Hey Mr. Green,
If I scavenge firewood instead of buying it, is it better to heat my house by burning wood in my fireplace or by using electricity from traditional sources? --Joyce in Charleston, South Carolina
Perfect question for this time of year. If you start thinking about heating during the summer, you can get your act together in time to upgrade your system before winter. Sure, this sounds like that goody-goody little ant in Aesop’s fable, working his exoskeleton off while the grasshopper frolicked around the fields, but it’s true.
First, don't burn wood very often unless you have an EPA-approved fireplace box or stove. Depending on the local climate and terrain, a wood fire can be a dangerously polluting proposition, which is why some towns have banned it. It can be especially harmful in regions with high levels of soot, or “particulate matter” pollution. Too much of it can damage lungs and circulatory systems, and according to the American Lung Association, woodstoves and fireplaces account for much as 80 percent of this pollution in some areas during the winter. (You can find real-time information about your city’s air quality and more information about particle pollution at airnow.gov.)