Story 2015-02-03 2WW4 Wood-burning homes targeted as major air polluters

Wood-burning homes targeted as major air polluters

in environment on (#2WW4)
story imageFireplaces may no longer invoke the same kind of warm memories they used-to. While a fire in the hearth may look good, it’s bad for the heart and lungs. It’s also becoming illegal. An onslaught of new research linking fireplace smoke with heart attacks and lung disease, coupled with stricter air regulations, daily bans on wood-burning, and higher insurance rates may soon erase that Norman Rockwell fireplace scene from real estate brochures. Air districts in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and in China and Greece are asking the public not to burn wood. Utah even proposed a near-complete ban on wood burning, but retracted the measure after overwhelming public opposition. While a low-tech solution, it is an inexpensive way to cut emissions. “We’ve spent 50 years trying to control air emissions from every source, but this one has gone unregulated.”

Wood burning creates on average 5 tons of PM2.5 emissions each day in Southern California, about four times the amount of PM2.5 from all the power plants. These tiny pollutants get sucked into the deepest part of the lungs, the alveoli, interfering with oxygen exchanges, causing lung disease, emergency room visits, heart attacks and even premature deaths, and only an industrial type of face mask can block them. People with asthma or respiratory diseases, children or the elderly should not be in a room with a wood-burning fire, even after it has been extinguished. In many areas, wood smoke is the single biggest source of air pollution in the winter months. While newer EPA-approved stoves emit up to 90 percent less pollution than traditional stoves, even the cleanest wood stove is 60 times more polluting than a natural gas furnace. Many lower-income residents, who burn wood as their sole source of home heating, cannot afford the approx. $3,000 upgrade. The EPA estimates there are 10 million wood stoves in operation in the United States, with 65 percent of them older, inefficient conventional stoves.
Reply 14 comments

Costs (Score: 2, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-02-03 20:15 (#2WWB)

Wood is really cheap, and electricity is really expensive ($0.20/kWh in New Zealand, where incomes are really low).

If you've got a way to reverse those issues, you'll be onto something.

Re: Costs (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2015-02-03 21:39 (#2WWD)

The solution is quite easy... Burn the wood in the electrical generating plants. That'll quickly fix both problems.

Also, heat pumps only require 1/3rd to 1/4th the electric of basic resistive heaters, and better units can operate down to air temperatures below NZ's lowest ever recorded. A ductless mini split or a PTAC heat pumps can be had for under $700, and the majority of the installation can be done by an average homeowner, with the pros doing the final hook-ups. Just check the specs for minimum temperature before buying, as some are much better than others.

Re: Costs (Score: 1)

by on 2015-02-05 13:45 (#2WX0)

Customary outside-air-sinked heat pumps are no good when you REALLY NEED heating. As the outside temperature approaches -18 C (0 F), the energy requirement approaches that of the much simpler electric resistance heater.

Geothermal-sinked heat pumps are much better, as a sink temperature of +10 or so is almost never more than a few feet underground. The tradeoff is cost and complexity.

Re: Costs (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2015-02-05 14:45 (#2WX1)

As the outside temperature approaches -18 C (0 F), the energy requirement approaches that of the much simpler electric resistance heater
Actually, heat-pumps have been getting redesigned in recent years specifically to operate much more efficiently in cold climates. I was surprised to see how quickly they arrived on the market, myself, but they are out there.

Not sure what the best available is right now, but I was recently looking at Mitsubishi's "Hyper Heat" systems which offer "full heating capacity at 5° F [-15C] outdoor ambient" and continue "operation down to -13° F [-25C] outdoor" temperatures, at pretty good efficiency levels.
Geothermal-sinked heat pumps are much better
Yes, but the installation cost is many, many times higher, requires permitting, simply isn't viable in a large number of installation scenarios, and more. It's a superb method for extremely cold climates, but really not worth the cost in milder ones, particularly as air-source heat pumps improve.

"... but this one has gone unregulated.” (Score: 1, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-02-04 15:17 (#2WWJ)

I think I've identified what the problem is.

More government bullshit! (Score: 1, Insightful)

by on 2015-02-04 16:38 (#2WWM)

Don't you just looove how they can just ban anything they want while costing them nothing? If they want to ban something as expensive they should not be allowed to unless THEY come up with the money in the budget to pay for the replacements! I don't know about everybody else but I'm personally getting sick and fucking tired of nanny state shitters telling what I can eat, breathe, listen to, about a nice cup of STFU and leave people alone?

