Burning wood on fire when done inappropriately can have adverse environmental effects or concerns as stipulated below;
A carbon footprint refers to the amount of carbon a particular activity (in this case wood burning) subtracts or adds to the environment. With regards to carbon, burning wood on fire has almost neutral effects. This is due to the fact that trees remove carbon from the environment as they grow. When they are burnt, they release the same carbon into the environment therefore completing the carbon cycle. The advantage trees pose is that they are a renewable source of energy since they regrow to reclaim air carbon and to replace the already cut or burnt down trees.
Besides releasing carbon on burning, trees also release it during rotting and decomposition process. The only difference is that, the form of oxidation during burning is regarded as rapid compared to the slower oxidation during decomposition.
If consideration is based on gas and oil used in tree harvesting, then carbon foot print will not be entirely neutral. A lot of particulate matter released into the atmosphere becomes a major concern, a reason why is advised to use burning stoves that are certified or the ones that are well maintained. Certified and well maintained stoves are known to burn wood more efficiently and cleanly. Wood to be burnt should also be properly dried so as to minimize smoke and particulate outputs. If this is taken into consideration, carbon footprint and other environmental effects of wood burning can be mitigated.
Depletion of Forests
Harvesting trees for wood burning is a major environmental concern for maintenance of a stable ecosystem. Unless harvesting is done to ease congestion and to ensure healthy growth of other trees, it threatens the habitat and the ecosystem as a whole.
Trees should not be cut down for the short term aim of making profits. Proper maintenance and management should be enhanced to ensure a more attractive and vibrant ecosystem. Wood for burning should be obtained by tree surgeons and maintenance crews and burning must be done in modern stoves and fireplaces.
Smoke Pollution Outdoors
Smoke emission results to all lot of effects. When locals heat wood, smoke accumulates resulting to invisibility. The climatology and topographical effects trap smoke resulting in unpleasant smoke smell that causes nausea and even sickness to some people.
Most stoves used in wood burning are with filthy smoke emission departments. This makes them emit up to sixty grams of particulates in any given hour. Only well maintained and modern wood burners emit a lesser rate of below 7 grams of particulates in any given hour and are highly encouraged for use to mitigate the effects of smoke pollution.
Wood has a higher percentage of carbon with hydrogen and oxygen taking lesser percentages. When wood is burnt, it smokes and turns black in color due to faster vaporization of hydrogen and oxygen. Smoke therefore leaves pure carbon behind in form of charcoal. The vaporizing smoke contains filthy, big and gooey hydrocarbons with a few of them being carcinogenic.
When wood is burnt properly in hot fire, black tar droplets vaporize leaving carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor and hydrocarbons not fully oxidized and easily regulated by EPA. Stinking hydrocarbons called poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in smoke usually from smoldering wood fire. When the tar like droplets leave the chimney, their chemical composition changes leading to heavy molecules falling to the ground and thus mixing with soil and water to form humus.
Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor air pollution results when a wood burning system spills smoke from burning wood into the room. Any smell of wood smoke in the house is regarded as pollution. Proper maintenance on wood stoves should therefore be enhanced to prevent this kind of pollution. Other than using the EPA certified wood burning stove, the following should also be observed;
- Use of seasoned wood i.e. before burning, wood should be cut, split and dried in stacks for a period of approximately six months. Cutting and splitting should correspond to the heater size.
- Ensuring flaming when wood is burning until only charcoal remains. Absence of flame is an indication that something is not right.
- Proper regulation of air setting should be ensured so as any new load of wood ignites almost instantaneously.
- Firebricks should always be tan in color and not black. The glass door should also be clear and the steel iron parts maintaining a dark brown color and not a black or shiny one.
- Smoke from the chimney should not be grey or blue but whitish or clear. Grey smoke is an indication of stove inefficiency.
- Wood to be used in burning should be selectively harvested through uneven age cutting so as to maintain the correct level of biodiversity and biomass.
It should be noted that advanced or modern stoves are very efficient and burn wood producing more than 90% clean heat. This means that less smoke is produced and less deforestation as a result. They also do not spill smoke in the house.
Responsible Wood Heating
Responsible wood heating is important for environment conservation and sustainability. The following should be taken into consideration.
- Use of right equipment; it’s advisable to restrain from acquiring recreational and decorative wood burning appliances as they are never considered environmental appropriate. Fireplaces that are conventional and without any recovery mechanisms are not good either due to their polluting and wasteful nature. Chimneys should also be made straight for reliability and reduced maintenance.
Maximum consideration on EPA certified stoves should be ensured. This is because they emit less smoke and are much more efficient thus more heat obtained from very little amount of wood.
- Use of appropriate firewood; appropriate firewood is obtained by consideration of sustainable forest management practices. These practices strive to maintain species diversity and forest integrity. The best example of this practices is selective harvesting through thinning or removal of dead woods while leaving special species trees for wildlife habitat.
- Efficient daily practices; these are general daily practices i.e. following operating instructions supplied with the heater, burning wood in cycles by placing several pieces on coal thus maintaining that desired heat output, never letting the fire smolder and frequent removal of ashes since its build up interferes with proper loading that ends with ash mess that needs clean up.
Smoke being the pollutant in wood heating causes varied effects to children and the elderly people with sensitive respiratory systems. Dense smoke can permeate clothes and sometimes drive people indoors but if the above measures are taken into consideration, not only will these downsides be mitigated but also a better ecosystem will be maintained for desired sustainability.