GuestPost: Is a wood burning stove a sustainable heating source?

The subject of heat doesn’t necessarily come into most people’s minds until their home is cold and in need of a good heating system. And with the plethora of different heaters and stoves out there, there is probably nothing more classic than a log burning fire. A log burner, also known as a wood burning stove, has been one of the most popular heating elements available for centuries.

So does a wood stove represent a good investment? Well, on the upside, log burners use all natural wood to heat the home. This means you can go out and either chop your own or have the wood delivered to your house. Because of the rising costs of propane, kerosene, and gas, wood is almost always readily available and is less expensive than other fuels.

Another appeal is the undoubted aesthetic of a fire. There is just nothing like relaxing in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter day or night. The warmth that the wood burning stove will give off will also completely heat your home and keep you and your family very comfortable and happy.

As with any other heating element, there are some things that you need to take into consideration and there are some log burner regulations you must be aware of. All log burners have to have a chimney in order to release the smoke outside. The chimney must be cleaned regularly and has to be completely sealed.

If a regular amount of soot comes into the home you may begin to have problems with carbon monoxide. For this reason, you should also always have a carbon monoxide alarm in your home if you have a log burner present. A Swedish study found that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were five times higher in homes with wood-burning stoves. These are chemical compounds, some of which are carcinogenic.

So now to the heart of the question, for our purposes: is a wood burning stove sustainable? The surprise is that it’s actually not so bad. An important 2003 Australian study concluded that the greenhouse emissions from wood burning are relatively low. The carbon released from burning wood is equivalent to or less than the carbon absorded by the tree over it’s life – which would in any case have been released when the wood breaks down naturally. Does that mean it’s as good as using solar power? Well no, probably not. But it certainly compares very favourably with oil or gas, and releases no sulphur dioxide and destroys dioxins through heat. And it will reduce your power bill. However, how environmentally friendly your woodfired stove is depends on the wood you burn and where it has come from. Use processed waste wood pellets or locally sourced biomass if you want to be sustainable. If you use imported, treated logs you might as well stick to your coal burning electricity or gas. Or better yet, go solar.

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