In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change we need to do two things: reduce pollution from heating our buildings, and maximize carbon sequestration in forests.
Most heating pollution comes from America’s older, less-efficient buildings built before 1980 and heated with central heating systems using an oil or gas furnace. These systems are designed to distribute high-temperature (140º–180ºF) air or water around the building. Even with weatherization, a cold climate heat pump (solar, geothermal, mini-split, etc.) can’t affordably keep up with the heat loss in these older buildings, and newer, promising technologies such as biochar are not yet available in the market.
The idea that we should eliminate all combustion heating is a great goal, but like it or not, in the short term our only choices for America’s older buildings will continue to be combustion heat from oil, gas, or wood.
Every week, thousands of central heating boilers and furnaces are being replaced, many with gas (which is worse than oil despite Big Energy’s clean gas claims). Those heating systems are going to be pumping carbon dioxide out of the ground and into the atmosphere for the next 25 years. We have two choices: fossil fuels (oil and gas) that add to the total carbon in the atmosphere, or wood, which releases less than half the carbon. At a minimum, heating with wood pellets reduces greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 60 percent when considering the life-cycle analysis of sourcing, processing, and transporting heating fuels.
And it’s not just lower carbon. High-tech wood heating also has lower particulates emissions than fossil fuels. Wood is a bridge fuel and, given the urgency of the climate crisis, we need to offset carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuel heating now.
Editor’s note: This story was first run in sustainableheating.org.