Environmental Impact of Wood Fires
Some of my fondest winter memories have happened around a wood burning fire with hours spent, gazing into the flames, roasting marshmallows, or humming that Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire holiday song. Fireplaces are woven into the fabric of life and it our current carbon footprint.
Well, hold on a minute. Who are we kidding? We no longer live in a Charles Dickens small English village. Most of us have dependable, efficient home heating systems, along with comfortable afghan and wool blankets, and a large flat-screen television placed perfectly adjacent to our fireplaces. But sometimes we can’t deny ourselves the sentimental value of a cold winter night making s’mores, even if reality tv show is playing in the background. It’s kind of like how some people just don’t think it’s Christmas without that full blanket of snow. It’s just a hopelessly romantic tradition.
But did you know that wood burning fires are one of the most environmentally unfriendly winter customs and by adjusting your habits you can greatly reduce your carbon footprint?
Wood burning fires and stoves release tons of fine particles into the atmosphere and the EPA estimates that this practice contributes approximately 62% of aromatic hydrocarbon emissions – a very hazardous human produced carcinogen. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it can be a serious health hazard for our eyes and respiratory systems. In third world countries where millions of woman and children are exposed every day to wood burning cooking sources, they suffer a much higher incidence of lung ailments, cancer, and shorter lifespans because of these carcinogens.
While the best solution to this cherished tradition that’s really a direct pollutant to you, your family and your community would be to completely give up wood burning fires altogether, I know as well as anybody that wood fires are a winter staple not quickly discarded. Even the most eco-friendly people can probably be found huddled around a fireplace from time to time. In cities like Denver Colorado and ski resorts like Vail Colorado, there are have been wood burning restrictions for years. This Boulder County website highlights both the health and environmental hazards of wood smoke.
So if you are not ready to part with this cherished tradition, here a couple of thoughts to alleviate its harmful effects to you and the environment.
- Reduce – Always the first option – Reduce the number of times you use your fireplace per season. Only use it on a very, very, very special occasions when folks will be able to enjoy it, not merely as a background prop. Put off that delivery of a cord of wood that’s hauled hundreds of miles to your house and has to be cut and split using unregulated pollutant-spewing chainsaws and other tools.
- Opt for fire logs – they’re much much cleaner. These logs composed of either saw dust or coffee grounds and mixed with wax and are by far a much cleaner option in all aspects. Its five times cleaner across the board compared to real wood (chart below) Chestnuts can be roasted on a cleaner fire by using the most environmentally friendly fire logs on the market. An Environment Canada and the EPA 2006 Firelogssummarized the results in the chart below. A few Green Blizzard preferred:
- If you are willing to make a small investment in your home’s fireplace, there are now eco-friendly fireplaces that run on bio-fuel instead of wood. Fire places by Eco Smart Fire run on bio ethanol, a renewable liquid fuel that has no harmful byproducts and, more importantly, no smoke! They have a design for just about every type of home and existing fireplace and chimneys are not even required.
- If you are not interested in changing your fireplace, you can at least make sure your fire is as clean as possible. Make sure your wood is cut to the right length for your fireplace – it makes for a cleaner burning fire. Also always use dry wood that has seasoned for a few years. Wet wood doesn’t burn as completely and, in turn, releases more pollutants. And never toss wrapping paper, packaging and other household trash into your fire (i.e. marshmallow bags and Hersheys wrappers) Burning this discards can release some serious poisons into your homes air and the surrounding atmosphere – that why the EPA requires emissions scrubbers on all trash incinerators.
So next time you plan on building a fire in your fireplace, just be a little more mindful of the long term environmental impacts of those picturesque chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Check out Green Blizzard’s Bookstore and our recommended list of green reading.
Here are some other Green Blizzard articles that will be sure to be of interest:
- Top Ten Energy Efficient Products
- Incandescent Demise
- Primer on Environmental Policy
- Energy Misconceptions
- The LED Revolution Is Here
- Why Recycle Paper?
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