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What is the Most "Environmentally Friendly" Way to Heat a Home? Looking for FACTS!

Post in 'The Green Room' started by Whimfield, Sep 21, 2008.

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  1. Whimfield

    Whimfield New Member

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    I'm a writer, and I recently asked for a couple of people to help me out with an article that I'm writing on heating with wood heat. You guys were great, and I got a lot of help.

    But now I'm looking for some technical details about wood burning...

    Basically, I want my piece to be able to say that "wood heat is the most environmentally friendly way to heat your home". But...I need some stats/research/hard facts to back me up.

    Can anyone think of any studies or well-researched articles/websites that have done comparisons between the "environmentally friendliness" (or something similar) of different types of heat? Basically, my main reason for posting this is that I need some facts from a reputable source that I can quote from.

    I know this is a heated topic, and many people have different opinions on what constitutes "environmentally friendly". Do you think it's even going to be possible for me to find any hard, undisputed facts on this topic?

    One more thing...when comparing geothermal and woodheat, do you think that geothermal is "greener" (if you ignore the cost difference)? I've read that geothermal may not necessarily be the most efficient option in really cold climates?

    Any advice and links that you can share would be appreciated.

    Best,
    Laura-Jane
    Professional: www.laura-jane.com
    Personal: www.whimfield.com

    Edit: Two factors that I should mention:
    1. I would like to ignore "cost" as a factor in the comparison;
    2. I'm talking about heating in cold climates.

    Thanks again!

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  2. fossil

    fossil Accidental Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm not the expert you're looking for, but I'm a Mechanical Engineer, and I think that your statement above's gonna be a tough sell. In terms of being plain "green", I can't think of anything that could beat passive solar...but that doesn't have geographically wide feasibility. Hydroelectric can be exploited with limited impact on the environment. There are lots of agruments on all sides of the multi-faceted issue.


    Look a bit into Iceland, you might be surprised if you're not familiar with that country's energy infrastructure.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland

    Good luck with it! Rick
  3. jbroich

    jbroich New Member

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    I don't have some kind of "facty" reference for you, Laura-Jane. But it's not obvious that you have to appeal to such a source. Isn't it kind of self evident that burning wood is a carbon-neutral act (the trees would've rotted and released their carbon, anyway) as opposed to pumping out carbon stored when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (that otherwise wouldn't be released)? Sure, one can imagine big solar or hydroelectric or wind plants supplying everyone...but wood burning is something an individual can do now for a realistic initial capital investment.
  4. jpl1nh

    jpl1nh Minister of Fire

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    I agree with fossil, passive solar is the most friendly.
  5. Jimbob

    Jimbob New Member

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    Do I think Geothermal is "greener"? I would have to say it depends on where the electricity to run the heat pump comes from.
    If the electricity is coming from coal or oil fired generating plants, then I would have to say NO.
    If it were coming from wind or hydroelectric generating stations, then I would say YES.

    Here's a linky for you, if you haven't seen this one already:
    http://www.hydro.mb.ca/earthpower/index.shtml
  6. karl

    karl Minister of Fire

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    Dress like an Eskimo.
  7. Redox

    Redox Minister of Fire

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    You might be confusing "Geothermal" with "Ground Source"

    Geothermal is using hot water or steam from the earth to heat things directly. Ground source heat pumps absorb heat from the earth at less than room temperature and amplify it with a refrigeration compressor. This is (I believe) an incorrect use of the word "geothermal", but it sure makes good ad copy and sounds very green, until you realize the compressor uses 2-4 kw of electricity from mostly coal and nuclear sources. It's still more cost effective than an oil burner, but it will not be "green" until we develop more wind and hydro sources.

    Wood heat is considered more green as you will not be releasing any more carbon into the atmosphere than the tree originally took in. There is a concern for air pollution, but I feel this is a minor concern in a modern EPA wood stove. You are probably still going to use some gas in the chain saw and truck to get it to market, but considerably less than an oil burner for the same amount of heat.

