Tag Archives: woodstoves

[NEWS] Increase in Wood Heating Predicted This Winter

– by Erin Voegele, October 14, 2016, Biomass Magazine

wood_heating_homestead

Photo: Homestead.org

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has released the October edition of its Short-Term Energy Outlook, along with its Winter Fuels Outlook, predicting household expenditures on natural gas, heating oil, electricity and propane will increase this winter.

According to EIA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts this winter, measured in heating degree days, will be 3 percent warmer than the previous 10-year average, but much colder than last winter, which averaged 15 percent warmer than the 10-year average nationally.

Within the report, the EIA notes the number of households using cord wood or wood pellets as the primary spacing heating fuel has increased 26 percent since 2005, reaching approximately 2.5 billion households in 2015. In addition, approximately 8 percent of households use wood as a secondary source of heat, making wood second only to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel.

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[OPINION] Helping Low-Income Vermonters Heat with Wood

[Read the opposing view, “Montpelier, Vermont’s Biomass Heating Facility Nothing to Celebrate,” by Willem Post, Consulting Engineer.]

– by Jessie-Ruth Corkins, Operations Director, Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative

The Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative (VSHI) is a small non-profit based out of northern Vermont, started by myself and other eager young students and teachers. We have helped 25 Vermont families on state fuel assistance transition to wood pellet heating and advocated for smart decisions regarding the long term sustainability of Vermont’s forest resources within a comprehensive renewable energy plan for Vermont.

VSHI was formed in 2008, just after many Vermont high schools had transitioned to woodchip heating. As a student at the time, I was motivated by the dreadful effects of climate change, and an understanding that transitioning more of Vermont’s infrastructure to wood heating presented both a solution and a challenge for the long term sustainability of our state’s forests. Could we heat more homes, businesses and schools in Vermont with wood? And who would advocate for our low-income neighbors who are forced to make tough decisions to stay warm during the winter?

Historically in Vermont and today, in places all around the world (for example Haiti), economics and lack of planning have caused severe forest resource depletion. Our Green Mountain state was once significantly cleared for pasture land and timber. And in the last 10 years multiple proposals have been on the table to use Vermont’s forests for more energy production, but deciding which proposal makes the best sense remains the question.

The Biomass Energy Resource Center published numbers in 2011 stating the available wood from our forests that could be harvested annually and remain a sustainable output long-term is roughly 2,000,000 green tons/year. Currently we are harvesting about ½ our capacity and could increase harvesting by 900,000 tons/year. To put that in perspective, that’s ½ cord of wood per person in Vermont, which doesn’t equal much heat per person, given Vermont winters.

Use of wood in the 21st century is complex but meaningful. With invasive species and many of ways to turn wood into energy, deciding the scale and type of energy output that makes sense for Vermonters moving forward is a fundamental question. VSHI does not support electricity generation from wood given the energy lost during conversion, and because turning Vermont’s limited wood supply into electricity would not reduce anyone’s electric rates. Instead we advocate for wood pellet production through small co-operatives around the state. Wood pellets are an easy to use and safe alternative to firewood and often make sense in low-income households. Transitioning more low-income Vermont homes to wood pellet heating would reduce the burden for monetary fuel assistance in Vermont.

Finally, while I support the Vermont Public Service Department’s work to advance wood heating technologies in Vermont—specifically though grants to schools and municipal buildings—they are missing a sub-set of Vermonters who can’t afford the transition to greener heating on their own. I encourage the Clean Energy Development Fund (a subset of the Vermont Public Service Department) to partner with Vermont’s Fuel Assistance Office and other key players to encourage Vermont-scale pellet production and invest in transitioning more homes in Vermont to wood pellet heating within the finite limits of the resource.

Jessie-Ruth Corkins is Operations Director of Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to the establishment of affordability and sustainability in Vermont’s home heating economy.

Ten Things You Need to Know if You Burn Wood

– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Wood heating is on the rise. 2.7 million U.S. households, making up roughly 2% of the population, are projected to burn wood as a primary heating source over the winter of 2014-2015, a 3.9% increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Approximately 7.7% of households use a wood or pellet stove as a secondary heating source, based on 2012 census data.

In every state except for the balmy locales of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Hawaii, wood heating has increased over the last decade, largely due to lower costs in comparison to oil and local sourcing opportunities.

