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Day 172 of our Green Year: The Wood Stove

Posted Oct 14 2008 4:54am
At the ranch, there is a wood fireplace that has been here for at least 15 years. It is an excellent little fireplace that provides huge amounts of heat for the entire house with only an armload of wood or so per night. As winter is coming and -40 Celsius temperatures hit, the use of the wood stove will become increasingly important.

Now, the wood stove is a dicey situation because it is not perfectly environmentally friendly. Soot does get released, burning wood does create carbon dioxide, but when done right, you can decrease those amounts of bad elements, and maximize the good element; heat. Some will not agree in using a wood stove, but Layla and I feel that it is better than using natural gas to heat a house. Plus, we already bundle up and do what we can to maximize the heat in the house, so that we can minimize our use of the wood stove.

As we said, wood fire does release carbon dioxide and soot, but fossil fuels like natural gas generate more greenhouse gases when you take into consideration the extraction of the fuels and the transportation. Plus, wood is a renewable resource.

Our fireplace is not a conventional fireplace either. It uses radiant heat by turning about 66 percent of its heat from the flames out to heat people and objects in the room and house. This is better than a typical fireplace that is more for decoration than anything else. With an open fireplace, only about five to ten percent of the heat actually escapes out into the room.

To minimize our effect on the environment, we only buy wood from a supplier who cuts up trees that have already fallen. We do not cut down new trees for heat here, and the supplier has been known for years and can be trusted. Plus, we are supporting someone locally, minimizing the transportation of the firewood. We also chop our firewood ourselves the old fashioned way; with an axe. From what we understand, the supplier does not clear out all the wood in the area either, in order to keep the habitat for small animals and insects intact.

Here are some tips for maximizing energy efficiency. We will be using these to minimize the use of wood.
  • The wood is always kept dry because we want to make sure that it will burn sooner, rather than later. Wet wood requires more energy to get rid of the water, and that is energy that would be better used as heat. Also, the wetter the wood, the more smoke and carbon dioxide that is released.
  • We adjust our air controls so that there is very little smoke initially, by increasing the amount of oxygen. This also minimizes the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
  • The ash from the fireplace will be used as a de-icing agent on the steps in the winter, rather than using salt or chemicals. It can also be used to make soap, and as a layer for the compost heap.
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For the past little while, we have posted bad environmental news, but today we get to post some good news. Yesterday, the Indonesian government announced that it would be protecting the rest of the forests on the islands from development and logging. This means that while 48 percent of the forests have been lost since 1985, the rest will be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Good for them :)

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If you have pictures of your own fireplace or fire stove, send them to us and we will put them up. Got questions and comments, send them to craigbaird@wildmail.com!
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