Who doesn’t love a real fire? But whilst wood burning stoves look (and feel!) great, are they environmentally friendly or carbon neutral? Serious questions have recently been asked about the carbon footprint of wood burning stoves. In fact, it is one of the most frequent queries the CLPM heating advice team get. In this blog we’ll seek to clarify if we think wood burning stoves are good for the environment, so you can make an informed choice.
Are Wood Burners Eco Friendly?
Well, the answer is sometimes.
The first thing to say on the environmental impact of wood burning stoves is that it is not a clear-cut topic! Whether wood burning stoves are eco-friendly or not depends largely on which one you choose, and then where and how you use it.
What is the carbon footprint of wood burning stoves?
It is true that wood-burning stoves can offer a low-carbon alternative to heating your home – rather than using fossil fuels such as gas, oil or electricity. This is because trees absorb carbon dioxide in the air as they grow - so they take carbon out of the system. When we then go on to burn the wood in a stove this carbon is then returned to the atmosphere. In theory therefore, the carbon emissions are balanced between what is absorbed initially by the tree and later released by the stove. Therefore, the best-case scenario is than wood stoves can be carbon neutral.
What wood is best for a wood burning stove?
However, it is not always true that wood burning stoves are good for the environment. Even assuming you have chosen an efficient modern stove whether it is eco-friendly largely depends on where your wood comes from.
If you grow and fell your own trees or source your logs locally, it is true that a modern efficient wood burning stove can be virtually carbon neutral. The best approach is to manage your own coppice of fast-growing native tree varieties such as willow. This is a practice that has being going on for thousands of years, but it does require that you own a large garden or piece of land to both grow and then store the wood, as it will need to dry out prior to use. Alternatively, you can buy from a local log supplier who grows and manages his own wood in this way.
Growing your own wood or buying sustainably sourced logs can be a realistic aim in a rural location, but it can be difficult if you live in a town or city. Few homes have the space to store enough logs and the availability of locally grown wood can be an issue. If you are then reliant on buying wood that has been grown in Scandinavia before being shipped across the North Sea you have created a significant environmental impact and your wood burner will not be eco-friendly!
What about Wood Burning Stoves Pollution?
While wood burning stoves are good for the environment from a carbon emissions perspective, the flipside is that they do produce vast quantities of particulate matter. Burning wood produces tiny fragments of soot and these can contribute to climate change as well as cause breathing problems. In urban areas particularly, wood-burning stoves are therefore not always the greenest choice as they can negatively impact public health and the environment.
It is possible to reduce the amount of smoke from your wood burning stove by choosing low-emission stoves, operating them properly and using well-seasoned firewood. This will also cut your fuel bills as you will get more heat for your money.
Pollution from wood stoves can also be a concern in areas with limited air movement such as valleys or densely populated towns and cities. As wood burning increases on cold, clear, calm winter nights, the smoke is unable to rise and disperse, and so can hang in the air and seep into nearby houses.
When Should I Install a Wood burner?
If you live in an urban location, want to use the wood burning stove as a regular source of heat for your home and would have to buy imported wood then we would not recommend you install a wood burner.
Wood burning stoves are most suitable for temporarily boosting the warmth of rural properties. Ideally the house should be energy efficient and the wood burner is there just to top up the main renewable heating system - such as a ground source heat pump or air source heat pump – during periods of very cold weather.
The wood burner should be specified carefully to match the dimensions of the room. You should also buy the most efficient model you can afford. It goes without saying that it must always be correctly installed by a specialist installer.
The wood should be grown locally and coppiced before being thoroughly seasoned before using it as your fuel.