Wood burning still an attractive home option for many

Perhaps there is no better time, as wildfires burn all around us, to think about the good things about fire.

For eons, we've used fire as a tool. We cook with it and fire, in one form or another, is the main way we heat our homes.

Lastly, we often appreciate its aesthetic value, which is why so many people want fire burning prominently in their living rooms. The fireplace has long been, and still remains, a key element and focus in many homes.

And of all the devices that produce (or mimic) fire, none are quite as pleasing to watch as the good old wood-burning fireplace, insert or stove.

Dustin Strate, who works at The Fireplace Centre in Kamloops, said appliances that burn real wood (versus natural gas) remain extremely popular.

Not only is the look of real flame more aesthetically pleasing -it's almost impossible to replicate the random flickering of a wood-fired flame with fake logs and natural gas - wood burners have the added bonus of producing a useful and economical source of secondary heat.

Today's wood stoves are vastly improved over their predecessors, he said. Modern units burn four to five times cleaner and get more heat from the wood they consume.

Regulations in place in B.C. since 1993 only allow the sale of stoves that meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emission standards.

The average stove, when used correctly, produces no more than seven grams of particulate per hour, he said. Some produce half that again. Old stoves often produce 40 to 60 grams of particulate.

Modern wood-burning devices burn up the smoke inside the stove, either by superheating the air inside with the use of baffles or by the addition of a catalyst. Both designs have advantages and disadvantages but the big point to remember is both burn extremely cleanly.

While some smoke is visible anytime a fireplace or wood stove is first lit, a properly burning high-efficiency unit will quickly heat up. As it does, the visible smoke coming out the chimney disappears.

"All you see is a shimmer of heat," he said. "It looks like you are looking through a toaster."

The latest technology in high-efficiency wood-burning fireplaces sets new aesthetic standards, he said. The latest Renaissance line of indoor fireplaces offer unparalleled views of the firebox while maintaining the efficiency standards.

The new style looks like a wide-open, old-fashioned hearth-style fireplace, but a solid piece of high-visibility heat glass covers the front. It locks in place to provide the sealed operating environment that high-efficiency requires, while still providing the large, open fire picture many people want.

The shift is an amazing leap in fire-burning technology, he said. Before this style of fireplace, people had to give up some of the aesthetic visibility to gain the emission-eating efficiency.

Strate said the ability to cut the natural gas heat bill is a big incentive for a lot of people to install real wood burners as well.

A cord of wood cut and delivered in Kamloops sells for between $150 and $200. A cord of wood can last a long time if the unit is burned right. To heat an average home full time with wood might require four to six cords of wood, depending on use.

For those who have a chainsaw and the desire to cut their own wood, the costs drop even more. The forests around us are filled with standing dead firewood these days, thanks to the recent invasion of mountain pine beetle.

Strate said another point that has more people pondering wood is its carbon neutrality. In this age of global warming caused by the burning of greenhouse gases, wood is considered by science to be a carbon neutral technology.

P p p p p

Wood burners in B.C. are free to cut on Crown land - as long as they follow the rules.

Regulations state everyone who cuts firewood for personal use must have a permit; it can be obtained at no charge from Ministry of Forest offices.

The permits are required to ensure woodcutters know the rules. Fines can be imposed if people cut wood without a permit.

The rules state:

p Firewood can only be cut from vacant Crown land, and it's the cutter's responsibility to ensure an area meets the requirement

p Cut only dead standing or downed trees less than 40 centimetres (16 inches) in diameter at their largest end

p Clear all debris from roads, roadside ditches and streams and scatter lopped branches close to the ground

p Don't cut marked wildlife trees or snags over 40 centimetres in diameter - such trees have tremendous wildlife value and are to be left standing

p Don't cut live, green trees or remove material from log decks for firewood.

A firewood permit allows a person to cut up to four cords of wood a year for personal use, with a maximum transport length of two metres.

For more information about woodcutting, or for a pamphlet on firewood and wildlife trees, contact a Ministry of Forests office.

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