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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
Green Building Bible, fourth edition (both books)
These two books are the perfect starting place to help you get to grips with one of the most vitally important aspects of our society - our homes and living environment.

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    • CommentAuthorralphd
    • CommentTimeFeb 8th 2009
    "wood smoke has become the most serious kind of air pollution in B.C."
    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeFeb 8th 2009
    It will be too in the UK before long.
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 8th 2009
    The relevance of wood smoke on this forum is that many, if not the large majority, of people concerned about green issues consider that burning wood is an environmentally sound method of home heating. However, burning wood emits fine particulates (the soot particles so small you can't see them). The amount of emissions range from about 1gram for every kilo of wood pellets to about 25 grams per kilo of not very dry unseasoned wood logs, both values depend upon the type of burning appliance. It has been ascertained by many studies over the last ten years that for every ten micrograms per cubic metre of air throughout the year leads to a six percent increase in the death rate. In built up areas where wood burning is common, a 20 microg per m3 on average throughout the year is easily obtained. I regard this health impact as wholly unacceptable and that we should seek other means of home heating which is also environmentally sound.
    Yup the Holy Grail of 100% renewable energy with no drawbacks and that is affordable by many, elludes us. It is just as important that wood users understand the consequences of their actions as users of other types of fuel, and this site is a good place to start. The Canadian Government site seems to get the balance right, it spends 10% putting forward the health arguments and then spends 90% giving excellent advice on how to go about minimising the negative effects of using wood as a fuel, whilst recognising that burning wood for fuel can be a sensible thing to do: it finishes with:

    It's Up to Us

    "Where there's fire, there's smoke" doesn't have to be true. Each of us can do our part to stop smoke pollution. Choose a clean-burning stove, and burn clean!

    I couldn't agree more.
    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeFeb 8th 2009
    Or dont burn -- insulate well instead.
    • CommentAuthorralphd
    • CommentTimeFeb 8th 2009
    Or don't burn and don't insulate; producing all those fiberglass batts causes pollution.
    So how do you keep warm? Move to a temperate climate. For example houses in Bermuda rarely have heating or cooling systems, and tend to be built with concrete block with no wall insulation.

    I'll admit it's hypocritical of me since I haven't moved to a temperate climate myself. I have a couple places in mind after the kids are grown; northern Nicaragua & the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine look promising.
    • CommentAuthorSimonH
    • CommentTimeFeb 8th 2009
    A good start would to be only buy wood burning appliances on this list - even if you don't live in a smoke control area.


    These are certified by DEFRA as smoke free - although you do get a bit of smoke on start up. The guide on the Canadian site posted earlier pretty much fits what the manufacturer has supplied with the one I just bought. Once up to temperature they burn "fierce" as in nails in the scrap wood I'm burning are glowing red, and opening the door, is a bad idea if you want to keep your eyebrows.

    Ideally I wouldn't need a stove, but as myself and many other people have older houses that will take a while and lots of £s to sort out, this was a quick fix to get free, low carbon heating. My gas boiler is now only used 2 hours in the morning, and 1 hour at night, but then it's turned off and we sit in the lounge with the door open and likewise the upstairs rooms which we also use.

    I've checked the smoke (as I still feel a little worried after reading several posts like this) - you get wisps of brown when it starts, and then nothing but "heat haze". That's compared to several neighbours who have solid fuel - which continuously give off a blue smoke. Often clouds of the stuff - whisping around the chimney - implying poor draft. It's when you compare the other options that wood turns out to be a better choice - if it's done correctly.

    In reality the canadian site is referring to people burning wood in open fires, with incomplete combustion. What I don't have to hand is a comparison of natural gas VS a "smokeless" wood burner on particulates. I expect the wood will be worse, but better on CO2. I recall
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009 edited
    The whole point about those fine particulates is that you can't see them. It is just the same with diesel exhausts. Nationally, diesel exhaust emissions are greater than for coal and wood burning but if you live in an area where coal and wood burning is commonplace then the tiny particles in the air are more likely to come from solid fuel burning. A wood stove using 2 tonne a year and just meeting the uk smokeless criteria will emit more of these particles than a 40 tonne lorry built in the last five years driving 40 000km.

    Because of the recent surge in wood burning and because diesel emissions are shooting downwards, pollution from wood smoke may overtake transport in the next ten years.

    It has been recently discovered after many years of study that these particles have a large impact upon mortality. (it surprises people that it is heart disease rather than respiratory disease)

    References for this:


    Actual emissions from wood stoves are hard to find but try:


    starting from page 9. Remember than what the uk call smokeless is roughly 5g / kg for PM10.
    • CommentAuthoradwindrum
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    ralphd makes a good point regards human decisions...."we live in a cold climate so we HAVE to heat ourselves oh and it ought to not effect anything/one". We all want our cake.....