    Solar is probably going to be the greenest way to heat, but the logistics of a northern climate make this difficult as others have noted. Therefore, the greenest technology is probably going to be wood heat; after all, that tree was just a huge chemical solar collector and storage container before we whacked it! ;-)

    Good luck with your project.

    Chris
  8. colebrookman

    colebrookman Minister of Fire

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    Have to agree with fossil, passive solar is the best, followed by solar hot water in the floors powered by solar, wind or hydro for electricity. Your premise is not correct with today's advances in energy for homes and businesses.
    Ed
  9. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    Passive solar is what came to mind when I read the title. Geothermal is great as well- and may be all you need in very particular areas.

    How about consciously living in a moderate climate? many make that decision based on heating.
  10. Vic99

    Vic99 Minister of Fire

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    Instead of taking this angle: "Basically, I want my piece to be able to say that “wood heat is the most environmentally friendly way to heat your home”. But...I need some stats/research/hard facts to back me up."

    Perhaps you can highlight why heating with wood is excellent, even though it may not be the absolute best.

    Here's an American EPA site on wood heat that should provide some data.

    http://www.epa.gov/woodstoves/

    Good luck and let us know when the article comes out, please.
  11. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    Vic- exactly- I would also like to point out that taking the tact of "I want to write an article that proves this hypothesis, please provide data" is very much against any definition of the scientific method.

    I don't want to slam you on this, Whimfield- but I'm a scientist and would like to see that sort of bias taken out of what I see published.
  12. Vic99

    Vic99 Minister of Fire

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    ""Vic- exactly- I would also like to point out that taking the tact of “I want to write an article that proves this hypothesis, please provide data” is very much against any definition of the scientific method.""

    Mr. AP, this was actually my very first thought as well. I agree. . . . but I wanted to be encouraging and use a positive spin. When I wrote my post, it was before coffee.

    Also, I thought about how the piece is not a scientific paper. Although a journalist should be non biased, they also want to market, "sell the story" and keep the reader interested. All of that was too much to process for before coffee.
  13. Whimfield

    Whimfield New Member

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    Science, schmience!! Hehe, you guys make good points... I, of course, concur about integrity and hypotheses. The piece I'm working on is a pretty light-hearted article about wood-heat in particular; wood heat's energy efficiency is just a small portion of the piece, so I haven't been too militant about methodology on this one. But you guys are right and called me on it, so that's a good thing. You gotta keep 'em honest.

    I like the free-flow of thoughts in this thread. Keep them coming!
  14. Vic99

    Vic99 Minister of Fire

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    Whimfield,

    Do you know where the piece will be published, or do you write it and submit it to buyers?
  15. SteveT

    SteveT Feeling the Heat

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    Expecting or predicting an outcome may not be appropriate for pure science but it certainly is appropriate in many engineering projects. For example a product is designed and put into test. There is an expectation that the test will be successful. If the facts don't support the expectation (i.e., it does not pass test) the product is redesigned, or the project is scrapped. This would hold whether it is hardware or software - anything.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with having a bias or expectation going in. The wrong would occur if that bias resulted in skewing the data.

    If Laura-Jane cannot find evidence to support her hypothesis she'll have to change the direction she's going in (like putting in the economic qualifiers, or some point on latitude for hours of sun, etc.)
  16. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    Engine rep- you are correct that in an engineering project your bias may help you overcome obstacles in making something work- but in a study of some statistical data that is merely measured it is a fatal flaw. "Wood is greener heat" is not a hypothesis that you can just tweak the methods until it comes out right and then claim it statistically valid.

    In fact one should test the null hypothesis rather than the hypothesis in these cases to avoid inserting the bias before the test: Ho = Wood heat is no more environmentally friendly than other heating methods. Assume that true until it is disproven with unbiased data.

    In fact in an engineering project- if you objectively break it down into small steps- each one may be shot down by the data until you find the solution, which is again tested. You don't say "this works" as smoke pours out and parts fly all over the lab (unless your goal was to build a Pinto).

