A Greener, Cleaner Wood Fire?

When our new house came with a wood-burning fireplace, I envisioned us cozying up in front of the fire reading books to our delightful young daughter.  Of course, in the back of my mind I knew that wood fires cause more air pollution than other types of fuel.  They also lower the air quality in the house, which can be a concern when you have a new baby or anyone in the family with asthma or other breathing troubles.
wood burning fire place

Another environmental downfall of wood fires is that they don’t heat your house; in fact, lighting a fire will result in a net heat loss in your home.  So does that mean we can never light a wood fire in good conscience?  Well, there are a few ways to enjoy an eco-friendlier fire:

  • Make sure to use dry, seasoned hardwoods. Other woods don’t burn as cleanly and release more pollutants into the air.
  • Try lighting a Java-Log. They’re made from coffee waste that would otherwise go in a landfill, and they burn cleaner than wood. They don’t, however, produce much heat, so they’re best on cool-not cold-nights.
  • Get glass doors for your fireplace. Keeping your damper open well after the embers have cooled helps everything air out-but all your household heat will blow up the chimney. Glass doors allow you to keep the damper open without sucking the hot air out of your house.

After lighting a few Java-Logs in our fireplace, we decided to look into alternatives to wood fires, which I will discuss next week.  Do any of you plan to light wood fires now that the weather is getting cooler?  Any more tips for making them a little better for the planet?

Comments

  1. Alternative to wood fires: my parents had their fireplace converted to gas. It’s a real fire, turned on with a remote control. The “logs” are concrete or something, but look real. It is hooked up to their natural gas line.

  2. You can’t beat a fireplace for romance but woodstoves are a great choice for efficient heating. You can get extremely efficient woodstoves that meet or surpass current EPA standards. They do this by ensuring that combustion is complete and that more heat gets transferred to your home before the exhaust leaves your house. This website (http://www.woodheat.org/technology/woodstoves.htm) has a good description of the basic models of woodstoves and how they work. Woodstoves are also a good choice for air quality. They’re closed in so the hot exhaust is drawn outside. You can also get woodstoves with glass doors so you can still see the flames, which is nice. As a child I lived for several years in a 200+ year-old home that was heated with an old, non-efficient wood/coal stove and it never bothered by my asthma or allergies. (At least not any worse than the cigarette smoke from my parents.) I also have several friends who use woodstoves to supplement their heating in winter with great success.

  3. Losing heat through a fireplace may be true but you do not lose net heat by using a wood stove such as hearthstone. The fire heats up the stone and the stone heats your house. Some models you can heat your house for 12 hours just by filling up the thing all the way once in the morning. There is plenty of info out there about the efficiencies of wood stoves so please do not imply that heating your home with wood is bad. In some locations locally harvested wood, and the high cost of other fuel costs make wood stoves the most economical as well as environmentally friendly choice. Did you know that wood rotting in the forest actually creates more carbon dioxide then burning that same size log would? There are also systems that you can use the “leftover” heat that heads out your vent pipe to pre-heat your water for water tanks.

  4. Thanks for the comments! Don’t worry–I plan to cover alternatives to open wood fires (including gas and wood stoves) in future posts. I definitely don’t think wood is a bad fuel choice under the right conditions.

  5. One thing about Java logs – they smell nice outside! We use hardwoods and the sawdust logs. The sawdust logs smell plastic-y when you’re outside. The Java logs don’t have that smell.

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