The high cost of energy for home heating has financially crippled many homeowners nationwide. The mission of Hawken Energy, Inc. includes providing homeowners a way to stay warm in their homes, without facing financial disaster, by burning wood.
Unfortunately, there is some incorrect information being spread around about wood burning. We are unsure of the exact reason this information is being spread – perhaps the large foreign oil companies are threatened by wood burning, or perhaps people are just afraid of something new and different. When automobiles started to become popular, they were opposed by those who favored horses and buggies. Times change, we adapt to these changes, and we move on – this is progress and it is why we as Americans are so successful.
Those opposed to burning wood make it sound like wood is the worst fuel in the world, and that it is somehow dangerous. After reading some of these articles, I almost feel like I should seal up my fireplace and turn up the fuel oil furnace. After quiet reflection, however, one realizes that any argument that burning wood is somehow more harmful than burning fossil fuels is preposterous.
Background of Wood Fuel
Let’s consider a few facts about wood burning:
Wood has been safely used as a fuel since the beginning of recorded history – longer than any other fuel. Fossil fuels have only been used for heating since the early 1900s. Prior to this, wood had been the primary fuel for as long as Planet Earth had been inhabited by man.
Wood is a renewable fuel. One of the reasons wood is such a perfect fuel is because it is renewable. This means that it can be “restored and replenished by nature in a period of time that is compatible with our human use”. The heat released from wood is actually stored energy from the sun--released when consumed in a wood burning device. Wood is an abundant resource in this country that is easily sustained. Provided they are cared for and managed properly, our forests can be a perpetual source of fuel, unlike gas, oil, and coal, which are being depleted at a rate that is astonishingly faster than the millions of years it took Nature to make them.
Wood burning is completely safe in terms of “Greenhouse Gasses” - All fuels produce carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, when they burn. When the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gasses increases, they cause the average global temperature to rise.
Wood differs from the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas, because it is part of the natural carbon/carbon dioxide cycle. As a tree grows, it absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and stores it in the wood as carbon, which makes up about half of the weight of wood. When the wood is burned, carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. No additional carbon is released because the same amount of carbon dioxide would be released if the tree died and were left to rot on the forest floor. The carbon in coal, oil and gas, by contrast, are taken from underground stores, usually from overseas, where they were deposited by Nature, and released into the air without means for equal reabsorption.
When trees are used for energy, a part of the forest's annual growth is diverted from the natural decay and forest fire cycle into our homes to heat them. Firewood is a natural energy product from the forest. Burning wood actually helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by displacing the use of oil, gas and coal.1
The US Government states clearly that wood burning is not harmful to the environment in terms of Greenhouse Gasses: “Under international greenhouse gas accounting methods developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, biogenic carbon is part of the natural carbon balance and it will not add to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. Reporters may wish to use an emission factor of zero for wood, wood waste, and other biomass fuels in which the carbon is entirely biogenic.”2
Burning waste wood also benefits the environment because it reduces wood waste that would otherwise take space in landfills. "In the US, wood and paper thrown away each year is enough to heat 5 million homes for 200 years."3 Think about it – five million homes for 200 years. And that was ten years ago.4
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has specifically exempted outdoor wood furnaces from its emissions regulations.5
Per Btu, wood is much less expensive than fossil fuels – at current prices, natural gas is three times the cost of wood, propane is five times the cost of wood, and electricity is seven times the cost of wood.6
Though the use of any resource has an environmental impact, the use of wood as a fuel is much more in keeping with the natural cycles of ecosystem Earth. The heat produced by burning firewood is actually the warmth of the sun, stored in trees through the process of photosynthesis. When the sun abandons us during the cold dark days of winter, we liberate the sun’s heat through the “reverse photosynthesis” of burning. Like every other cycle in Nature, every process has its opposite.
What fuel will be used when the world runs out of oil – which is expected to happen within 50 years? The world is running out of fossil fuels. In a few years, the world’s inhabitants will have consumed one-half of the known fossil fuel reserves. Once this happens, fuel prices will skyrocket as fears of “running out” will become more of a reality.
