wood

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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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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Something to Be Thankful For

By Kathleen Stewart

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

Kathleen Stewart examines a stove.

On Thanksgiving, stuffed with turkey and pie, I can summon just enough creativity to be thankful for the usual stuff—a roof over my head, food on the table, and my family’s health and happiness. I don’t tend to remember to be thankful for the modern conveniences that make all of the above possible.

This year, I am officially giving thanks for my natural gas heater. Whenever a slip of chill creeps into my drafty old house, warm nights are just a flip of a switch away. With heat so instantaneously available, it’s easy to forget that 3 billion people worldwide rely on wood, dung, charcoal, coal, and biomass (fuel derived from organic matter, usually plants) to cook for their families and warm their homes.

Even on the Navajo Nation, where high voltage transmission lines crisscross the land to bring electricity to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, approximately 60% of families use coal, coke, or wood to heat their homes. About 30% of families use coal as their primary heating fuel.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Dine College (the Navajo Nation’s institute of higher education) surveyed 137 homes in the Navajo town of Shiprock, NM. In this town, with average December/January lows of 19 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers found that 77% of the homes used stoves primarily for heating, and 25% of families burned coal for heat in stoves that were not specifically designed for coal. They also found that 26% of the stoves were ten or more years old.

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

Navajo town of Shiprock, NM

The researchers noted that many of the stoves were improperly vented, with visible cracks in the chimneys, or no chimney at all.

The indoor smoke poses serious health risks, particularly for children and the elderly, but there is no easy solution. There are no EPA certified coal stoves, and most newer coal stoves are designed to burn cleaner-burning anthracite coal, not the types (bituminous and subbituminous) available—cheap or free—on the Navajo Nation. With a median household income of $20,000 and limited existing infrastructure, gas and electricity are generally too costly.

That’s why we and our EPA colleagues have teamed up with partners at Dine College to identify and research heating options that will reduce exposure to coal smoke from home heating on the Navajo Nation. The end result will help provide stakeholders with an understanding of the best alternatives to reduce health and environmental impacts from home heating—alternatives that are technically, economically, and culturally feasible.

Last night I fell asleep curled around my home’s heater vent after the kids went to bed. I crave being warm like a snail craves its shell. In fact, I am actually allergic to being cold. Look that allergy up and then be thankful for two new things this Thanksgiving.

Learn more about EPA research and programs on how to heat your home while minimizing the health impacts:

 

About the Author: Environmental scientist Kathleen Stewart helps concerned communities understand risks from indoor and outdoor air pollution. For this project, she is working with Agency research scientist Paul Solomon, who has extensive experience developing ways to measure particulate matter in the air, and to better understand the relationships between air pollution sources and exposure risks.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Reducing Exposure to Formaldehyde in Composite Wood Products

By Jim Jones, Acting Assistant Administrator, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention

The mention of the word “formaldehyde” might conjure up memories of a school science class or museum visits and seeing animals preserved in liquid-filled jars. While formaldehyde may no longer be used for these purposes, it is still used in adhesives to make composite wood products, like particle board and other building materials for furniture and other products. Composite wood products are made from pieces, chips, particles of wood that are bonded together with resins that may contain formaldehyde. The chemical can cause adverse health effects, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as respiratory symptoms and cancer.

In 2010, Congress passed the Formaldehyde Standards for Composite Wood Products Act, or Title VI of the Toxic Substances Control Act. As required by the Act, today we are proposing limits on how much formaldehyde can be released from a variety of composite wood products and to establish requirements to ensure these products comply with the regulations. The proposed rules align where practical with existing requirements for composite wood products in California.

These requirements, when final, will further reduce the public’s exposure to the formaldehyde found in many products in our homes and workplaces. For new and renovated homes formaldehyde may be reduced up to 26%. Also, when final, they will encourage the industry trend toward switching to no-added formaldehyde resins in products, further reducing you and your family’s exposure to formaldehyde.

While many manufacturers are already complying with the requirements in place in California, EPA’s actions will ensure the same protections for all Americans, no matter what State you live in. In addition, EPA’s proposal expands upon the California regulation by including laminated products, which is estimated to reduce formaldehyde emissions from these products 45 – 90%. The actions will also ensure that the composite wood products sold in this country meet the same standards for formaldehyde regardless of whether they are made in the United States or abroad.

The proposals released today are an example of what can be accomplished when there is adequate statutory authority for action. This lies in stark contrast to the lack of authority EPA has to regulate other chemicals and highlights the on-going need for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, this country’s chemicals management legislation. All Americans have the right to expect that the chemicals used in the products they use every day are safe. The time has come to provide EPA with the tools necessary to protect you and your families from unnecessary risks from all chemicals.

About the author: Jim Jones is the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. He is responsible for managing the office which implements the nation’s pesticide, toxic chemical, and pollution prevention laws. The office has an annual budget of approximately $260 million and more than 1,300 employees. Jim’s career with EPA spans more than 26 years. From April through November 2011, Jim served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. He has an M.A. from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a B.A. from the University of Maryland, both in Economics.

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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