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Heating with Wood

Many in the world are currently seeking ways to reduce the burning of fossil fuels for energy. As a result, there are many discussions of alternative energy forms such as solar, nuclear, or biomass. One form of biomass energy has been used by people in one form or another for tens of thousands of year. In fact, it may be one of the most common forms of worldwide energy generation even today. What is it? Burning wood for heating, cooking, and light.

Putting aside the potential health and environmental issues associated with wood burning in many under-developed nations, wood burning can, and does, remain a source of energy for many families in the developed world. In southern Utah, where I live, many small communities are heated each winter largely by wood burning stoves. In fact, I have a stove myself.

Pros

Today, the power was out for a significant period of time in the town where I live. I have a gas furnace, but it requires electricity to function. The day was cool, not cold, but the house was uncomfortable. So, I fired up the woodstove and quickly warmed the house-no grid-based electricity required. Since the stove-top is flat, it also makes a good place to heat a pot of water for brewing fresh coffee in the French press.

Wood burning can also provide health benefits. If, like me, you choose to cut, split, and stack the wood yourself, you can save a bundle on gym memberships. Simply put, making firewood is good, old-fashioned, hard work and it helps keep a person fit. Plus, on a cold day, splitting a half cord of wood will warm you up. That's why they say that wood heat warms you twice.

Cons

Unfortunately, using wood to heat one's home is a dirty business. A nice warm stove in the living room sure is pleasant, but it brings a lot of debris into the room. If you have a white carpet, this is probably not for you. First, the wood itself is dirty, and it is nearly impossible to get it into the house without spilling a little sawdust or bark. Then, after burning for a few days, the ash needs to be removed from the stove. This is best done when cool-hot ash will fly up from your shovel and into the house-but can hardly be done without spilling a little.

There is also the problem of cost. While it seems like it should be essentially free to build a cozy little fire in the stove, it isn't. If you are going to process the fuel yourself, you'll need a truck, a chainsaw, and a splitting maul. Only the maul is inexpensive, and depending on the kind of equipment you like to use, the rest of it can cost more than your house. If you have a source of firewood for sale in your area, you can skip the truck, but you will need to pay anywhere from 150 to 200 GBP per cord and up for your wood. (A cord is a stack of wood four feet tall by four feet deep by eight feet long.)

Summary

Burning wood for heat is a fossil fuel alternative that may even be "carbon neutral" depending on how you define it. It has the additional advantage of providing warm food and a warm sitting room even after a storm has interrupted your electric power. Moreover, bringing in the wood can

keep you fit. But, it is not for everyone. Collecting wood and dumping ashes can be hard, dirty work that may or may not save you much money. For me, it is a good fit with my lifestyle. Now, I just need one of those old '70s bumper stickers for my firewood truck: "Split Wood Not Atoms."