Many of you have been following the great gas stove controversy (who actually decides which of the many health/environment/climate enhancing ideas to generate campaigns about?). Perhaps wood stoves are on the list. Perhaps they’re next.
It’s 0 F this morning where I live, so I’ve been thinking about our woodstove. It’s cheaper than propane and gets rid of waste wood, and that’s all I really need to know for now. But..
I ran across this article by some folks with the Census Bureau, published in 2018, with data from the 2016 census.. see the table above.
As I looked around, it wasn’t always clear who uses wood heat and who uses it as a primary source. Seems like many more folks would use it as a backup. But I’m not sure that there is literature on this.
Here’s what the American Lung Association has to say about that as of Jan. 3, 2023:
As the weather gets colder, thoughts of curling up with a mug of hot cocoa in front of a roaring fire become more appealing. Though indoor wood-burning stoves and heaters may have a quaint and traditional feel, they also produce harmful toxins that could damage your lungs and affect the air quality.
So, before you throw another log on the fire, it is important to understand how wood-burning devices work and how to protect your family’s lungs:
Health Effects Caused by Wood Smoke
The smoke from wood-burning devices, such as stoves and heaters, contains fine particle pollution, and hazardous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides benzene and formaldehyde. Particle pollution is especially dangerous because these tiny particles can get deep into the organs, harming not just the lungs, but also blood vessels, the heart and brain. Wood smoke can cause coughing, wheezing and asthma attacks, and lead to serious health issues, such as heart attacks, stroke and premature death. Wood smoke also adds carbon dioxide and methane to the air, both of which significantly contribute to climate change.
Protecting Those at High Risk
Wood smoke is not good for any set of lungs, but it can be particularly harmful to those with vulnerable lungs, such as children and older adults. Additionally, those with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are also more affected by wood smoke. Breathing the smoke can easily cause coughing and asthma attacks.
Outdoor Pollution Created by Wood Smoke
Wood stoves often run 24 hours a day, pumping wood smoke and toxins into the outdoor air. If wood-burning stoves or heaters are affecting your neighborhood’s air, take steps to protect your family: encourage children, older adults and those living with lung disease to remain indoors; use the recirculate function on air conditioners; and keep windows and vents closed.
Finding Wood Alternatives
To reduce indoor and outdoor pollution from wood-burning devices, switch to cleaner devices such as natural gas stoves and heaters, and make sure they are fully vented to the outdoors. If you are unable to switch, use pellets and dry hardwood for a cleaner and more efficient burn. You can also buy a cleaner wood-burning device. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency adopted new standards for cleaner and more energy efficient wood-burning devices in 2015. Many devices currently meet the 2020 standards and have hangtags showing this certification.
This winter, make changes to your wood heater and stove so you and your lungs can enjoy a cozy evening.
So burning wood “contributes significantly to climate change” and natural gas is preferable- because it doesn’t have smoke, indoor or outdoor. For whatever reason, I don’t think people who use wood from fuel treatments (otherwise burned in the atmosphere in piles) are included in the Lung Association’s thinking on this.
Otherwise, I can see where they are coming from. Some of us live in urban areas where there is too much wood smoke. But…many of us do not. I think it’s good to be aware of the dangers, especially to people with breathing problems, but, on the other hand many people can’t afford to keep switching out heat sources,either more current wood stoves or other heaters. Further, having wood as a backup allows us to have heating diversity in case of price rises in either propane or electric rates. It seems important at the home level to not be locked in to one source of energy, especially as our sources are transitioning. Especially in parts of the country where heating is a matter of life and death.
Meanwhile, this report from the Guardian talks about what you can do to reduce the impacts (the Guardian is located Great Britain).
The government is phasing out the sale of wet wood, which produces more smoke, but the people in the study used only dry, seasoned wood. Wood and coal burning in homes is estimated to cause almost 40% of outdoor tiny particle pollution, but the new research is among the first to analyse indoor pollution in real-life settings. Almost 16% of people in the south-east of England use wood fuel, and 18% in Northern Ireland, according to 2016 government data, and about 175,000 wood burners are sold annually.
“Our findings are a cause for concern,” said Rohit Chakraborty, of the University of Sheffield, who led the study. “It is recommended that people living with those particularly susceptible to air pollution, such as children, the elderly or vulnerable, avoid using wood-burning stoves. If people want to use them, we recommend minimising the time the stove is open during lighting or refuelling.”
Wood burners cause less indoor pollution than open fires. “But every time you open the door, you reduce the stove to an open fire and particulate matter floods into the home,” he said. The peaks take an hour or two to dissipate. “But by the time it comes down, someone opens the door again to refuel and you get spike after spike,” Chakraborty said. Some burners have filters, but these only reduce the pollution being vented outside.
Meanwhile as of November of last year (according to this pro-woodstove UK site)
The use of wood-burning stoves is growing in popularity in the UK, especially so with the advent of highly efficient Ecodesign stoves and, more recently, with the growing instability of gas and electricity prices, people have found the idea of self-sufficiency very appealing.
That article rounds up what countries in Europe are doing. Like I said, these folks sell woodstoves. Still it’s interesting what they say about countries in Europe, for example…
The Netherlands – Like with other countries, there is a rush to buy firewood in preparation for the winter. The rush for wood in The Netherlands usually starts in September, but due to the war in Ukraine, people started this rush in July, according to one wood supplier. The Netherlands aims to ban fossil fuels for new heating insulations from 2026. This could mean an increase in Ecodesign stove sales – renowned for their green credentials. We already supply a number of our stoves to The Netherlands.
Poland – Due to the spiralling price increases in gas and electricity, there is a shift towards burning wood in Poland. This is the same for several other nearby countries. However, Poland is far less affluent than many of the aforementioned Scandinavian countries, and so a key driver for using wood to stay warm is financial.
Any other ideas for minimizing impacts without buying new stoves or switching heating sources?