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Use Wood Wisely

2014 February 21

By Steven Donohue, Region 3

I was born and bred in Pennsylvania. My teen years were spent chopping several cords of wood a year to feed a wood stove in an attempt to heat our drafty old house and reduce our heating bill.  
Today, I use about a half cord of wood a year in our fireplace to brighten cold nights and wet, dreary days. Our energy efficient house and careful burning reduce emissions and save time, money, and my back!

Before burning wood (or any other fuel for heating), it just makes sense to seal up any air leaks and add the recommended amount of insulation to keep the heat you generate inside your house.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That old saying, by Philadelphia favorite Ben Franklin, applies as much today as when Ben said it in 1735. 

It’s also important to burn your wood efficiently. Anyone who’s ever tried to heat a house with a traditional fireplace knows they suck almost as much heat up the chimney as they provide.  Our 1970s wood stove was better than a fireplace, but still nowhere near as good as the EPA certified unit I have now.  Our fireplace insert is likely fifty percent more efficient, allowing us to burn a third less wood for the same heat.  And, a few years from now, we’ll have even more efficient units: EPA just proposed new rules to reduce the amount of particulate smoke (unburned fuel) down to the weight of about half a penny per hour.

When using our fireplace, I also make sure I burn only seasoned, dry wood.  Wet wood not only gives off less heat, but it makes more smoke and forms creosote that can cause chimney fires. Having planted my share of trees over the years, I know how long they take to grow, so I try to use the wood they provide us wisely.  Once again, a penny saved is a penny earned. To learn how to tell whether your firewood is ready to burn, and get other information on burning wood efficiently, please visit the  BurnWise website.

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he focuses on greening EPA and other government facilities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    February 21, 2014

    A Penny Saved Is A Penny Earned : You’re Right………….!!!

    Western Culture time by time appears superior. Trial and error makes it to become better than us. When I was child, my Grandparents uses wood for cooked that different with us by liquid gas. All the natural resources that we had are running low, but we still this, “The Poor”..!

  2. Alexander permalink
    February 21, 2014

    I agree with Ben Franklin.

  3. maurice smook permalink
    February 22, 2014

    I can recall when my parents had a wood furnace. I was great, It kept the house warm. I can recall when Dad would ask the people around our neigbourhood if they had any trees that they would like to have cut down. Many have. We save a lot of money. A lot of work but worth it. I recall when Dad had extra money. Dad bought a ton of coal. That pile of Coal lasted us for a while. Two in half of shovel’s lasted us for a 3/4 of the day. Coal become expensive. Many of the farmers had conserved their trees. Dad was getting older. Dad bought a gas furnace. I too have gas. Gas furnaces are not that great. Gas furnaces just run with very little heat.

    Today the resources are dwindling. The cost is rising. We as humans are accountable for much of the waste. I like our neighbour. He too heats his house with wood. I recall he had planted 4 ash trees. This was in the 70’s The trees grew rapidly. He cut them down and replanted. He had a couple of years for his stove.

    The trees that he replanted have quickly grown. He has no intent of cutting them dowm. I admire him for that. At least we have a fair amount of shade. That helps.

    We planted dozen trees in the backyard. Mostly Red Maple. These are slow growing. The one soft Maple grew on its own. It grew up rapidly. It must be twenty feet. Our neighbour in the back of us had planted 4 acres of spruce trees. They are taller then me.

    It is never too late to plant after cutting one tree down. Trees are a renewable source and the more we can plant within small areas and it might be worth it.

    Can any one recall when pbs had programs about the environment. I can recall scientist requesting the governmnet to have trees planted along the roadside etc. The governments said no. Whenever I travel on an highway many trees could have been planted. There is a farmer in an another county had planted about 80 trees along that stretch of his property. This farmer was well in is 70’s If this guy could do it why can’t the rest of the population not do it? That means farmers as well.

    We have trees in front of our property and the rear. If I have some extra money I will plant more.

    It is not to late to save the earth. When many of the trees that grow old we can use for wood stoves etc. Replant again for what has been cut down. There are trees that grow quickly.

    Whats the answer? It is always about about the cost. Yet our government’s have tons of money for corporations and the military. When it becomes an environmental issue it usually is shelved.

    If we do not save the earth who will? Right after we destroy ourselves.

  4. sharul permalink
    February 24, 2014

    really nice article..really like it

  5. wix permalink
    March 3, 2014

    i agree with you in this publication

  6. Bill L permalink
    March 4, 2014

    With all the evidence on wood smoke and health why would any one want to pollute their neighborhoods

  7. Steve Donohue permalink
    March 5, 2014

    Thanks for all your comments. The cheapest, greenest energy is the energy you avoid using in the first place. So the priority has to be on efficiency first like ben Franklin said many years ago. I can honestly say I have planted more trees in my lifetime than I have cut down and that can help make wood burning more sustainable at least where I live in the country.

  8. Knowledge permalink
    March 15, 2014

    I really appreciate your effort putting this post here. Thank you for the great information.

  9. Light permalink
    March 20, 2014

    Very good article :)
    we also have to use paper wisely :)
    and no one uses that room heaters now a days ?

    (sorry for mine bad english T_T)


  10. Sorderbai permalink
    March 30, 2014

    Very nice and informative article. Go ahead, we are always with you.

  11. kamrulhasan permalink
    April 13, 2014

    What a great post. I enjoyed very much, keep it up.

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