Do your homework, jayprab. There is virtually zero nutritive [agronomic] value to forest fire ash. If you don't believe me, grab a bagful of what mother nature leaves behind and have a lab do an analysis. FACT: You won't find those things that promote vegetative growth. All you will find is a few minor trace mineral elements that were not deficient in the soil beneath before the fire. You have been taught [and are spreading] a myth with no basis. If forest fire ash were nutritive, the gardening stores and nurseries would sell bags of it for a profit. And, as a matter of fact the earth and all its bounty ARE for the benefit of mankind, the dominant species. Stewardship and management are the keys to preservation of this earth we all share, not ignorance. And, thank you for mentioning the volcano. Yet another example of Mother Nature wreaking havoc upon herself. All of mankind could benefit from harnessing the volcano's power 365 days a year, and even moreso if the decanting of that energy kept her from blowing up. Think about it.
Constitution man, you sound angry... When you say we have to MANAGE this 'resource', you are already assuming that everything on this planet is for our consumption and convenience... Forest fires actually do GOOD by returning nutrients to the ground and allowing undergrowth to re-grow (which fauna depend on for nutrition). Sure, some critters die, but that, too, is a part of the NATURAL cycle of things. This process has been going on for far longer than mankind as husbanded the it... Take the canyons in California, where, because of 'managing' the underbrush, the fires, which inevitably occur, actually are much more intense! As for the "...thick black plume of all kinds of nasty stuff in the sky for weeks" left after a forest fire, what do you have to say about volcanic eruptions, then? Mankind, in all it's arrogance, is still insignificant in the face of the AWESOME stuff nature can (and does) throw our way. To think we know it all and can engineer our way out of everything is sheer myopia. Just look at the wealth of examples where we have tried to curtail one problem and created much worse ones... Nature is a hugely multivariate system and is not easily predicted or controlled... Least of all by looking at small subsets of the variables involved...
@ jayprab Caring? maybe. Concerned? yes indeed. But your response is indicative of what's wrong with much of our energy, environmental, and clean air policy. Selected trees NEED to be cut down or they are a source of disease for the forest around them. And, forested areas NEED thinning to stay healthy. If we choose NOT TO MANAGE this vast resource, then Mother Nature takes over, a fire starts, and ALL the trees are burned to the ground along with all associated habitat. Little furry things die, and the damage takes decades to correct. The release of pollutants in a natural fire is no cleaner than the controlled burn of a home wood burner. In fact it is far worse when mother nature has it her way because the combustion is often wild and uncontrolled, thus incomplete... leaving a thick black plume of all kinds of nasty stuff in the sky for weeks. Properly combusted furnace wood burns down slowly and completely, and is NOT greenish sappy material. It is the responsible citizen who properly manages and harvests the forest for use in a controlled burn, versus the burn of fossil fuels purchased from hostile cultures. Properly done, forest harvesting is minimally disruptive to the surrounding ecosystem, furry critters and all. While you have a problem with the beliefs of the responsible steward of the forest [and the person who is smart enough to buy scrap wood], I have a problem with those who assume that land owners are just somehow "lucky". I've noticed that a lot of "lucky" people in my midst also happen to be those who have worked damn hard for all they enjoy.
jayprab, I am not even close to an expert on this, but there really is a difference between burning wood and burning oil and gas trapped in the ground. The wood comes from trees, trees which consume the CO2 in our atmosphere and trap it in the form of cellulose as you point out. However, in the ecological cycle, that is actually a somewhat balanced cycle...
burn tree = release carbon, grow tree = trap released carbon.
Burning oil and natural gas is taking carbon that is currently trapped in the ground and not a part of the ecological cycle and throwing it into the cycle...it is overloading one specific area of the cycle.
