Is Wood Burning Eco Friendly?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: July 21, 2021
  • Time to read: 5 min.

If you love campfires or the crackle of a fireplace log, you are probably wondering “is wood burning eco friendly?” Wood is a renewable resource, and burning wood is carbon neutral.

Using modern technology, burning wood can be one of the most eco-friendly fuel sources.

To be eco-conscious, we need to know the pros and cons of each fuel source. 

Here are the most important things to know about burning wood:

  • Wood burning is carbon neutral
  • Wood is a renewable resource
  • Wood smoke contributes to air pollution
  • Minimizing wood smoke makes wood burning an eco-friendly choice

Is Wood Burning Bad for the Environment?

Many people assume that burning wood is dangerous for the environment, but it is a carbon neutral activity

What “carbon neutral” means here is that burning wood will not release any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than its natural decomposition process would. 

However, wood smoke creates small particles that add to air pollution if not trapped efficiently. 

Air Pollution Risks of Wood Burning

Burning wood in an unenclosed space like an outdoor campfire can release small particles of air pollutants into the atmosphere. 

This is why urban areas often limit open fires when the air quality is low. 

Modern technology allows minimal air pollution during the wood burning process.

  • Look for air quality burn bans before burning any type of wood
  • Minimize air pollution by avoiding open wood fires, whether indoors or out

Is it Better to Burn Wood, or Let it Rot?

Wood releases the same amount of carbon whether it is burned or whether it decays naturally. 

If you see fallen trees and branches, or you have limbs removed during yard work, know that burning this wood will be no different than allowing it to rot in your yard.

Choosing the Right Wood to Burn

Choosing wood that burns at hotter temperatures, like oak and hickory, will minimize the air pollutants released by your outdoor fire. 

Avoid woods that are poisonous or toxic to burn.

 Low moisture, harder woods, and recycled materials are the factors to look for when selecting eco-friendly wood to burn.

What Wood is Poisonous to Burn?

Now that you know that burning wood is carbon neutral, you may be wondering if there are other environmental concerns from burning certain types of wood.

 There are 3 kinds of wood to watch out for: 

  • Wood covered in poison ivy or poison oak vines
  • Driftwood
  • Oleander shrubs. 

Each of these woods can release harmful compounds into the air that can cause breathing issues. 

Poison ivy and poison oak release urushiol when burned, the same chemical that causes skin rashes, which can irritate your lungs. 

Driftwood often traps toxic chemicals as it floats through the sea. Oleander shrubs are toxic when burned.

Eco-Friendly Wood Varieties

Because hardwoods are more dense than softer woods, they burn more slowly. 

This makes hardwood a more efficient fuel source. Here are the most popular hardwoods:

  • Oak
  • Hickory
  • Birch 
  • Ash

Moisture Content and Wood Burning

Wood that has a lower moisture content will burn more efficiently. 

Test your wood with a moisture scanner and look for wood that is below 20% moisture.

 Kiln-fired wood has the lowest moisture content. Store your wood under a roof so that it’s protected from rain, but make sure your wood pile has good airflow to keep it dry.

Recycled Wood to Burn

When wood breaks down in a landfill, it releases a gas called methane, which is more harmful than carbon dioxide. 

Recycled wood pellets and wood logs are an excellent choice for eco-friendly wood burning. Burning recycled wood will release carbon dioxide, the same way wood does when it breaks down naturally. 

Are Wood-Burning Stoves Eco-Friendly?

Modern wood burning stoves are designed to trap some of the small particles that wood smoke creates. 

These stoves also burn at a much higher heat than historical wood stoves. 

Because wood burning stoves use a renewable, carbon-neutral resource, and protect against smoke and air pollution, they are eco-friendly.

 Learn about how to use your wood stove efficiently.

What is the Cleanest Burning Wood Stove?

The EPA provides a list of certified wood stoves and wood heaters that meet efficiency and pollution standards. 

Ask at your local hardware and home goods store which EPA certified wood stoves they carry. 

Make sure your stove model has a place for an exhaust pipe to route any exhaust outside. 

What is Better for The Environment, Gas or Wood Fireplaces?

An open wood fireplace releases smoke particles into the surrounding air.

A closed wood fireplace keeps smoke contained, allowing it to be filtered through an exhaust pipe, like a wood stove. 

Open wood fireplaces pose a risk to the environment because of the air pollutants they can release, but closed wood fireplaces are more eco-friendly than open wood fireplaces or gas fireplaces. 

Can a Wood Fire Pit be Eco Friendly?

Your fire pit can be eco-friendly! Look for fire pit designs that minimize smoke. 

While these fire pits cost more than traditional designs, they reduce the air pollution that burning wood in a fire pit can create. 

Choosing the right wood will also make your fire pit more sustainable.

Wood as a Renewable Resource

Wood is a renewable resource, but only as long as reforestation continues so that more trees are planted than are cut down. 

If you enjoy using wood as a carbon-neutral fuel source, support tree planting efforts in your area. 

Choosing wood from sustainable local sources or recycled products further reduces the impact of wood burning.

Sustainable Options for Wood Burning

Now that you know that burning wood is a carbon neutral activity, you can look for sustainable wood burning options. 

Here’s what you can do to burn wood in an eco-friendly way:

  • Choose EPA-certified appliances that minimize air pollution
  • Look for wood that burns efficiently, with low moisture
  • Make sure you are not burning toxic wood sources
  • Avoid burning outdoors during low air quality days
  • Support reforestation efforts that maintain wood as a renewable resource
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