Despite some recent advances in stove technology, wood heating still involves combustion, a process that emits air pollutants that have been linked to various health concerns. With the recent uptick in residential and industrial wood burning, it’s in the public’s best interest to be mindful of the risks that come from stoking up the stove.

1) Respiratory Problems

Residential wood burning “greatly increases” the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air, pollutants smaller in diameter than a human hair, that can lodge deep inside the lungs, as well as enter the bloodstream and organs. Exposure to particulate matter can result in “aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks, and premature death,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). PM can also trigger emphysema and strokes, with children, the elderly, sufferers of lung and heart disease, and those of lower income at highest risk.

A study by the California Air Resources Board reported that “wood smoke can cause a 10 percent increase of hospital admissions for respiratory problems among children, who are at most risk since their lungs are still developing.” Particulate matter can harm lungs during only a four hour exposure and cause even greater damage over the long-term.

The chance of premature death is 17% more likely in cities with high particulates compared to those with cleaner air, with every increase of 50 µg/m3 (microgram per square meter) of PM into the air resulting in a 6% spike in deaths and 18.5% increase in hospital admissions results, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. In some cases, up to 90% of PM pollution can come from residential burning, with wood smoke regularly responsible for half of the California Bay area’s winter PM pollution.

Other health concerns related to wood smoke include “irritated eyes, throat, sinuses, and lungs; headaches; reduced lung function, especially in children; lung inflammation or swelling; increased risk of lower respiratory diseases; more severe or frequent symptoms from existing lung diseases.”

Health costs related to wood smoke particulate matter in the U.S. have been estimated at up to $150 billion a year.

2) Carcinogenic 

Despite wood’s natural origin, wood smoke includes known carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), with studies demonstrating that wood smoke can cause lung cancer.

Wood burning is the largest source of PAHs in the US, with studies showing it to be the “worst contribution” to the air’s mutagenicity (likely to cause mutations in DNA, including cancer). One study concluded that burning two cords of wood can emit the same amount of PAHs as driving 13 gasoline powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon.

Other studies have shown that wood smoke causes mouth, throat, lung, breast, and cervical cancer, in scientific literature compiled by Dr. Dorothy L. Robinson. Even more studies linking wood smoke and cancer can be found at the Australian Air Quality Group’s website.

3) Toxic Chemicals

Wood burning emits dioxin, one of the most toxic and persistent substances on the planet as well as isocyanic acid, which can cause atherosclerosis, cataracts, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Combustion of wood also re-releases heavy metals and radioactive pollution that have been absorbed by trees, in amounts significant enough that wood ash can qualify as hazardous waste under Europe’s definitions, if the standards for coal ash were applied to wood ash.

4) Worse Than Cigarettes

The health impacts of cigarettes was one of the biggest public health scandals of the 1980’s, resulting in smoking being banned in restaurants, bars, and other businesses and public places around the world. Despite the risks of cigarettes, you’re twelve times more likely to get cancer from wood smoke in comparison to an equal volume of second hand cigarette smoke, according to the EPA, cited in the Washington State Department of Ecology’s The Health Effects of Wood Smoke.

Wood smoke is thirty times more potent than cigarette smoke, according to “tumor initiation” tests done on laboratory mice, with another study showing that burning hardwood created three times the likelihood of tumors in mice than cigarette smoke, and more than fifteen times when burning softwood.

A fireplace burning for an hour puts out 4,300 times more PAHs than a pack and a half of cigarettes. Additionally, wood smoke “attacks” the cells of the body forty times longer than tobacco, with free radicals from wood smoke chemically active for twenty minutes, with those of tobacco lasting only thirty seconds.

Burning 1 kg of wood can emit more carcinogenic benzo[a]pyrene than 27,000 cigarettes and more formaldehyde than 6,000 cigarettes, according to Comparison of Toxic Chemicals in Wood and Cigarette Smoke, while another study calculated ambient air levels of benzo[a]pyrene from wood smoke the same as smoking two to sixteen cigarettes/day.

