To the editor:
It was important to hear about wood burning pollution in the Nov. 15th Review.
Indeed, it is a problem, but there are some strong moral questions involved as well, and nothing in life is simple once you go below the surface. Do we pollute the air locally and harm neighbors, or at a distance and harm people living further away from us.
The problem is that many people do not realize how polluting the generation of electricity is. When the writer suggests small space heaters, I would like to say that most of those are electric. Fifty percent or more of our electricity, delivered by Puget Sound Energy is generated by burning coal, mostly at Colstrip, Montana. It is one of the dirtiest power plants in the U.S. And people to the east of Montana are receiving the mercury, chromates, sulfur oxides, radioactive uranium and other contaminates which are in coal. So do we burn wood locally and harm people with respiration problems, or hurt people, mostly children, to the east by exposing them to the worst of neurotoxins, mercury. Hard choice.
Then there is the efficiency problem.
With generation and transmission losses, we get only 19 percent of the energy that was in that coal in Montana. With an EPA-approved wood stove we can get 75 percent or more of the energy that is in the wood. So by burning wood we get more heat with less carbon dioxide production (think global warming).
And, if the trees are down, as they are on my property, the wood will rot anyway, throwing off heat and CO2. All I do in the wood stove is capture that heat in the house.
That said, there are good ways to burn wood, and bad ways. I strongly suggest that anybody burning wood look at the Puget Sound Clean Air Authority web site. There is some very good information on preparing, drying, and storing wood for fuel. And it must be dry, 20 percent moisture or less, which usually means at least a year of storage.
Also there is some information on burning wood. Use an EPA-listed stove (listed by make and model number on the EPA web site.) During a Stage One burn ban you cannot use a fireplace or an EPA-unlisted stove. Only in a Stage Two ban is all wood burning prohibited, unless you have no other means of heating. (All outdoor burning is prohibited in Kitsap County at all times of year.)
To burn properly you need a stove thermometer, available at the local hardware store. If your fire is too cold, you will produce smoke. If too hot, you can start a chimney fire. If just hot enough there is no smoke, and very little residue collects in the chimney. Once up to temperature, my chimney shows no visible smoke.
If you see smoke after the fire is burning well, something is wrong, and you are liable for a $1,000 fine from the clean air authority. So if you must burn wood, do it well.
If you must use electricity, get a ductless heat pump. That will give you the most heat for the least electricity. And be aware that burning propane or oil also cause carbon dioxide production, and will cost you about six times as much for fuel as the same amount of heat from a ductless heat pump.