I’ve been heating with wood for 28 years and cooking with wood for 4 years now. Although I’m happy with wood as a heat source it is not without problems. Each family must weigh the pros and cons and make their own decision about what’s best in their unique situation. However, some of the objections that I’ve heard, do have easy solutions, so if you hold to one of these objections, don’t let an easy fix keep you from enjoying the benefits of wood heat and cooking.
1. Cutting trees is unethical.
Using wood for fuel doesn’t mean that you have to cut live trees in the wild in a haphazard way. There are ample dead-falls, and standing dead trees in most forest areas. These trees rot and fuel forest fires and by harvesting them you are helping the forest. Live tree cutting in a sustainably managed wood lot is also ethical and good for the earth. Fast growing species like willow can be managed on a rotational basis to provide fuel logs — trees are coppiced and harvested every 5 to 8 years. The live tree remains in the ground, continuing to grow in a coppiced woodlot.
2. Indoor Air pollution is increased by burning wood.
Burning green wood creates smoke which increases the particulate matter in the house. Inefficient combustion through using a damaged appliance, burning green or treated lumber, or inadequate draft due to creosote build up in the chimney, cause an increase in particulate matter in the house. This can cause breathing difficulties, increase asthma and other lung diseases.
To minimize indoor air pollution, burn seasoned, untreated wood. Keep the chimney free of creosote build up by cleaning twice a year. Keep the appliance and chimney in good working condition. Make sure your chimney installation goes straight up from the stove to the roof, to create a good draft and minimize dangerous creosote build up.
3. Chopping wood is extra work
Its a lot of work to haul wood, split it, season it and then carry it into the house. “Heating with wood heats you twice” is the old saying. It warms you once when you bring the wood home and the second time when you use it as fuel.
But it is also work to earn the money to pay for the electricity or natural gas to cook with. The rule of thumb is that for every dollar you spend you actually need to earn two — to compensate for the extra expenses of working and the extra taxes that you have to pay for the privilege. Using wood for fuel can save you money if you live in an area where wood is ample and inexpensive.
4. Its inconvenient.
Waking up in the morning, turning on the electric stove and getting your coffee going (we perk ours), and turning up the thermostat is easy. It uses fossil fuels, unless your power is hydro-electric, (ours is) but some fossil fuels are necessary in modern life. Electrical generation has the highest carbon footprint of any home heating option.
Hauling wood into the house, lighting the stove, getting the appliance heated up so that you can put on the coffee pot takes work. The payback comes when the utility bill shows up (still too high?), and when the house is warmed by the radiant heat and the chill is out of the air.
Dipping into the water reservoir all day long and taking boiling water for tea is a luxury that offsets the inconvenience of waiting for the wood stove to catch that first burn in the morning.
5. Its expensive to heat with wood.
Heating with wood can be expensive — the expense comes from the initial purchase and installation of the appliance — you can double the cost of the wood stove when you add the cost of installation and chimney into the purchase. Outlay for wood varies from free to $120 a cord around here. Your costs may vary. A cord of seasoned wood costs more than a cord of green. Hardwoods cost more than soft woods. Check out fuel costs before you invest in a wood burning appliance.
Costs can be amortized against the number of years that you use your appliance — average life span is 15 years for a wood heater and 30 years for a wood cook-stove. Put that against the cost of cooking and heating that you have now to see if it is worth it to you.
When we lived near Vancouver, our old farm house was heated with an oil furnace. 30 years ago, it cost us $300 every 6 weeks to refill the oil tank. We bought a Regency Close Clearance wood stove and had it professionally installed with a double insulated chimney. We had to buy all our wood, delivered and split. But our wood-stove paid for itself within 2 winters of use. We had to replace it after 15 years with a new model.
6. Wood heating is messy.
Heating and cooking with wood is messy. There’s no getting around that. Wood fuels are natural and organic and they leave a trail of debris. A broom fixes the problem indoors and outdoors a rake helps. The mess can be used as mulch on the garden or composted. Its a carbon source.
The ash pit needs to be cleaned out regularly — once a week to once a month, depending on the size of your woodbox. This leaves another trial of debis. The ash is potash, rich in potassium and if you are burning untreated, seasoned wood, is a very good garden amendment — beets love it.
7. I live in an apartment.
Apartment living is not conducive to heating and cooking with wood. You can’t clean the chimney. But if you live in a mobile home wood heating and cooking is doable — provided that there are no stipulations in your lease agreement against it.
8. Wood storage is a problem where I live.
I hear you. To store 8 cords of wood takes up a lot of space. Sometimes you can make arrangements with the guy you buy your wood from to store your wood for you. Or start making your plans to move to the country, where space is no longer an issue. ;^)
9. My insurance doesn’t allow for wood heating appliances.
Some insurance companies penalize you for heating with wood or cooking with wood. Some insurance companies double the cost of your insurance for each wood burning appliance that you have. Others don’t. Shop around if this is important to you.
Your insurance company will insist that your wood appliance is your secondary source of heat and that you must have a primary source of heat. We don’t have natural gas where we live so we have electric baseboard heaters as our primary source of heat. They don’t get used but they are installed.
10. Heating with wood increases global warming.
Wood fuels give off less carbon when burned than they take in during their growth period. This is a negative carbon foot print. The heat effect dissipates quickly from your home and is no different than heating your home with other fuels. When wood is seasoned and your catalytic converter is optimized there is no extraneous particulate matter to increase your carbon foot print. Take wood from a managed woodlot on your own homestead and you have a very small carbon footprint for your wood burning appliance. In a 1998 paper prepared for the U.S. EPA and Air Waste Management Association Conference: Emission Inventory: Living in a Global Environment, “Air Emissions from Residential Heating: The Wood Heating Option Put into Environmental Perspective” (Houk, et als) Wood heat had the lowest carbon emissions per unit of heat than any fuel looked at. Natural gas was second place with double the carbon emissions of wood.
For more on this I looked at www.woodheat.org, home of the Wood Heat Organization Inc., a nonprofit, nongovernmental agency dedicated to the responsible use of wood as a home heating fuel. Their rule for environmentally sound wood heating: “Burn sustainably harvested, properly processed and seasoned fuel in an advanced combustion stove or fireplace that is vented through a chimney that runs straight up through the building.”
What do you think? What objections do you have that prevent you from enjoying wood heating and cooking? Leave a comment.
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This is the 6th in a 6 part series on cooking with wood. Tomorrow I’ll write a bonus article on wood fire safety. So stay tuned.
Part 1, “12 Practical Reasons Why Cooking with Wood Makes Sense”
Part 2 , “Wood Heaters vs. Wood Cook-Stoves: How to Choose”
Part 3, “Wanted: The perfect wood cook-stove”
Part 4, “Burning Desire: Wood fuels for cooking and heating”
Part 5, “Maintenance tips for your wood cook-stove”
Part 6, “Objection! Heating and Cooking with Wood is objectionable”