    OK- I know that the goal is really probably to point out the green features of this form of heat, I just sort of twitched and spasmed when I saw the way the goal was stated in the first post :)
  17. ExtraHorizons

    ExtraHorizons Member

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    The inside-back cover of the brochure for "Napoleon" stoves (www.napoleonfireplaces.com) has a statement that heating your home with a Napoleon high efficiency, EPA approved fireplace, stove or insert releases no more carbon dioxide than a dying tree would lying on the forest floor. You could probably download this from their website. I'm not sure how much something like this from an actual manufacturer will help, but it is an interesting thought :)
  18. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    Extra- that is correct- assuming you don't drive to get the wood, cut it or split it with a gas powered saw/splitter, consume extra calories grown on petrol based fertilizers... well, the burning part is pretty straight forward :)
  19. fossil

    fossil Accidental Moderator Staff Member

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    There's a good deal more to wood smoke than just carbon dioxide. Rick
  20. ExtraHorizons

    ExtraHorizons Member

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    Haha... I promise we'll only ride horses to get the wood and use axes powered by man. Oh wait! Horses will pollute the environment some as well. Guess we can't win!
  21. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    “wood heat is the most environmentally friendly way to heat your home”

    The logic of your query is faulty at its core.

    This is a mine field. Suppose for a moment that the statement is true, but the homeowner has the most "un-green" home, wasteful of size, space, building materials, resources, location, environment, and on and on. Do we give the gal credit for an environmentally friendly heating system while she wastes everything else? Not in my opinion.

    To me your inquiry is more properly relevant to life-style and cultural choices. For example, perhaps total carbon footprint is far more meaningful than just heat source. In this scenario, a 50% efficient oil burner, in a 800 sq ft house, owner walks to work, owns no motor vehicle, grows her own food in a bio-intensive, no fertilizer, garden, and re-uses nearly everything, is heads and tails above the gal with a 5000 sq ft home, an efficient wood burner, and opposite everything in the former.

    IMO producing an article on this premise is all glitz and no guts.
  22. RedRanger

    RedRanger New Member

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    I think it will always come back to primeval times. As long as the population doesn`t out-strip the source, then wood heat is the simplest and most enviromentally friendly.

    Think back to dinasaur times, forest fires and no man to combat them. Forest renewed!! No digging, no drilling, no science. Just what to do to keep from freezing in the northern climes. Is what man does, make fire!! When doing your paper, always think , that it is true that history repeats itself.

    Don`t believe?? Then start to re-study history. In the past-no fission, and no fussion, just simplicity. And that is what (mother nature) intended.. :smirk:
  23. fossil

    fossil Accidental Moderator Staff Member

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    Sonny...there's been fusion for somewhere around 12 billion years, so far as we've been able to figure out, and there will be fusion for countless billions of years into the future. Fusion, in fact, is the source of every atom in your body that's heavier than Hydrogen. We are all children of the stars. Take a little break from those history books you've been reading and have fun reading something like "A Short History of Nearly Everything", by Bill Bryson. Great read. Rick
  24. Ken45

    Ken45 Minister of Fire

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    First off, you have to define what is "environmentally friendly". I remember when the Sierra Club magazine heavily bashed wind power as environmentally unfriendly.

    Perhaps electric heat from a fast breeder reactor is environmentally friendly, but we don't allow those in the U.S.

    How about a well insulated small house built underground and densly populated so that body heat is enough to keep it warm?

    Solar power is great...as long as you ignore the manufacturing process and waste products of solar.

    Wood heat is carbon neutral and free if you can scrounge wood or have your own woodlot.

    There is no single ideal solution short of moving to the tropics (you only mentioned heat, you didn't mention air conditioning).

    Ken
  25. kenny chaos

    kenny chaos Minister of Fire

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    I agree 100%; Of all the most common heating methods including using gas,oil or electric, for hot water or forced air systems, good old fasion wood burning IS the most environmentally friendly way to heat your home!
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