    The Canadian article is at best a warning sign for us in the UK. As it states, BC is especially designed for damage caused by woodsmoke. Still days, big valleys, cold nights and a HELL of a lot of woodsmoke.

    We donít have nearly enough wood to get in their position or enough antiquated woodburners/open fires that they use.

    Surely Simeons figures contradict the Dept Health document pasted to his post? In those valleys in BC they must be falling like flies? 12% increase in mortality? As for the particulates released from a fire being greater than a diesel lorryÖ.it may well be, but they arenít the damaging particulates that the lorry is releasing. Its not a weight for weight competition. It is again all included in the Dept for Health document attached to your post. Lorry particulates really pollute and kill.

    Wood burning is a short term, cost effective, renewable source, used and suggested for the use of a minority that can be ditched at anytime. I havenít read on this forum that anyone suggests itís the panacea for green living. It is not a long term solution like nuclear fuel that sits around for thousands of years. As a planet in the bigger picture, we need to decide upon and develop long term solutions. For my selfish part at this point in my insignificant life, my contribution is an efficient (though there are more efficient but more expensive ones out there!) wood boiler with my own wood.

    Woods in the UK have been managed for centuries and need management now or will become depleted habitats for wildlife that have adapted to them. What do we do with the wood? Build with it I hear you say, make things with it etc well I can tell you that I wont do much of that with my wood nor millions of others so they will die.

    The 200 odd page Dept Health document doesnít throw up any surprises -particulates kill. But the document was mainly about pollutants other than smoke from wood fires. Coal fire smoke in London is mentioned. The clean air act was brought in, in 1956 because you couldnít see the end of the street for particulates. It wasnít until the 70s and 80s the document says that deaths started to reduce. They put it down to better health care at the time and found it difficult to relate to particulates. The particulates were mostly from coal, a really dirty fuel that runs our power stations and I suspect a lot of the fires causing complaint in the towns.

    Reports on wood smoke in Canada will be common as they have the wood and can supply it to built up areas. Buying in wood for town dwellers in UK cant be a cost effective option for all their heating needs. Therefore it is usually only people burning for comfort. I think it is long overdue and believe we should slap restrictions, bring in certification for wood burners and tax them, but where wood is cost effective, renewable and negligible in terms of particulate emissions and effect on the immediate environment, reduce taxes, give out grants and encourage it.

    Now go get the bureaucrats to work out that legislation!

    PS I guess its not the remit of this forum to discuss nuclear power, but I have a nuclear engineer friend who would relish a discussion on its viability! It does only release the smallest of particles!
    Burning vegetation inc wood produces a cocktail of dangerous substances inc carcinogens, which raises the risk far higher than merely inert carbon particulates.
    • CommentAuthorcookie
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    Inhailed wood smoke stays in the body 30 times longer then cigarette smoke... so I read on a google search.

    I'm still hoping hydrogen fuel cell technology will be our saviour for storage of renewable energy produced / collected. I'm not sure how many people want to convert to wood because they are hoping to save a few quid or cos they consider it environmentally sound.. If coal was free would you convert to wood? or just keep burning coal regardless of the effect on the environment?

    • CommentAuthorSimonH
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    I've been doing a bit of reading to understand the difference between wood - and in my case what has been replaced, i.e. gas. Not easy. But interesting gas isn't as clean as we're lead to believe. It's a lot lower than wood yes, but in the case of my wood burner it's now going up the flue and not able to get into the lounge as it's in a sealed firebox. This is compared to the old "3 waffles" type fire I used to have. Thankfully I don't have a gas cooker either...


    Playing with the numbers gas appear to emit about 0.01g/kWh of particulates. Whereas wood is a lot worse at 3.1g (in my stove)

    Wood approx 100 times worse.

    In CO2 it's 0.19 kg/kWh for gas and 0.04kg/kWh for wood (Allowing for transport etc). Wood approx 5 times lower.

    So the real solution seems to be - don't burn either if you can help it, but if you must, do it in a communal chp plant, where you can clean up the emissions - or capture them.
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    To respond to a few points .....

    SimonH : You are probably being exposed to some of your home grown particulates but hardly at all as a direct result of your stove but via the emissions from your chimney entering your home from the outside. Thanks for the links. research indicates that unvented gas cookers are a bad thing. Apparently, even unvented electric cookers are bad. It is the act of grilling and frying which is the big source of particulates!

