No other heat source feels as warm or comforting as wood heat. Neither the heat from electrical, natural gas, or oil warms my bones like the warmth from a wood burning stove. I have been heating homes with wood for over 30 years. Most often, it has served as the main source of heat with oil or natural gas as the back-up. But I have felt uneasy burning wood, thinking I was polluting the atmosphere. Now comes a study in the March, 2009 issue of Science magazine that contradicts those thoughts.
The rationality is this: “Wood is considered ‘carbon neutral’ because growing it pulls as much carbon dioxide out of the air as is released into the atmosphere when it’s burned.” There are nagging doubts in my mind about this theory if I can just figure out what is causing them!
My first wood stove was a big Ashley. I went through a regimen to add wood to the top loading stove. Before opening the top to add fuel, I always put on a tight fitting stocking cap (to the amusement of my friends) and heavy leather gloves. My face might get blackened from the wood smoke caused by a sudden down draft but my hair remained clean.
The leather gloves kept my hands from severe burns. You really do need long leather gloves. Mine were the cheaper short ones and my wrists still bear white marks from numerous burns received when my wrists came into contact with hot metal while maneuvering large logs into a reclining position on sizzling coals.
One of the most beautiful wood stoves I owned was a Jotul. The cast iron Big Bear had a moose, bear, evergreens and a woodsman on each side. It heated well, too. But now, to appease my guilt about contributing to atmospheric carbon, my wood stove is a Vermont Castings convection heater with a catalytic combustor. It is a great stove but does take maintenance.
Ah-hah! The answer to my nagging doubts. How can firewood be carbon neutral if it is purchased from a woodsman who uses skidders to haul and pull trees from the forest? The use of gasoline to run the huge machinery would add tons of carbon to the atmosphere. A smaller wood-cutting enterprise seems to be the answer.
In Europe, pollarding hedge roll trees is practiced. The trees resprout from their base. Within a few years the trees can be pollarded again. Ben Falk, who owns Whole System Design, suggests that we plant fast growing trees to be used as firewood along the thousands of miles of highways in the U.S. It is a good alternative to mowing. The oxygen the trees would emit and their absorption of CO2 from passing vehicles could only be beneficial. Think of the jobs that could be created.
If you cannot afford solar panels or a wind turbine to save on home energy costs, think about a wood stove and where you would get your supply of wood. If you do get a wood stove, just wear long leather gloves when you feed it. Hat optional.
“Without wood a fire goes out…”