Budget-Conscious U.S. Turns to Wood Fuel

February 24, 2008 12:05 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Wood-burning stove use is on the rise because of increasing oil prices. The development could have serious environmental effects.

30-Second Summary

With their budgets squeezed by the rising cost of oil, some Americans are choosing to abandon oil heating altogether and return to a “simpler” way of life: using wood-burning stoves to heat their homes.

But this rustic heating method is not without drawbacks. Some environmental groups are worried about the air pollution that could result from the recent jump in wood’s popularity.

According to a 2006 report cited by The New York Times, the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a non-profit group, estimates that average emissions from one wood boiler—an outdoor wood-burning heating unit—equal the pollution created by 22 wood stoves, 205 oil furnaces or 8,000 natural gas furnaces. 

Sally Markos, of the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency in Springfield, Ore., told the Times that “the air pollution will get worse on days that people are feeling the economic pinch.”

In an effort to curb the effects of increasing wood stove use, the Environmental Protection Association set clean-burning performance standards for wood-burning stoves in 1998, but they are not mandatory.

And the problem could get worse. The Financial Times reports that oil prices reached an all-time high of over $100 this week. Fueling the price hike are analysts’ predictions that OPEC will not raise oil supplies.

With increased wood use, some local governments are taking action.

The Springfield city council this week voted in favor of a measure that bans residents from using their wood-burning stoves whenever the county air advisory issues a “red” alert, marking days when smoke levels are high.

Wood burning is the single biggest contributor to countywide pollution in the winter.

Headline Links: ‘With Oil Prices Rising, Wood Makes a Comeback’

Background: Crude rises to all-time high

Historical Context: Wood burning surges in the 1980s

Reference: Wood-burning safety information


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