A huge trend in America today is “going green,” or preserving the state of the environment. Some ways that this has been done are eliminating paper towels in public restrooms (replacing them instead with air hand dryers), removing place mats in restaurants and the development of electric cars to reduce fuel pollution. Individuals often wonder what they can do themselves to help maintain the environment too. Such options include using products made from recycled materials. Another major way to help the environment is the way you heat your home. Making good use of the fireplace is both cost effective and more or less environmentally neutral.
Wait…I thought burning wood was bad! This is somewhat misguided. If done properly, wood burning is a good option. We say that wood is environmentally “neutral” because during a tree’s lifetime, it will take in a certain amount of carbon dioxide from the environment. This same tree will then release the CO2 it took in back into the environment regardless of whether the wood is burned or it decays naturally. The tree won’t add any more carbon dioxide than it took to begin with.
Some people become concerned around winter time because they know that the heating bill will skyrocket. While you may avoid this by telling your family member s to simply “Put on a sweater,” another great option is using the fireplace. Here’s how other energy prices stack up against wood costs: electricity is seven times more costly, propane is five times more expensive and natural gas is three times the cost and of wood. Using wood smartly can result in dramatic savings throughout the course of the season.
The world as a whole is expected to run out of fossil fuels within 50 years time. We keep drilling and drilling, but the fact remains that the earth only has so much crude oil to give. Prices already reach ridiculous levels, and it will continue. Wood, however, has the potential to be available indefinitely. While wood harvesters continuously cut trees down for firewood and other uses, they tend to follow the rule of thumb of planting more trees than they take. Over time, these trees mature for use and the cycle continues.
Most wood that is good for fireplace use releases relatively little smoke (i.e. oaks, hickories and poplars). At the same time, the smoke that does come from wood burning rarely makes its way out your chimney and into the atmosphere. Today’s stove and fireplace units allow 90% less smoke into the air, as per EPA regulations, and many units actually burn not only the wood but also the smoke and gas released. It’s safer and burns longer! The heat produced by modern units also circulates around the room, constantly warming the space.
How many of us get rid of old wood (i.e. building materials or landscaping scraps), putting it on the side of the road for the trash collector? This wood is being thrown into a landfill with all of the other garbage. What a waste! Instead, take your materials and cut them up for the fire (though be sure not to use painted or chemically-treated wood). Every year in the U.S. we throw away enough wood to heat 5 million homes over a 200 year period!
See? Burning wood is not only good, but also cost effective and efficient. Next time you find yourself wondering if starting a fire in the fireplace is a good idea, remember that it not only worked for our predecessors (i.e. in the days of Columbus), but wood will also be around longer than other energy sources. It just makes sense!
–Article contributed by High’s Chimney Service, a Gaithersburg, Maryland-based full-service fireplace and chimney company.