More comparisons of wood smoke to cigarette smoke are studied in Impact of Fuel Choice on Comparative Cancer Risk of Emissions,by Joellen Lewtas, Health Effects Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

5) Exceeds Federal Standards

The World Health Organization maintains that exposure to fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) shouldn’t exceed 25 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) over a 24 hour average, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a much laxer 35 μg/m3 under its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Yet even with the EPA’s leniency, a single wood stove can be responsible for a neighborhood exceeding even those levels, according to the American Lung Association. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 winter stove season, the greater Fairbanks, Alaska area has logged 48 days that exceeded EPA standards. In November 2012, the air quality in the town of North Pole, Alaska, was measured as being twice as bad as Beijing’s, primarily due to wood smoke.

New Hampshire monitoring showed wood smoke violating PM standards by almost double the allowed levels in January 2009, with many communities in southwestern New Hampshire recording 35 μg/m3 and higher.

study in New York — where up to 90% of the Particulate Matter measured came from wood combustion — found 26% of the population was exposed to wood smoke, with the poorer, more crowded and less-white populations receiving the highest levels of PM. Spikes of over 100 μg/m3 per cubic meter occurred during nighttime mobile monitoring, with the report linking such peaks to heart and lung problems, including heart attacks and asthma.

6) Smoke Enters Homes

It’s a common misconception that the only exposure to wood smoke occurs outdoors. However, a substantial amount of smoke actually enters the homes of wood burners, with particulate matter levels found to be 26% higher, benzene levels 29% higher, and PAHs 300% to 500% higher in the homes of wood burners, compared to those who use other heating sources. Another study estimated 70% of outdoor smoke can re-enter a home.

Those who don’t burn wood themselves, yet live in a neighborhood of wood burners, experience indoor particulate levels 50-70% of outdoor levels, according to a Seattle study, as wood smoke has the tendency to hang close to the ground and infiltrate homes, schools, and hospitals.

7) EPA Stoves Not Much Better

EPA stoves have improved somewhat upon conventional woodstoves. Instead of emitting 250 times more particulate matter than an oil or gas furnace, EPA stoves now emit eighty-five times more.

In Libby, Montana over $2.5 million financed the replacement of old wood stoves with EPA certified stoves, resulting in only a 28% reduction in emissions. Measures to further improve wood stove emissions are getting major pushback from the wood heating industry and some politicians.

8) Doctors Want Ban

Some medical professionals who have been studying the health impacts of wood smoke are concerned about the health ramifications, while others are calling for a phasing out of wood stoves. Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, wants to see an end to residential wood burning. “We don’t have a lot of options,” he said. “We can accept our air pollution is not solvable, we can stop driving all our cars, we can tell industry to shut down, or we can stop burning wood.”

American Lung Association urges that the public “should avoid burning wood in houses where less polluting heating alternatives are available.”

9) Taxpayer Subsidized

Trends show more and more Americans burning wood to heat their homes, causing shortages of cordwood and pellets in some regions and the resulting price spikes. While an individual may choose not to operate a wood stove, a portion of his or her tax dollars may still subsidize those who do.

A $300 federal tax credit has been available to those purchasing new wood stoves or pellet stoves, with the policy set to expire in January 1, 2014, though industry groups claim an extension is possible. Eight states provide tax credits, rebates or deductions for wood heating, including Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Montana, and Oregon, with New York State offering a $1,000 tax credit for the purchase of a new pellet stove.

10) Alternatives to Burning

There are options for those seeking non-combustion technologies to heat their homes. Alternatives include ground source heat pumpsair source heat pumpssolar thermalpassive solar, and even experimental technologies, such as compost heating. No matter the heating source, the most basic and important step any homeowner can take to reduce energy demands is through insulation and other conservation and efficiency measures.

In some areas, you might not have a choice about whether you burn wood or not. Many states, such as ArizonaCalifornia, and Washington, enforce burn bans and restrictions, based on changes in air quality.

Several court cases, including one in Nebraska, have determined that a neighbor’s wood stove is a nuisance. A recently adopted bylaw in the County of Essex, Ontario, Canada states that one or more complaints in regards to smoke that has a “detrimental impact on the use and enjoyment” of property, will result in a cease and desist order barring future burning.

Montreal has taken things a step further, with plans to phase out wood stoves altogether by 2020.

A Victim of Woodsmoke Pollution

– by Shirley Brandie, WoodBurnerSmoke.net

In 2000, we bought a home to enjoy our retirement in. It was perfect for us! Everything on one floor, a surrounding deck, and a large expanse of lawn. Little did we know that, in 2002, our lives would be changed dramatically! Beginning in 2002, our home became surrounded and infiltrated by wood smoke from our neighbour. There was no help in getting this smoke stopped. Everywhere we turned we received sympathy but were told there was nothing they could do.

