As an outdoor enthusiast, you love spending the warm Atlanta nights with your friends and family around the firepit in your backyard. Even in a suburban area, the aroma of hickory smoke can make you feel closer to nature. At the same time, you’re probably also aware of the growing threats to the natural environment. In light of concerns about climate change and pollution, you’re probably already taking steps to lower your environmental footprint, like biking to work or making sure you always turn off your lights when you’re not using them.
When it comes to lighting your firepit for a summer get-together, you may start to get a nagging, guilty feeling, since fires give off emissions that aren’t ideal for the environment. However, the reality is that the extent of the emissions depends largely on the type of firewood you choose. Read on to learn more about emissions from fires and how you can choose low-emissions firewood in order to make your firepit as environmentally friendly as possible.
Understanding the Emissions from Wood Fires
As you might expect, carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas emission from campfires. Research studies on emissions from fires in wooded areas estimate that about 1565 grams of carbon dioxide are emitted per kilogram of wood burned, making up about 71 percent of the fire’s total emissions. The second-largest component of emissions is harmless water vapor (459 grams per kilogram burned, about 21 percent of total emissions) and the third major contributor is carbon monoxide (121 grams per kilogram burned, about 5.5 percent of total emissions). Burning firewood also releases harmful particulate matter, nitric oxide, methane, volatile organic compounds, organic and elemental carbon, and non-methane hydrocarbons, but these all make up less than one percent of the total emissions.
However, it is important to note that these levels are not set in stone. In fact, there are two factors that significantly impact the emission levels produced by burning firewood:
- The temperature at which the wood burns. When a fire burns hotter hotter, higher proportions of the toxic chemicals are broken down into simpler products that are safer for the environment. Therefore, because different types of wood burn at different temperatures, the type of firewood you choose for your firepit can directly impact the overall emission levels of your fire.
- The dryness of the wood. Burning drier wood minimizes the emissions of toxic pollutants. As a result wood that has gone through a rigorous drying process--such as kiln-drying--will release far fewer emissions than wood that has been dried simply by setting it out in the sun for a few hours.
Choosing a Low-Emission Firewood: What to Avoid and What to Embrace
Your night around the firepit is guaranteed to produce more emissions if you choose a low-quality firewood, so you should take steps to avoid the most environmentally unfriendly options. In particular, if you are concerned about emission levels, you should avoid seasoned firewood at all costs. This type of firewood burns at low heat, which means that the proportion of toxic compounds released is the highest. Store-bought firewood burns slightly warmer than seasoned firewood, so the emissions will be somewhat lower than they are for seasoned firewood--but experts still characterize store-bought firewood as a “high-emission firewood.”
If you’re looking for the most environmentally friendly firewood on the market, kiln-dried hickory is the best option. Not only does the kiln-drying process maximize the dryness of the wood before you burn it, but hickory burns hotter than any other type of firewood. Therefore, toxic compounds are more likely to break down into their simpler, less harmful components before they are released into the atmosphere, which lowers the overall emissions level. Even oversized hickory and uncut rounds, which burn for longer, burn at high enough temperatures to be considered low-emission firewood options.
For those who are looking lower their environmental footprint, kiln-dried oak is also a viable option. As with kiln-dried hickory, the kiln-drying process for oaks maximizes the dryness of the wood in a way that minimizes the emissions, compared to all other firewood types. Although oak burns at a slightly lower temperature than hickory--and therefore may have slightly higher emissions--it can still be characterized as a low-emission firewood option. This remains true for uncut rounds of oak, so you don’t have to worry that choosing this slower-burning firewood option will significantly contribute to our environmental footprint for the day.
The bottom line is that your love of spending summer nights around the firepit doesn’t have to conflict with your commitment to sustainability and environmental protection. By choosing a kiln-dried firewood (like hickory or oak) with low emissions, you can feel good about doing your part to save the planet--while still making the most of what nature has to offer in the summer months, right in your backyard.
To show us how much fun you’re having around the fire this summer, don’t forget to tag Cutting Edge Firewood on Instagram. And if you have any more questions about choosing the best possible firewood for your needs, contact us today!