wood-burning

Use Wood Wisely

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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Keeping Warm and Cleaning our Air: Public Hearing in Boston on New Wood-Heater Standards

With a New England winter in full bloom, many of us burn wood to help heat our homes. People may not know, however, that burning wood – either in indoor or outdoor heaters – can be inefficient, as well as emit more pollution into the air than oil or natural gas heat sources.

Last month, EPA issued a proposal to update standards for wood-burning stoves and heaters used by people in homes and other residential buildings. We have proposed that, beginning next year (2015), new stoves and heaters will be a whopping 80 percent cleaner than units built and sold today.

This will mean better air quality, and better public health, in communities all across the country. It will improve winter air quality in many parts of New England, especially in rural areas where more people use wood as a fuel source to keep their homes warm. In some areas of New England, especially in valleys, fine particle pollution from wood smoke significantly reduces air quality in winter.

Wood smoke contains fine particles and toxic pollutants, which can reach levels that are harmful to peoples’ health – for your family and for your neighbors. Fine particle pollution is linked to serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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The Wet Wood Burner

By Wendy Dew

I always know when the cold weather is coming: folks in my neighborhood start cutting wood for the next season. We usually decide on a weekend that works for everyone, get out the log splitters and get to work. All of my neighbors burn wood to offset heating costs. Plus, a lovely fire is just part of Colorado mountain living! We burn wood all winter long and we burn it wisely. We stack our wood each season away from our houses and in different piles so we only use the driest wood for the current season.

However, we have one neighbor who only burns wood cut recently so the wood is “wet.” We always know when they’re burning because the whole valley fills with stinky smoke. When you live in Colorado, you spend as much time outside in the winter as you do the summer. But this year, I may stay inside to avoid the smoke.

It’s important to burn wood correctly to be safe and healthy, and also to save money. Burn Wise is an EPA partnership program that teaches people to burn the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance.
 

Practical Tips for Building a Fire

  • Season wood outdoors through the summer for at least 6 months before burning it, stacking it neatly off the ground with the top covered. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
  •  Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20%. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test your wood before you burn it.
  • Start fires with newspaper and dry kindling or consider having a professional install a natural gas or propane log lighter in your open fireplace.
  • Burn hot fires, using only dry, well-seasoned wood that has been split properly.
  • To maintain proper airflow, regularly remove ashes from your wood-burning appliance using a metal container with a cover. Store the ashes outdoors.

Find out how you can burn wisely and avoid becoming the neighborhood “Wet Wood Burner.”

For more information: www.epa.gov/burnwise

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

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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Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire…

By Lina Younes

This past weekend my children decided to set up the Christmas tree.  At the end of the decorating event, they asked that we light up the chimney to sit back, have hot cocoa and roast marshmallows. Even though the evening was not that cold, we willingly complied because we wanted to share this special family moment around the open fire as the song goes.

While fireplaces may conjure fond memories of winters past, the fact is that you shouldn’t use just any type of wood or paper in a fireplace or wood-burning appliance. The key is to burn the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance. If you use the wrong type of wood and an unsafe appliance, the burning process may generate too much smoke with the wrong mix of gases and fine particles that may lead to serious health effects.

EPA has a partnership program, BurnWise, designed to create awareness on the proper materials and tools to protect your health, home and environment. It provides useful tips and advice in the selection of wood burning stoves and EPA Certified appliances. In addition to outreach materials, the website also has useful information on certain communities that have local ordinances to reduce wood smoke.

The proper use of the wood and these fuel-burning appliances will go a long way to protect your family and even prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for weekly tips on our BurnWise program. Send us your comments. We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.