We were told that it was an issue to be dealt with at the municipal level. Approaching the municipality and asking for help gave us more sympathy but no action.

The people we talked with said it was a “civil matter.” We called the Building Inspector repeatedly about the height of the chimney and were told it met code.

We spoke, both in person and by telephone, to the neighbours telling them that the smoke was getting into our house and making life almost unbearable. The response was to “keep your windows closed.” We tried to explain that the smoke gets in through the furnace intake, spaces under doors, etc. They then said they would not stop burning, would burn what they want and to sue them if we didn’t like it… which we finally ended up doing. We obtained a temporary court injunction in May of 2005. Trial is pending.

We approached our local council and they decided that the chimney needed to be raised and thought that would solve the problem. The chimney was raised, but the problem continued as the burning increased and the smoke billowed out day and night. There was no escaping the smoke and the stench. Many nights I would sleep with my head under the sheets hoping to escape the irritants of the smoke. I had burning eyes, a continual sore throat and nasal irritation that led to many sinus headaches and infections.

The brick chimney was originally an outdoor barbeque, that I never saw used. He added what I like to call a “plastic room” around it and attached it to the side of the house. The plastic room was made of materials, he told the press, that he obtained from a greenhouse that was being rebuilt. The roof, also, is made of some type of corrugated plastic. The plastic room remains to this day. He then decided to add a wood stove instead and had it built in the far corner of the plastic room. This chimney pipe was too short and the council, once again, dealt with him and he raised it by about 5 feet. They had him replace the chimney cap, hoping it would deflect the smoke away. It didn’t. Perhaps he was upset about this as he removed the cap the next day and burned up a storm. The cap was later put back on.

Materials were stored in the yard in various places. Most were partially covered but some piles were just thrown together. These piles contained treated wood, plywood, red barn wood, plastics, and scraps. The smoke was nauseating and the colour of the smoke varied by what was being burned. I knew then that we would have to do something!

I can tell you first-hand what it is like when one is forced to deal with a smoke issue, as I have lived through it. I can tell you that the stench permeates your entire home, your clothing, your hair, and you can even taste it. Exposure to the smoke was extremely uncomfortable and caused burning eyes, dry throat, irritation of the nasal passages and headaches. When the smoke stopped, so did the symptoms. There was no relief by opening windows because the acrid smells were like a fog covering our house. Buying expensive air cleaners did nothing to remove the odours. There was no enjoying the deck and yard as long as the wood burning stove was in operation.

As there was no provincial or municipal authority to whom we could turn to for help, we were forced to resort to the courts. In order to get the smell of the wood smoke out of the house, we removed and replaced the carpeting, ductwork, the furnace and air conditioning unit, and cleaned all surfaces including the walls. Mattresses and pillows were discarded as they smelled of wood smoke. It was an expensive project. I can tell you the fatigue my husband felt after working all day and then going to our house until near midnight day after day to work on the renovations.

We were fortunate enough to have the means to seek legal help. Remember that there was no provincial or municipal authority which we could turn to for help. What would happen to those that cannot afford legal help? Would they be forced to move out of their homes? Could they afford to do that? Would they be able to sell their home when a potential buyer saw or smelled the smoke? Or, would they have to remain in their homes with their children and become sick? It’s a thought that is very disturbing to me. I think it is high time that our municipalities give some thought to banning all wood burning in residential areas. I fail to see how the public interest is served by permitting the unnecessary fouling of the air we all have the need to breathe.

To those of you that think this kind of thing could never happen to you, think again! It can happen almost overnight and not one family is guaranteed that they won’t end up in the same position as we did. Many municipalities have a “no outdoor burning” bylaw, yet the smoke from indoor burning is released into the air and permeates throughout neighbourhoods and gets into neighbours’ homes. There is no escaping it, inside or out. Where is the help for the victims?

The victims of smoke are a majority. The burners are not. Why is it so difficult to ban wood burning in residential areas? There is no smoking in public places now, yet the smoke from wood burning is far more dangerous and travels for miles, exposing everyone to its dangerous toxins. Does this make sense to anyone? Those municipalities that feel that a bylaw telling people what they can burn in their fireplaces and wood stoves is a good one are dead wrong.