Why is Wood So Green?

What’s so eco-friendly about heating with wood, anyway?

Firewood is a renewable resource, and sustainable harvesting practices allow woodlot owners to balance high yield with long-term growth.  Harvesting wood responsibly involves clearing naturally-fallen wood before new growth (intermediate thinning), planting new trees to replace harvested ones, and maintaining a variety of tree species in each lot (biodiversity). When practiced responsibly and sustainably, wood harvesting maintains the natural balance of a forest’s ecosystem, rather than drastically altering or destroying it, as happens with most fossil-fuel extraction and processing.

Carbon cycle ICC-RSF
Photo courtesy of ICC-RSF

Complete combustion of firewood (well-seasoned, and burned in a high-efficiency appliance) produces only carbon dioxide and water; this carbon dioxide is the same amount as would be released during the tree’s natural decomposition process, making wood an almost carbon-neutral source of fuel.  “Almost,” because complete combustion happens only under specific conditions, which are very difficult to replicate in a home fireplace with variable firewood (the wood may be too wet, or the draft may be poor, or some other condition may be preventing complete combustion).  Therefore, most home wood-burning appliances will produce some quantity of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other emissions.  However, today’s modern, EPA-rated wood-burning appliances release very few emissions (many under 3 gm/hr) into the atmosphere, making them far cleaner than fossil fuels.  By replacing even part of our monthly gas or electric heating with wood heat, we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on non-renewable resources such as oil and coal.

For further information, check out the EPA’s BurnWise program.