Ah, the wood burning stove, central to our grandparents’ homes — used for cooking, space heating, stock tank heating in the winter and, of course, keeping the sauna as hot as the devil’s front room.
Nowadays, we have central heating supplied by the convenience of natural gas or propane — the drafty indoor equivalent of the Chinook wind.
Some folks have embarked on a trial with solar thermal panels using the sun’s heat to supplement the use of these fuel gases, but there is still a large contingent of the population that use wood for some degree of space heating.
The efficiencies of the modern wood stove have long been improving, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency has set stringent controls for emissions of wood burning appliances.
These limits are set out in EPA list of certified wood stoves recommended by their Burn Wise program.
This program sets out the parameters, which are as follows: for non-catalytic wood stoves the emissions must be less than 7.5 grams of particulate matter per hour of operation and catalytic stoves a limit of 4.1 grams/hr of particulates.
This is far better than the old stoves where constant chimney cleaning was required and the creosote buildup was a constant source of chimney fire concern.
Good air quality is a right of all citizens and for one or more chimneys to be billowing clouds of the toxic products of poor combustion is no longer acceptable.
Ergo the EPA limitation on fireplace and wood stove emissions.
That is not to say Canada has no standards on emissions.
Canada’s emission standards are set out by The Canadian Standards Association or CSA.
The CSA has established guidelines for this country that are detailed in CAN/CSA B415.1-10 and Natural Resources Canada has published a guide to Residential Wood Heating that provides valuable information on everything from choices available, design considerations, to chimneys and installation.
Eventually, heating with wood will become obsolete as new sources of non-polluting fuels are developed for the domestic market.
There are radiant gas fired appliances that work on the same principle of heating and they are beginning to become more common.
Possibly one day a combination of solar thermal panels, sun and wind generated hydrogen will produce the energy we need to keep our homes warm. That day is a little way off for Canada, which unlike some northern countries has a bountiful supply of natural gas.
There are those who want to see the total elimination of all wood burning appliances and they make an excellent case for the health benefits of avoiding wood smoke.
But like the internal combustion engine, which produces far more pollutants than the wood stove on a per capita basis, until the motivation is found to develop new technologies to provide adequate and abundant heat for our homes in the depths of our northern winters, I am afraid the wood stove will be here for a while yet.
At the very least, we can install efficient wood stoves correctly.
Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta.
He built his first off-grid home in 2003 and is in the planning stage for his second. His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Contact him at: email@example.com.