On the Air: 4 Ways to Green Your Wood Fire

Quick—what’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word fireplace? Cozy, right? Yeah. The word itself just makes you want to pull up a chair and settle in wrapped in a nubby blanket with your honey.

That said, you may have also noticed you might actually need that nubby blanket, because in a standard fireplace, the fire creates a cool draft as most of the warmth is sucked out through the chimney. Not to mention the sooty smoke that fills the house while you-know-who gets the fire started. Idyllic? Not so much. So EcoMyths readers want to know: How do you make fireplaces and wood stoves burn warm and clean—and green too?

IsFireGreen-Kosson-EcoMythsThis month on Worldview’s EcoMyths segment, we decided to explore whether burning wood in the winter is a naturally green alternative. So we looked to New Hampshire, where both wood stoves and sustainable forests are an integral part of the culture. Jerome McDonnell and I talked with air quality expert, Craig Wright, director of New Hampshire’s Air Resources Agency. Craig shared with us that there are both healthy and not-so-healthy ways to use fire-burning to stay warm. Not-so-healthy ways include using green or wet wood in the fireplace because it produces a lot of airborne ash, which can cause respiratory problems for those who breathe it. Other risky, polluting options include burning wood in inefficient, non-EPA wood stoves.

So how do we enjoy our cozy fireplaces and still keep the air around us clean? Here are Craig’s top four recommendations on making your fires eco-friendly:

1. Burn seasoned hardwoods

Fires made from, “seasoned” split wood burn hotter, creating less smoke and ash. Seasoning wood requires allowing split wood to dry for at least 6-12 months. To tell if wood is dry enough, look for cracks in the grain at the end of the logs.

2. Use wood from sustainable forests

Forests that are actively managed through cutting and replanting are more bio diverse and healthier than woodlands that are left to fend for themselves. Craig notes that buying wood harvested from sustainable forests helps ensure that our forests will continue to be renewed, providing better ecological functioning (e.g. cleaning the air we breathe) and supporting the local economy. Wood is one of the few sources of energy that is renewable. It is also considered by the EPA to be a carbon neutral fuel because trees take in as much C02 while growing as they naturally release after they fall to the forest floor and decay (or are burned).

3. Choose an EPA-certified wood-burning stove

EPA-certified stoves use only about 1/3 as much wood and also retain more heat in your home. In addition, they emit about half as much pollution compared to old, non-certified wood stoves. When purchasing a new stove, look for the EPA-certified label on the back. Your fireplace can also be lined with an EPA-certified liner enabling more of the fire’s heat to make your living room cozy.

4. Burn wood pellets

Last, but certainly not least, wood pellet stoves use small, compressed nuggets of wood waste and two-stage combustion to burn hot and clean. According to the EPA and Craig, wood pellet stoves are the most efficient wood stoves available.

We know you are hot to learn more! Listen to the Worldview podcast of EcoMyths’ fireside chat for the whole story and to learn more about green ways to get cozy with wood fires. For a deeper dive, #readthemyth.

— As part of our partnership with Chicago Public Media/WBEZ, this content may also appear on the station website.