Hey Mr. Green,
In answering a question about the most ecofriendly way to feed a fireplace, you failed to mention the possibility of using a pellet stove. I own such a stove and have found it to be much easier to use and more efficient than a traditional wood-burning stove, but I have yet to see an article in Sierra that talks about this type of heat source. What say you? —David in Highland Park, New Jersey
Mr Green answers:
Thanks for reminding me about wood-pellet stoves. They emit only one-fourth as much fine particulate matter (the tiny and dangerous particles in smoke that are less than ten micrometers in diameter) as EPA-approved stoves, so the agency doesn't even bother rating them. If you can't use oil or natural gas--or won't use them because you're a cantankerous, off-the-grid corporate-fuel hater or survivalist--the pellet stove is your cleanest choice. Also, the pellets are made of materials that might otherwise have been wasted. Still, even the cleanest-burning wood-pellet stove emits a lot more particulates than heating your home with gas or oil.
Thanks also for providing me with another opportunity to warn my wheezing fellow humans about the dangers of wood stoves: Despite the nostalgic image of families snuggling up in the glow of the hearth and listening to tales of bygone days, the old burners could more aptly be called "killer stoves" due to their emissions. The most dangerous of the microparticles are less than 2.5 micrometers, or about a 30th the size of a human hair. These can lodge deep in the lungs, damaging them and the circulatory system. Old stoves can emit up to 15 times more fine particles than ones made after the EPA tightened its regulations in 1988. On top of this, they require a lot more wood to make the same amount of heat.
In some areas, as much as 80 percent of the particulates in the air come from burning wood, when the weather favors such a buildup. Yet of the estimated 10 million wood stoves in the United States, only 20 to 30 percent are the newer, safer EPA-approved models. Therefore, the EPA has been setting up programs to get people to replace old stoves with new models; in some locations, you can even get a rebate for retiring your aged smogster. For more on this topic, check out the EPA's fact sheet on wood-burning efficiency and safety and its list of certified stove models.