“The volume of the world's petroleum reserves is important because of the fear that the oil will run out. This fear should be expected, because the estimated remaining one trillion barrels of crude oil is only enough to supply the world for about 50 years. This prediction is based on the present world consumption; however, world consumption is expected to increase.”7
Within 10 years, experts project the world oil demand will exceed production capacity by 20 million barrels per day. This will result in astronomical fuel prices to level the supply/demand curve. Homeowners will be forced to find and pursue alternative heating methods.
Though heating with wood may sound old fashioned, modern wood-burning appliances are anything but. Existing technology enables the use emissions control devices to almost entirely eliminate smoke emissions - this allows wood to give up to 75 percent seasonal efficiency while emitting 90 percent less smoke than before.8 Certain models currently available further reduce emissions by “gasifying” wood and then burning the gasses at extremely high temperatures, thus almost completely eliminating emissions.
Wood is a reliable fuel. In the midst of a winter storm when the power goes out or during an energy crisis rolling blackout, homeowners can still heat with wood. It gives both heat and comfort during times of emergency. Wood also gives freedom. Having the ability to burn wood for heat in a home gives more freedom and options for fuel. Many homeowners live away from natural gas pipelines and are forced to purchase much more costly fuels such as propane or fuel oil. Wood fuel allows a homeowner to no longer be dependent on large energy utilities that may or may not be able to supply energy.
Foreign fossil fuel suppliers simply don't like wood burning advocates. These foreign energy companies likely have lobbyists who aggressively support antiwood burning efforts. They try to tell us that wood smoke is bad for us, while offering only one solution: “Pay us for our fuel!” They do not mention that their fuel can never be replaced. They say “Go ahead, take our fossil fuels out of the earth. By the time your grandkids get old enough to need it, you'll be dead anyway, so why should you care?” This short-sighted view of the greedy billion dollar fossil fuel companies (who only care about their profits) should not be permitted to be a factor in your decision-making process.
Outdoor wood boilers take combustion outdoors. Therefore, households and businesses can reduce their insurance costs by using outdoor furnaces since outdoor combustion eliminates many risks of fire damage.
Some arguments against wood burning state that “Problems are aggravated if an outdoor wood boiler is…not operated according to manufacturer’s recommendations.” Most people are smart enough to realize that any piece of equipment will cause problems if not operated according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Furthermore, please consider the ramifications of a homeowner installing a conventional furnace in his basement and not operating it according to its manufacturer’s recommendations – his house could burn to the ground and possibly cause the death of the homeowner and his family. (An outdoor wood boiler located 50 feet away from a home would never cause a fire because it simply sends heated water into the house.) Almost any product not used in compliance with its manufacturer’s recommendations are dangerous, but an outdoor wood boiler is least among them.
The harvesting and burning of wood is an important economic factor in any community. It reduces a community’s dependence on foreign energy companies and it supports the local economy. There is no billion dollar wood fuel utility that will profit from wood burning or multinational corporations involved in the wood heat business. Most businesses that supply furnaces are small manufacturers and retailers. Local workers who chop firewood and chimney sweeps who service wood-heating systems get the benefit of local dollars.
Our philosophy at Hawken Energy, Inc. is that we want to be a good neighbor. Therefore, we will only sell furnaces that produce no or very low emissions to our customers who live in densely populated areas, so as not to bother a close neighbor.
We also have models that are designed for rural areas where smoke emissions are not a concern. To our knowledge, none of our rural customers have installed their outdoor wood boilers within 100 feet of their neighbors and it is for this reason that we have never had a smoke-related complaint from any customer or their neighbors.
In spite of what is being said by those opposed to wood burning (whose intentions are questionable anyway), the bottom line is that wood is affordable, renewable, sustainable, it is a secure domestic heating method, and wood is appropriate to the resources of our country.
For Information Purposes:
Hawken Energy, Inc. is an energy technology company focusing on providing energy saving products to residential and commercial customers. Hawken Energy has extensive expertise in energy technologies, and they are becoming recognized among leading U.S. experts in wood fuel systems. For more information regarding this, or other analysis by Hawken Energy, please feel free to contact Warren Walborn, President & CEO, at (231) 861-8200.
- Ruth Leger Sivard, World Military & Social Expenditure (World Priorities Inc, 1991)
- See “Emissions from Outdoor Wood-Burning Residential Hot Water Furnaces”, United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA/600/SR-98/017, February 1998.