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If you heat your house with wood, please take a moment to reach around and pat yourself on the back. Despite all the hype about the alternatives, it turns out that burning wood in a stove or fireplace is good for the environment, good for the local economy and good for you.

     Heating with wood is good for the environment because wood is a renewable fuel. That means that as long as we take proper care of the forests, we can continue heating with wood forever without depleting the earth's natural resources. Heating with wood fuel does not contribute to the problem of global warming because of the natural carbon cycle of trees. It goes like this: Trees absorb carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) as they grow, in fact, about half of the dry weight of wood is this absorbed carbon. When the tree dies and falls to rot on the forest floor, it slowly releases carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere as it decomposes. If instead, the tree were consumed by a forest fire, or burned on your hearth, exactly the same amount of carbon dioxide would be released. So, when you heat with wood instead of oil or gas, you displace a fossil fuel with a renewable fuel and the environment benefits. The main condition is that the fuel is processed from trees harvested using sustainable forestry practices.

     Heating with wood is good for the local economy because the money you spend on fuel tends to go to a neighbor, who might then spend it in town. By comparison, your payments to the big energy utility goes out of the community and much of it may go out of the region or even out of the country. Heating with wood keeps money close to home, providing jobs and strengthening the local economy.

     Heating with wood is good for you because handling that wood is a healthy activity and the entire process of heating with wood keeps you in touch with the earth's natural rhythms. But the big payoff is the feeling of comfort and security that you get from spending your winter evenings within range of a hearth that glows with a fire you built yourself.

     The heat content of any fire depends on wood density, resin, ash and moisture. A rule of thumb often used for estimating heat value of firewood is: "One cord of well-seasoned hardwood (weighing approximately two tons) burned in an airtight, draft-controlled wood stove with a 55-65% efficiency is equivalent to approximately 175 gallons of #2 fuel oil or 225 therms of natural gas consumed in normal furnaces having 65-75% efficiencies." Generally, hardwoods which provide long-burning fires contain the greatest total heating value per unit of volume. Softwoods which gives a fast burning, cracking blaze are less dense and contain less total heating value per unit of volume.

     All woods dried to the same moisture content contain approximately the same heat value per pound--from 8,000 to 9,500 BTU for fully dried wood and 5,500 to 8,500 BTU for air-seasoned wood.

     Wood truly is the feel-good home heating fuel.