It is a clear and cold April morning, about 5:15am as I’m typing with just a desk lamp as my only source of light. The blinds are open on all three of my windows in the room, sort of a panoramic view, and I can see the dim twilight ridge just starting to crest the Eastern sky. However, up in the sky there is something out of place, well in my mind anyways, a long column of silver coloured smoke gently drifts upward from a chimney about 2 blocks away in my sleepy little village. Why is this out of place? Vancouver and the Fraser Valley are regions that are supposed to be “Green” in the sense that air pollution and air quality are regulated and controlled. Yet, homes are using wood to heat with.
Wood is plentiful and cheap, as it grows abundantly here along the West Coast of British Columbia. Up until the last couple of decades wood was the primary source of heat, a renewable resource that can be collected annually or continuously year round. Cost wise, firewood was, and still is, a cheap commodity that almost anyone can obtain with the right equipment and storage facility. Today, you need a chainsaw, about 4 l of gas, and a vehicle that can transport the firewood back to where you are going to burn it. But is it still worth it to continue to heat your home with firewood today, knowing that smoke and ash are visibly going up into the air, drifting into a large urban area?
Because of urban sprawl, and the use of other heating devices that use fossil-fuels, our air is already at the breaking point of being an acceptable quality that I consider “good” within the normal conditions for nature. The use of natural gas and stove oil are the norm now, but these systems of heating in themselves are the cause of some of the air pollution, next to cars and trucks, that I see–just based on the sheer numbers who use it. We simply do not see the carbon in the air from natural gas heat unlike wood burning. Most of what comes out of the chimney is water vapor, so what seems to be out of sight, is also out of mind. These Fossil-fuel sources have picked up in popularity and have answered the concerns of the wood burning practices, cleaning up the air quality considerably, that now one can see across the valley on a clear cold winter day.
Wood burning stoves are illegal in most communities in the Vancouver–Fraser Valley; therefore, only homes that have being “grandfathered,” with wood burning stoves are allowed to continue to have, and use them. So the question of why homes with wood stoves, fire places and wood furnaces, are still using these appliances when fossil-fuels such as natural gas and stove oil are so plentiful and covenant to have now? Perhaps cost has come full circle now?
Perhaps one reason for the switch back to using wood for heating is economics? When the cost of oil started to rise up to $60.00 per barrel, anything that is connected to the fossil-fuel industry seemed to jump up along with it. But, remember that trees are very plentiful, yet the amount of effort to collect them, and prepare trees into firewood is a lot of energy in itself. But on the other hand, heat is kind of nice to have on a very chilly night in April, and if you are a home owner who is living on a low income, shutting off the public utility is a very attractive choice to do. Using the public utility is very cost effective and efficient, but it requires money to use it. Your connection can be shut off once you stop making payments to use it. Firewood only needs to be collected and stored when needed. In a good stove, a cord of wood, 4 X 4 X 8 feet volume of chopped firewood, and could easily last two months. The cost savings in collecting firewood is your effort in collecting it. And when people who are faced with little money, their labour is what will tip the balance of using firewood versus using the public utility.