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By Jody McCutcheon
Paris may have recently banned wood burning fireplaces, but what the French don’t seem to realise is that while the olde style fireplaces a la francais may indeed cause more smoke pollution and CO2 emissions (especially when used in conjunction with, rather than instead of, central heating), Eco friendly technology has advanced pretty far. In fact, many wood-burning stoves are now so clean they’re even DEFRA-approved, meaning you can burn wood and other smokeless fuels without causing pollution, making these new fireplaces suitable even in urban properties.
Not only that, but by burning wood you are heating your home as carbon neutrally as possible — and, with a little investment, it will actually save you money long-term.
How so, you may ask? Well, for starters, heating just the room that you are in is certainly more cost-effective than centrally heating an entire house. Using wood as your heat source costs 2.5p per kw/h compared with gas at 4p and electricity at 11p, according to HETAS, the solid fuels industry body. And HETAS has seen an unprecedented interest in wood-burning stoves, with more than 200,000 installed last year — up by more than 50 per cent in five years.
This is hardly surprising, given that there’s no question that for those with a modern home, new style fireplaces can save money, and the planet.
Which Burner is Best for You?
Several options exist, but that one that’s best for you depends largely on where you live and how you employ your fireplace. Is it mostly decorative, as in locales with milder winters, or more functional, as in places with chillier winters?
Option #1: Wood
One may assume that traditional wood fireplaces are what eco-fireplaces are meant to improve upon, but this isn’t necessarily so. Wood from certified, sustainably grown forests releases as little as one-tenth of the particle pollutant emissions that non-certified wood releases when burned. Furthermore, wood doesn’t contribute to global warming like fossil fuels, since burned wood releases the same levels of carbon dioxide as does wood decomposing in the forest.
Option #2: Wood pellets
Made of wood residue, wood pellets are loaded into a pellet-burning hopper. The resulting fire will burn up to twenty-four hours without needing stoking. Wood-pellet fireplaces offer up to eighty percent combustion efficiency and release less than one gram of particle pollutants per hour. Unfortunately, the unit’s motor runs on electricity, and significant energy is required to produce the pellets themselves, so they can be expensive, financially and energy-wise.
Option #3: Natural Gas/Liquid Propane
Natural gas and liquid propane fireplaces produce less carbon dioxide and particle pollutants than wood fireplaces. But burned gas and propane produce nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, which respectively contribute to smog and global warming. Nor are these gases renewable resources, with the extraction, refinement and transportation of gas and propane leaving a significant eco-footprint.
According to the Daily Mail, some of the most luxurious London apartments today feature designer fireplaces at the heart of their cutting-edge interiors. Fire ‘walls’ that create a screen between two areas, as well as a focal point, are both practical and desirable.
Fireplaces can be used to make a statement with striking designs and the use of top materials. Long and sleek fireplaces have become increasingly popular, being more artistic and sophisticated than traditional designs. This new kind of fireplace can be more imaginatively placed within the room to achieve a dramatic effect.
Wealthy, urban clients tend to prefer easy-to-use gas fireplaces, where minimal smoke emissions allow for the use of bronze finishes and glass facades, making for an elegant, modern yet homely look. For more info, please click here.
Option #4: Ethanol
Ethanol, or biofuel, is a renewable energy source derived from fermented vegetable and grain sugars and starches, like beets, corn and potatoes. It’s also clean, with its only emission being water vapour. Ethanol’s main problem is it doesn’t produce a very powerful or efficient fire: depending on hearth size, a three-hour fire heating a space roughly 46m2 costs as much as thirty dollars. But it does look pretty!
Option #5: Eco-Friendly Logs
Salvaged from waste products like industrial sawdust and spent coffee grounds, eco-friendly fire logs save trees AND keep materials out of landfills. Many brands produce less smoke than natural wood logs, thus claiming fewer particular pollutant emissions. Keep in mind that eco-friendly logs still produce greenhouse gases (no more than wood logs), and some silly people may even burn the logs while they’re still wrapped in their glossy, paraffin-containing wrapper. The burning of paraffin releases fine particles, chronic doses of which can cause pulmonary problems. Unwrap before you burn!
The ideal fireplaces for milder locales are powered by gas/propane, fire logs or ethanol. These kinds may not offer much heat, but they do look dashing. Colder climes demand hotter fires, which is where wood or wood pellets come in–although they may cost more and require more maintenance.
In terms of emissions, wood-pellet and gas are considered cleanest. (Gas may be a fossil fuel, but its particulate emissions are lower than wood or other alternatives.) So decide what you need and go get it. The correct decision always fills the heart (and hearth) with warmth.
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