Woodburning fireplaceWood-fired central heating: Leave your heating bills out in the cold

By Felix Tod

Now that winter is behind us – hopefully! – we have all those heating bills to look forward to. Cold, damp nights with all the radiators on and the AC on reverse cycle soon add up.


The Government’s Green Paper states that Bermudians emit more pollution per capita than China, so it's time to look at woodburning stoves, a cleaner and cheaper heating alternative, for next winter.


The latest models of woodburning stoves do not contribute to global warming, because no more carbon dioxide is released than the natural forest would emit if left untouched. Using wood for heat means less fossil fuel burned, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and a healthier environment.


When firewood is used as an energy source, part of the natural carbon cycle is brought into our homes to heat them. A fire in a modern woodburning stove fireplace releases the solar energy stored by trees as they grow. If the entire fuel cycle is considered, a clean-burning fireplace will heat your home more efficiently and with a lower environmental impact than any other fuel option, including oil, gas and coal.


woodburning fireplaceWhen these fossil fuels are burned, old carbon that was buried deep within the earth is released into the atmosphere. The rising concentration of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use is linked to global climate change. In addition, more than 90 percent of the heat from a normal open fire goes up the chimney with unburned residue, effectively polluting the atmosphere as well as wasting wood heat.


The real value of woodburning stove fireplaces is realised when you connect them to ducts in your roof or floor space. You can capture the warm air surrounding the fireplace (not smoky air, as the fire remains sealed) and circulate it around your house. For example, one fire can heat a bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen and playroom.


In this example system, each room has an 8-inch insulated air duct coming into it with a single variable fan in the duct, the equivalent of a 1 to 2 kW blower. Instead of using 5 to 10 kW of electricity, 50 to 100 W will power the fan. This means a house can be heated for about 4 cents an hour, rather than the $4 per hour a couple of radiators would cost. This type of forced air ducting is common in Canada and northern climates.


central heating ductsThe woodburning stove itself can be installed in an existing fireplace or mounted in a new location. The stove unit is a kind of steel box designed to be framed in wood between wall joists. The heat is safely contained in the centre, behind a glass door.


Your choice of firewood can have another unexpected environmental benefit. Casuarina, abundant in Bermuda, has been called the best firewood in the world. This wood is very dense, splits easily, burns when green and has a low ash content, so you have the feel-good factor of helping to remove an invasive species from the island while heating your house!


Just as no government was able to save us from credit crunch, no government will be able to solve the climate crisis – we must take responsibility for changing our own habits and educating ourselves about living in a more conscious way. And increased fuel costs mean that being green can save you money as well as reducing your carbon footprint.



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According to The Footprint Network, which measures the ability of the planet to produce resources and absorb waste, our resource use and waste production is 60% more than the earth can produce or absorb annually.

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