Also, do not confuse this with some of the other areas we are destroying our environment. The people here are talking about maintaining forests in a growth positive manner, as opposed to clear cutting which the wood and paper industries have been known for. Careful clearing of certain undergrowth and smaller trees from a forest can actually make a better forest to help remove more of the unbalanced CO2 we are putting in the atmosphere.
I have been heating with wood 95% of the time since 1978 in northern wisconsin.
It takes from 8 to 12 cords of dry wood per year. typically only 5 to 10 acres of woods is required to generate that amount of fuel forever here in Wisconsin
you need to burn dry wood, other wise a huge amount of cresote is created. there are basically two types of wood burners here. the ones that smoulder and run for a day on a load and burn wet wood. they are approximately 50% efficient and are outlawed in much of wisconsin if you are less than 500 ft from another house.
the better kind of wood burner burns dry wood and can be up to 80% efficient and generally they are very clean as they burn much hotter and generate mostly CO2 and H2O and some small particulates and epecially important, the cresote is burned up. the down side is that they need to be fired several times a day as they consume the dry wood very fast.
The key to burning wood is having a good material handling system. I have a large wood box (about 1/2 cord) that I can move with the tractor from the primary wood pile to next to the furnace when necessary. I figure I spend on average about 1 hour per week cutting, splitting (I split everything but Elm by hand, it is faster and provides more exercise) and transporting the wood.
I dry most of the wood at least one year however oak needs to be dried 3 years to get it really dry.
As they say heating with wood heats you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it.
My primary back up is Electric resistance heating now as off peak electric heat is about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of any other fuel. ( I do not have natural gas)
I get a load of slab wood for about $300 here in upstate NY. It's all hardwoods and is about 9 face cords or about 3 cords. It's from a local company that makes shipping skids. I go through that and about half a tank of fuel oil each winter. I have 10 acres of woods but can't be bothered cutting and splitting all that wood each year. I bolted a thermal switch onto the back of the stove and use it to control the fan that blows air through the stove. It closes at 160 and opens at 140 degrees. It makes it so it's not blowing unless the stove is hot. It also lets me know if the stove needs more wood in the middle of the night if I don't hear the fan blowing.
I have a problem with the general belief that burning wood is, somehow, better than obtaining energy from any other form of carbon-based fuels... Wood is mostly cellulose, C6H10O5. The 6 Cs in there are sequestered carbon, that gets released back into the atmosphere when the wood is burned... In addition, as 78RPM laments, there is really no real way to capture and clean the wood-fire flue gases, which have a LOT more "stuff" in them (creosote, for instance) than do gases generated from burning (refined) propane (C3H8) or natural gas or even oil.... Modern furnaces are much more efficient and can be tuned to run as clean as the state-of-the-art will allow. Not perfect, but it is the best we have... Besides, how many people are lucky enough to have 64 wooded acres (or even 1) to sustain their heating needs? And how many have the time to go through said woods to forage, cut, bring back, chop, stack the wood???!! These less fortunate (and in my opinion, equally misguided) folk simply BUY the wood from someone, who goes into a forest and cuts down trees to meet this demand... Sustainable? Hard wood forests take a LONG time to grow back... So more and more forest area is being cultivated now and we are disrupting animal habitats in the process... I could go on, but you get the picture... So is it THAT much different from pulling oil or gas out of the ground?
A very simple and interesting solution to the problem of insulation. The only problem is that fireplaces are not very common anymore, at least not in the cities. But yes for people who can relate to this problem, it does provide a very simple solution to the problem of heat loss through chimneys.
Thanks for the explanations, guys. I'd heard of heatilators way back when but not outdoor wood furnaces. Sounds like an excellent system. Free wood? Wow, wish we had that here in the Northern California mountains. One cord of good-quality, dry, burnable oak and madrone for my EPA-approved stove now costs $400 here. I usually burn 2-3 per winter. A chunk of forest acreage would be nice, too. This winter we're excited because the local electric company trimmed a great big madrone and we got about 1/2 cord from it, saving us about $200 next winter.
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