Home heating is one of our biggest winter expenses, and the topic of much conversation at the local coffee shop. Most New Brunswickers use electricity, oil or natural gas for heat. But perhaps it’s worth taking a closer look at wood.
Wood heating systems have come a long way over the past few decades, with big improvements in efficiency and emissions. Years ago, they were huge and inefficient, eating up wood and spewing out smoke. Today, clean and efficient stoves, fireplaces and furnaces are legitimate and neighbour-friendly options for homeowners.
Better, cleaner systems
Let’s start with wood stoves. A decade ago, “airtight” stoves were the best available. But since wood needs a supply of air to burn cleanly, airtight stoves tended to produce a lot of smoke. Today’s “controlled combustion” stoves produce a lot less smoke and other pollutants, so they won’t stink up your neighbourhood. They are more efficient too, burning up to one third less wood according to Natural Resources Canada. If a stove has been rated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you can be sure that it’s one of the best.
If your home has a fireplace, an insert is a good way to turn what’s typically an energy drain into a heat source. EPA-rated fireplace inserts are available, with the same high-efficiency performance as modern stoves.
Pre-fabricated steel fireplaces are a heating option for new homes: they are efficient, and can be built right into a wall without any need for brickwork.
Of course, some things haven’t changed: for any of theses options, you’ll still have to buy and store your wood, and then lug it in to keep the home fires burning.
Pellet stoves are a convenient heating choice, and they’re becoming more popular. Instead of using raw wood, they burn pellets made of wood and waste wood. The pellets come in large bags, and are poured into the stove’s hopper. From there, they are fed into the fire slowly, providing a very steady and controlled burn.
Pellet stoves are a bit more expensive to buy, but have some great advantages. They’re so efficient they don’t require an EPA rating. The fuel is clean, easy to handle and available through retail stores. And the comfortable, steady heat means there’s no need for everyone to change from t-shirts to sweaters and back again.
Beyond stoves, EPA-rated pellet furnaces and boilers are available too, with the capacity to heat an entire home.
There’s another good reason to choose wood or wood pellet heat: it’s our made-in-New Brunswick heating solution. It’s a great way to keep dollars in our own province, instead of spending them on imported oil, coal and natural gas. Recent shutdowns in the forestry industry mean that we have even more fibre available.
You can buy a cord of wood just about anytime, anywhere in the province. And as the demand for wood pellets grows, more pellet plants are being planned or built; Nashwaak Valley Wood Energy’s operation is scheduled to open just north of Fredericton this spring.
Better for the planet
Here’s one final big advantage to using wood heat. Unlike fossil fuels, wood is carbon neutral so it is not a contributor to the buildup of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. It’s true that wood does produce carbon dioxide as it burns – but that carbon dioxide is absorbed back by our forests as they regrow. In contrast, the burning of oil, coal and natural gas releases carbon that has been locked away under the ground for millions of years into our atmosphere. Wood heat can lower the winter demand for electricity, saving lots of oil and coal at our power plants.
The fine print
If you plan to install or upgrade to wood heat, be sure the equipment you buy has the proper certifications and is installed by a qualified professional. Check with your insurance company before doing any work to see if your changes will have any impact on your insurance. You can find lots of excellent technical information at www.canren.gc.ca and www.epa.gov/woodstoves.
Today’s wood heat – clean, efficient, good for the planet and good for New Brunswick. Perhaps it’s worth a closer look for your home.
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Carl Duivenvoorden is one of two Atlantic Canadians trained by Al Gore to deliver live presentations of “An Inconvenient Truth”. He lives in Upper Kingsclear, and can be reached via his website, www.changeyourcorner.com.
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