Burning wood is not the answer

DSCN2389 Just in case I am coming across like an advocate for heating buildings by burning wood, let’s look at our chimney for a second.

When the fire is just getting going or I haven’t got the damper set right (maybe I’m not giving it enough air to burn efficiently) the chimney looks like this.

That is quite a bit of smoke coming out. Sometimes, if I’m really doing it wrong, there is a whole lot more.

This smoke is not only full of greenhouse gasses, it is full of particulates and carcinogens that cause health issues like asthma and cancer. This is visible smog.

People have commented on the Hammond Neighbours facebook group that there is a haze in the air sometimes. Partly me. Sorry about that.

Thank goodness we have a state-of-the-art wood-burning insert and most of the time, when we’ve got the air-mixture right and we’re burning seasoned wood, the chimney looks like this:


Much better on the particulate pollution end, but still producing greenhouse gasses. One can argue that the carbon in the wood was going to be released eventually, whereas the carbon trapped in fossil fuels could have remained there if we hadn’t dragged it to the surface and burned it. It is small consolation.

The chimney after the blown-in insulation
The chimney after the blown-in insulation

Worse is, if you look closely at the photos you can see the other thing that is being released from the chimney cap. The distortion of the tree behind it tells me that a whole lot of heat is escaping as well. Of course it is, there is a fire below it! However, all that heat is being produced and then wasted.

One logical step further and you realise that there is even more heat being wasted heating the brick chimney, which is surrounded by outside air on three sides, all the way up. Brick is not intended to insulate your home, it is intended to be fire-proof.

One more step in logic and you will get that sinking feeling that Monte Paulsen, our energy advisor, is right. He said that fireplaces, even the airtight ones, leak heat from your house 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, whether there is a fire or not.

Both fans blowing heat

At the fire place, there is nothing but brick and metal between the living room and the outside air, both of which conduct heat. That whole section of wall above the fireplace has no insulation (when they blew it in they couldn’t reach it from the outside).

So, while our fire heats our home quite well when we have a fire, it is extremely inefficient, even compared to the old oil furnace. When there is no fire, the fireplace and chimney do nothing but allow heat out into the neighbourhood.
I’m looking forward to heating our home without burning anything, thank you very much.

If governments are serious about reducing incidents of respiratory disease and tackling climate change, incentives to get homeowners off fossil fuels are a great investment. Please write your Member of Parliament!

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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