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Are Wood Stoves Eco-Friendly?

written by: Lindsay Evans•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 6/28/2011

Heating your home during the winter requires a major chunk of your monthly energy consumption. Is installing a wood burning stove to supplement your home's heat an environmentally-friendly idea?

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    Wood is a Renewable Resource

    Any type of heat source requires energy and it's unavoidable environmental impact. Your home's current primary heat source probably runs on natural gas (a fossil fuel) or electricity. Your home's electricity likely originates as a fossil fuel source, too. Over 70 percent of the electricity generated in the US comes from coal burning plants, natural gas, and petroleum according to the US Energy Information Administration.

    Wood - in contrast to fossil fuels - is a renewable resource. While petroleum-based fuels continue to be mined from the earth without being replentished new wood material is incessantly grown worldwide.

    Firewood is typically a local and sustainable source of energy, too, requiring a minimal amount of energy to acquire and transport to your home. Firewood cutters usually harvest wood in specified areas after gaining permits from public lands offices. Agencies like the US Forest Service allow wood cutters to remove dead trees in areas that have seen trees damaged due to fires or windstorms. After decades of biomass accumulation resulting from aggressive wildland firefighting, removing dead trees from certain forest areas may help to reduce the risk of devastatingly hot forest fires.

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    Modern Efficient Stoves

    Wood stoves manufactured today have to meet rigorous smoke emission limits set by the EPA in the late 1980's. The EPA currently mandates that wood stoves must not emit more than 7.5 grams of particulate matter per hour. Some manufacturers have developed stoves with emissions around 4 grams per hour. With these improvements wood stoves today produce up to 90 percent less smoke than earlier generation stoves. Be sure to look for the EPA certification label when shopping for a new wood stove. You could also try other options like a wood pellet stove.

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    Minimizing Air Pollution

    To maximize the efficiency of your wood stove and minimize smoke and particulate matter always follow a few rules. Burn small, hot fires using only dry, seasoned wood that has been allowed to air-dry through at least one summer. Chop your firewood to meet the specifications of your wood stove. Firewood that is too large in diameter may not burn efficiently and be left to smolder, producing excessive smoke. Never burn anything other than dry wood and only enough newspaper to light the fire. Burning waste paper such as wrapping paper or egg cartons can damage your high-efficiency stove and contribute to air pollution.

    For more information on how to heat your home with wood visit the EPA's wood stove information site and the Wood Heat Organization.