Re: More government bullshit! (Score: 3, Informative)

by on 2015-02-04 19:48 (#2WWR)

Did you just call *Utah* a "nanny state"?! Utah, where they want to go against Federal law and eliminate the public education system, because it smells too much like socialism:

Re: More government bullshit! (Score: 2, Insightful)

by on 2015-02-05 23:45 (#2WX5)

Utahn here, and yes, I believe that Utahns believe that Utah is a nanny state, mostly because of things like their current ban on wood burning stoves. There are something like 12 homes in Utah (that the government is aware of) that rely solely on wood to heat the house because it's illegal to give/get a mortgage on a home, new or not, that doesn't have a proper heater. The problem I have with the ban it is possible to operate a wood burning heater that produces less emissions than a propane or butane heater; both of which are entirely legal (and horrendously expensive to operate). I think wood should remain an option for heating your house as long as it is a heater that produces very little emissions. Burning wood for the romanticism? Sorry; fuck you. I have to breath the air you are polluting. It's for the greater good, so fuck off.

All of that said, Utah is a nanny state in so many more ways. For example: you can't buy liquor at the grocery store. In many cities you can't buy beer (which here is very much near-beer because the alcohol content is so low) on Sunday. If that's not the state being a nanny, I don't know what is.

My favorite part? Utahns are so very much in favor of some nanny-state laws and so much against others. If it's something they don't agree with (and Utah mormons in particular are a very cohesive voting bloc) then it should be banned. It makes for very entertaining political theater. (Another favorite is things like politicians saying, just the other day, that it's okay to rape your wife if she's asleep; seriously Utah wtf?)

Re: More government bullshit! (Score: 2, Interesting)

by on 2015-02-05 23:52 (#2WX6)

it is possible to operate a wood burning heater that produces less emissions than a propane or butane heater
How's that? The summary mentions the best EPA-certified wood stoves emit 60 times as much as natural gas (presumably propane is similar), and other stoves do worse.

A "butane" heater is new to me, though there are butane stoves. Perhaps you meant natural gas? See above...

Re: More government bullshit! (Score: 1)

by on 2015-02-06 00:07 (#2WX7)

You're right, looking up the numbers now, I see butane, propane, and wood all in the same order of magnitude for CO2 emissions, which is not what we're directly talking about here. However, there are wood heaters that beat those numbers by a large margin, as those are aggregate numbers, not best-of numbers (the same is of course true for propane, butane, natural gas, etc). I tend to agree mostly with another poster that suggested burning wood in a power plant instead. Capturing emissions is much easier at scale (if not cheaper), and wood is CO2 neutral in the long run. As far as climate change is concerned, wood is great on so many levels. As far as me, and other asthmatics go, wood needs to go for all but a very small population that relies on it as the sole source of heat.

Re: More government bullshit! (Score: 1)

by on 2015-02-07 01:58 (#2WY3)

Thank you! I get so tired of somebody deciding because of where a state is on the map that it is or is not a nanny state without learning anything about the state or its laws! And you perfectly illustrate why I can be extreme left and am utterly opposed of these "think of the (insert children, public,etc) and ban it" kind of laws because they NEVER take common fucking sense into account, never simply focus on what it is that is causing harm, nope lets just ban EVERYTHING that has anything to do with it without distinction! Its the equivalent of trying to get rid of a garden pest problem in your backyard by dropping a MOAB on the block!

If you want to say "this area has too much pollution so we need homes to release below X amount of polluting gases"? I have NO problem with that, as you are not choosing favorites and promoting one (possibly lobbied for) industry over another, you are simply looking at the output. But as you rightly pointed out with bans it wouldn't matter if the gas heating unit belches crap into the air and the wood system has multilevel filtering to only output hot air, all that matters is HOW its created, not WHAT is being created and WHERE its going and that is just retarded!

The wheel of time turns: (Score: 1)

by on 2015-02-04 17:17 (#2WWQ)

So, what happened to all of those "Split Wood Not Atoms" bumperstickers from the 80s?

HFCS heater (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-02-07 06:48 (#2WY7)

Construct a device which legally utilizes HFCS to heat your home and you'll never waste $ on other materials ever again!

what time of year? (Score: 1, Insightful)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-02-12 04:06 (#2XRH)

Here in rural Oregon this can be a big problem in winter. But in summer the wood-burning forest fires can be an even bigger problem, and cover a much larger geographic area. So when are they going to ban forest fires?