Why heating with wood is good for our economy and our environment

Published Tuesday, September 13, 2016 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

I’m a big fan of using wood and wood pellets to provide heat and hot water.  Here are three reasons why.

1. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions

It’s no secret that our planet is warming.  2015 was the warmest year on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2014.  2016 is poised to be even warmer: every month this year has been the warmest on record.

Much of the warming is due to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) – primarily carbon dioxide – from our burning of oil, coal and natural gas.  When humanity began using fossil fuels during the industrial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was 275 parts per million (PPM); today, it’s 404 PPM, or nearly 50% higher. 

True, carbon dioxide is also produced when wood and wood pellets are burned – but it’s absorbed back by the next generation of trees as part of our planet’s longstanding natural carbon cycle.  When we burn fossil fuels, we’re taking carbon that has been locked away underground for millions of years and adding it to what’s already in our atmosphere, throwing the natural carbon cycle out of whack – and that’s the problem. 

So using wood and wood pellets instead of any kind of fossil fuel for space heating and hot water is a good thing.  Using wood and wood pellets instead of electricity is good too, since much of our electricity comes from fossil fuel-fired plants.  

And how big a difference can wood heat really make?  Here’s my own testimonial.  In 2008, our home was heated by electric baseboards, and our winter power consumption peaked at about 2500 kilowatt-hours per month in mid winter – five times our summer consumption.

In 2009, we installed a low-emissions wood stove, which provides our heat and some hot water.  Since then, our winter power consumption has peaked at about 700 kilowatt-hours per month.  Our power bills are way lower too.

The bottom line?  Wood and wood pellets are effective, carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil fuels and electricity.

2. Wood & wood pellets are homegrown fuels

In 2015, NB Power spent $826 million on imported electricity and fuel – mostly oil and coal.  That’s over $2 million sent out-of-province every single day – money that’s hard to earn back.

In contrast, wood and wood pellets are homegrown fuels.  Every single dollar spent on them stays here, keeping neighbours employed and local businesses operating.  They offer not just energy self sufficiency, but economic self-sufficiency too.  

And well managed forests can meet our energy needs in perpetuity.

3. Properly burned, wood & wood pellets are clean

Air quality is a critical issue, but most air quality problems commonly associated with the burning of wood and wood pellets can be avoided if three basic guidelines are followed:

  • the right equipment: choose high-efficiency EPA-certified appliances to minimize air contaminants, and make sure they are properly installed.  Ensure they are sized correctly; undersized equipment will not generate enough heat to provide comfort, and oversized equipment will likely end up being operated at low temperatures, reducing efficiency and increasing pollutants. 
  • the right fuel: almost any species of tree can be used for firewood as long as it’s dry – ideally, cut, split and stacked for at least a year.  Inadequately dried firewood uses much of its energy to evaporate the excess moisture it contains, and produces more smoke and pollutants.  
  • operate correctly: generally, hot fires burn very cleanly and smouldering fires are dirty and inefficient.  In shoulder seasons, it’s better to burn a quick, hot fire than a slow, smouldering one.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s downloadable Guide to Residential Wood Heating provides excellent information.

So – if you’re looking for eco-friendly, comfortable, homegrown heat, wood and wood pellets are excellent choices.