricity is powered by a renewable resource, like solar panels, wind, biomass, hydro, or geothermal, then using electric fireplaces to heat your home or office building could be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. The fuel required to heat that building is renewable because it would replenish and regenerate itself indefinitely. Otherwise, you’d be growing your dependence on nuclear powered power plants that depend on uranium, and uranium is not considered a renewable resource.
Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from biomass. The main benefit of using any kind of gas powered fireplace is that they require no chimney and they’re easy to maintain. Combustion fumes are let out through a hole in the wall and those fumes have a minimal impact on air quality. There are no logs to split, ashes to bag, or chimneys to clean. Although gas fires produce more heat than bioethanol fueled fires, when bioethanol burns, the flames are more lively and have been said to “dance” more than gas powered fires. If your space to heat is small or you want the aesthetic experience of dancing flames in your fireplace, and you care about using a renewable energy to fuel your fireplace, bioethanol is worth considering.
Wood is a renewable resource and burning logs, either in a fireplace, a wood stove, or pellet form, is a time honored tradition. There are other types of renewable fuel sources used in fireplace technology to create the desired ambiance without increasing your carbon footprint, especially if your home or office building’s electricity is powered by solar panels, wind, biomass, hydro, or geothermal technology.
Like a fireplace, a popular home or building heating system is a wood stove. Many people buy wood scraps from pallet yards to burn in these units. Like a traditional fireplace, using a wood stove to heat a home or office building has been a time honored tradition for decades. However, older wood stove units are being phased out across North America because governments have determined that their designs emit an unsafe amount of particulates into the air, causing air pollution.
Traditionally, wood stoves have been used as a space heater inside a home or building. Like a fireplace, their systems don’t include ducts that push the warm air throughout the house. In fact, a chimney isn’t always required, as in some cases the smoke can be redirected through a hole in the wall. Wood logs, or cordwood, are burned inside the enclosed stove and the heat generated is usually enough to heat the main room of a home or building. However, according to the Wood Heat Organization, because more buildings have been modified to conserve energy, it’s possible to heat an entire home with a wood stove if it’s placed in the right location.
Older models of wood stoves were susceptible of releasing excessive pollutants into the air and leaking smoke into living area, causing health concerns for people around the world. The American Lung Association has advocated for wood-burning stoves to be redesigned to limit harmful emissions and in the United State, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded. As of 2015, wood stove manufacturers are required to redesign wood stoves so they reduce harmful emissions by 70 percent over the next five years. Local governments, however, may still enforce stricter standards.
The government of Montreal in Canada has taken that approach. In Montreal, residents were required to register their wood stoves and wood burning fireplaces and as of October 1, 2018, they’ll be required to replace them with equipment that meets higher emissions standards of 2.5 grams of particulate released to the atmosphere per hour. Residents can either replace their wood stoves or modify them so they meet these standards. If residents refuse to comply, they will be subject to fines.
In Ontario, Canada it’s estimated that more than 500,000 homeowners use wood stoves to heat their homes. Ontario is expected to offer financial incentives to residents to replace older models of wood stoves with more efficient models that will release fewer pollutants into the air. Another anticipated benefit is that never stove models would burn less wood to conserve the valuable resource.
Although the older models released an unsafe amount of particulates into the air, newer models have been redesigned for cleaner emissions, allowing wood to be used as a clean, renewable heating resource. Depending on your location, your local government may offer a credit or other incentive to update or replace your wood stove.
Wood is a renewable resource and burning it to heat your home in the winter is a time honored tradition that has been practiced for centuries. The relaxing ambience created by a fireplace during the colder months is something people seem to enjoy innately. However, antiquated heating systems used technology that, although provide the ambiance, release an unsafe amount of pollutants and air particulates into the air. In recent decades, technological advances have allowed for safer, more efficient ways to heat buildings and while enjoying the warmth and glow of natural fire.
Open-faced, radiant, wood burning fireplaces with a chimney are unfortunately a very inefficient way to heat a home or building. Fire cannot burn without oxygen and in traditional fireplaces, the chimney absorbs air from inside the home, heats it, releases it up through the chimney, and replaces the warm air from inside the building with cooler air from outside. Traditional, open face fireplaces like this are considered inefficient because they simply don’t do a very good job at heating a home, unless you’re standing right next to the fireplace.
However, there are ways to make traditional fireplaces more efficient and safe.
Additionally, open face fireplaces without doors make it easy for smoke and air pollutants to enter the main living area of a building. Inhaling these particulates over a long period of time could degrade the air quality inside of a home and cause health problems. A good rule of thumb is, that if you can smell the smoke, you’re inhaling it and other harmful particulates, and is a good indicator that your fireplace should be upgraded.
Unlike fossil fuels like coal and oil, wood is widely accepted as a renewable fuel because once a tree is cut another can be immediately planted in its place. When trees are harvested from forests, the logs are sent to sawmills for processing and the trimmings known as biomass – the branches, stems, and leaves – are the biomass used to make energy. One way that forest biomass is converted to energy is by making wood pellets. Like other recyclable wood products, wood pellets have a carbon-neutral effect on the environment.
Wood pellets are made of compacted sawdust that have had the moisture extracted from it. Newer pellet stoves have very low particulate emissions and require electricity for power. Their high density and low moisture content create a high combustion efficiency, making them an effective and clean source of energy. According to the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, in addition to using byproducts from the processing of wood products, the industry also makes pellets from low grade lumber that has defects, disease, or pest infestation.
Many governments consider wood pellets to be a renewable energy resource. Demand for wood pellets has increased substantially, especially in the European Union. In fact, in December of 2016, Demark converted its largest power station from being powered by coal to being powered by renewable wood pellets. The government believes this change will help the country meet their climate targets.
In recent years, North America has become the primary supplier of wood pellets to the European Union. A report published by the US Forest Service suggests that the Renewable Energy Directive has increased demand for wood pellets in Europe. According to the report, the Directive “requires a 20 percent contribution from bioenergy to the energy use of all EU Member States by 2020.” Moreover, because the EU requirements were extended through 2030, this could have an even greater impact on wood pellet consumption.
The surge in demand for wood pellets in the EU is heavily supplied by the south-eastern United States. According to the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, the reason North America supplies Europe with its pellets is that North America has significantly more forestland than Europe and our forests are sustainably managed. In the past six years, to meet this demand one Maryland-based biomass company, Enviva, invested $214 million USD and opened five wood pellet mills. According to Biomass magazine, at least four additional plants focused on exports are scheduled to open in the southern United States. By the end of 2017 the industry is expected to create 160 permanent jobs.
North American winters are typically the time when many folks spend money making their homes comfortably warm. Utility bills and expenses often spike during the winter but there are several things that can be done to mitigate those expenses. Some ways to reduce your utility bill cost money but over several years, those investments will pay off. However, there are many ways to reduce your utility bills that don’t cost any additional money.