Thursday, January 20, 2011

fireplaces, good or bad?

Where I live, heat becomes an obsession in the winter.  It gets very cold here, and the heating options are either you have a giant unsightly propane tank or you pay out the ear for electric baseboard heating.  The third option is to have a fireplace or wood-burning stove.  Many people out here do, as evidenced by the gigantic woodpiles you see throughout town.  Two of my fellow VISTAs even live in a house where their only heat is a fireplace.  In a way, I envy them.  Out here, wood is plentiful and inexpensive.  The county is something like 80% national forest, and the trees far outnumber the people.

So it was with something akin to shock that I read that fireplaces are not considered by some to be eco-friendly.  It seems odd, because aren't trees a renewable resource?  If you're responsibly planting to replace what you take, how is that not environmentally friendly?  But apparently the main issue is not with the wood being burned, but with the smoke being produced.  According to the article "Cozy Winter Fires – Carbon Impact," the fine particles that wood-burning fires and stoves release into the air are estimated by the EPA to contribute "approximately 62% of aromatic hydrocarbon emissions – a very hazardous human produced carcinogen."

Eschewing wood-burning fires seems to some like "eco-overkill," and personally, I'm inclined to agree.  However, that hasn't stopped numerous places out west from creating laws and regulations limiting or even banning traditional wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.  To quote the New York Times,
"Idaho offers tax incentives to people who replace uncertified wood stoves with 'greener' ones; San Joaquin County in California forbids selling a home unless its wood stove is replaced with an E.P.A.-certified one; and Palo Alto and other municipalities in California prohibit wood-burning fireplaces or stoves in new construction."
I've never lived in or even visited any of those places, so I can't say whether pollution caused by wood-burning is noticeably different in them.  I can say that my parents have gas fireplaces, the kind that produce an actual flame, and they feel incredibly authentic.  I'd be likely to install a gas fireplace or stove over a wood-burning for the simple reason that they are far less labor-intensive, and I am a lazy, lazy lout.

What do you think?  Is this "eco-overkill" or something we should take note of?

1 comment:

Bronwyn said...

Like you, I live in an area of the world that gets COLD. We have a woodstove in our kitchen. It heats the whole house, so I rather like fireplaces.