Many people in Western North Carolina prefer to heat their home with wood. For some heating with wood is the most economical, environmentally sustainable, and responsible way to heat a home. The benefits are numerous: It is renewable, it is a local fuel source, it is good exercise, and it is often cheaper.
However, heating with wood also has some serious risks: home fires; poor indoor and outdoor air quality; finding high quality wood for burning; and the added responsibility of maintaining a fire and woodstove. These risks can be avoided by using up-to-date equipment, maintaining it well, and using the best combustion practices. Better equipment and techniques also increase the heating efficiency of your wood, saving time, work, and money.
Heating efficiently with wood requires three things: a good stove; a good source of dry, seasoned, wood cut to the right size for your stove; and a dedication to making it work.
The newer stoves actually burn the smoke rather than sending it up the chimney.
“It is important to burn the smoke because any that escapes from the firebox unburned is wasted fuel that will stick in the chimney as creosote or be released as air pollution. Wood smoke is not a normal by-product of wood combustion, it is waste. Visible smoke at the top of a chimney is always a sign that energy is being wasted.&rdquo
John Gulland, “Expert Advice for Wood Heating,” Mother Earth News, October/November 2008.
Newer wood stove models are safer and more efficient. When operated correctly, newer stoves use a third to half as much wood, produce 90% less smoke and ash, are easier to ignite and monitor, and are easier to maintain. The newer stoves actually burn the smoke rather than sending it up the chimney.
How can you tell if your stove is a newer and more efficient?
All stoves manufactured after July 1, 1990 are certified to meet the EPA standard for clean stoves. Look for the permanent metal label attached to the back of the stove. A new stove will also have a paper label indicating the air quality and often the efficiency.
Keep Your Stove Safe and Clean
In addition to removing the ashes and keeping creosote out of the stovepipe, other maintenance practices will help keep your stove running like new. Most importantly, the casing needs to be well maintained and free from rust. The door and door gasket need a tight seal. Air tubes and fans need to be clear and clean. The baffles need to be clean. If the stove has a catalyst, it will need to be replaced periodically.
Firewood burns best if it has been properly seasoned and has a moisture content below 20%. Well-seasoned wood provides a good balance of heat and burn time, saves effort every day, and reduces maintenance. In general, firewood should be seasoned or dried with exposure to sun and wind for at least six months. Seasoned firewood will appear darker in color and have cracks in the end grain. It will also sound hollow when hit with another piece of wood.
To avoid home fires and unhealthy indoor air, it is important to maintain your stove. Keep your wood stove clean inside and out. Remove ash and creosote, have the chimney and flue cleaned periodically, and keep the outside of the stove rust-free. Fabric, furniture, newspaper, books, and other flammable things must be clear of the woodstove. Install a smoke detector with a carbon monoxide sensor near the stove, and change the batteries twice a year.
What about open fireplaces?
Traditional open fireplaces are inefficient. They burn a lot of wood and often send much of the heat of the fire — along with heated room air — straight up the chimney. You can enjoy your fireplace while greatly improving its efficiency by installing an EPA-certified fireplace insert.
Wood Heats More Than Once
It can be said that wood heats you when you collect it, when you split it, and when you burn it. Heating with wood has many benefits, but many of these benefits are reduced if the individual is not committed to burning with good practices, good wood, and good equipment. As with anything, burning wood is only worth doing if you burn it right.
If you choose to burn wood and have purchased a new, more efficient wood-burning stove, you may qualify for a federal tax credit. The current tax credit provides $300 for the purchase of a qualified biomass-burning stove between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2014. Any wood or pellet-burning stove that meets the 75% efficiency rating qualifies. Professional installation costs are included as long as installation is required for the proper and safe operation of the stove. Learn more by visiting the Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association’s website.