    Funcrusher : Research shows a strong elevation in lung cancer rates where particulates are more concentrated. But as you say, the inert carbon, nitrates, sulphates probably don't cause cancer but it is the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins and metals which are responsible. Domestic wood and coal burning tends to dominate transport emissions on carcinogens.

    adwindrum: The large mortality rate I mention does seem unbelievable. The six percent is for our present age structure in the UK which is similar to the US. It is also implying that back in the fifties when coal burning was rife, people in the UK must have been falling like flies. They were. Over and above the ambient levels, the 1952 London smog increased death rates in the immediate term by fourfold. The longer term effect has never been properly quantified but estimates indicate that December week killed 12 000 people. IF the age structure is taken into account, mortality rates in the last fifty years have fallen by 40%. Most of this is due to other factors like better health treatment of course.
    The report from the department of health refers quite a few times to the Dublin intervention study where when they banned bituminous coal for domestic heating and reduced PM10 levels from approximately 70 microg / m3 to approx 30 microg / m3, the death rate fell by 5.7 % immediately. The report considers that in the long term the death rate will fall by much more I presume closer to the 24% mark if the researchers are sticking to six percent as gospel.
    • CommentAuthorsaxony
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    And then there's the issue of what wood people are burning. I know of people who will burn any kind of wood - green, damp, treated, varnished, painted, driftwood etc rather than ever pay anything for decent logs - these are not people who have no other form of heating, but the lure of 'free heat' is too much for them. The resulting chimney emissions are far worse than from those burning clean wood and the community as a whole is paying the price.
    • CommentAuthorralphd
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    Posted By: SimonHI've been doing a bit of reading to understand the difference between wood - and in my case what has been replaced, i.e. gas. Not easy. But interesting gas isn't as clean as we're lead to believe.

    Thanks for that note. We cook with gas (actually propane) in our house. I don't know if you have it in the UK, but on this side of the pond there is a cliche "now you're cooking with gas". I never thought of indoor air quality issues beyond CO2 & CO.
    Now that induction electric cooktops are becoming more commonplace I should consider that for my next house...

    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009 edited
    Saxony is so right. I have an issue with a neighbour who has been in the habit of pulling any old bits of wood from skips etc even painted wood. Their smoke made me quite once ill for a whole day. I was going to have a friendly word about it but I thought I would find out whether I had any legal protection against this sort of thing. It took me some time, mainly because I asked the wrong people (local councils etc). What I found surprised me so much so I asked the Environment Agency to repeat the message.

    There is legal protection against bad smoke emissions from a chimney. There has been for some time. (1990 Environment Protection Act). It is down to the local Council to impose a statuary nuisance order.

    But that is not all.

    Recent legislation states that it is illegal to collect any waste wood (any treated or contaminated timber) and burn it within the confines of your home. It is illegal to pull anything including virgin timber (this includes branches even!) from a skip. The reason being that once something is in a skip it is legally regarded as contaminated and also you have to be a registered waste carrier to legally handle waste. The only legal bonfires in your garden are those that burn untreated and virgin timber and natural material like leaves.

    As I said, I was so surprised I asked them twice. Actually, they got a bit heavy with me as they thought that I was the one intending to do the skip collections! However, it is not illegal to burn any waste on your fire (subject to emissions) that emanates from your home. This means that you can burn your own waste material but you cannot bring it in from outside.

    • CommentAuthorsaxony
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    Simon - that's really interesting. Do you know where I can access a copy of that legislation?

    My Local Authority tells me that whatever the legalities are, you can't do anything about what people burn in their own homes as it would rely on an Environmental Protection Officer being present in the room and witnessing the materials being put on the fire. The act of chainsawing it and putting it in the woodshed is not enough, apparently, so I wonder how they would enforce the law against collecting such items. How would that differ from using offcuts from a woodworker or cabinet maker? In fact, I recall finding a newspaper article describing how they regukarly scavenged wood from a joinery's skips for their woodstove. http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/mar/08/householdbills.ethicalliving

    How easy is it to tell if general offcuts and waste wood have been treated? And is it really all right to "take the saw and fill the boot" whenever you go to the countryside, as the article also suggests?
    • CommentAuthorbillt
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    Posted By: saxonyAnd is it really all right to "take the saw and fill the boot" whenever you go to the countryside, as the article also suggests?

    In England it is most definitely not all right to take anything you find in the countryside. It all belongs to someone, so taking it is theft. In practice in a lot of places no one would bother about it (until we get to a real fuel shortage of course!)

    Unless you live in a smoke control area I doubt that the local authority will do much about smoke pollution. You would almost certainly have to do it yourself, probably through the courts.

    The recent waste control legislation is full of absolutely absurd provisions, like the spoil from ditch clearance suddenly becoming trade waste and having to be disposed of through officially traceable means rather than dispersed on the banks beside the ditch as it used to be!
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    That is interesting, saxony. I had a correspondence with the author of that Guardian article about wood smoke pollution.

    Billt is right about scavenging wood from country areas. Generally speaking, wood, even in the form of fallen branches actually belongs to someone ( the owner of the land ). As for collecting from joinery skips. Hmmm. The joiners may regard the skip as a place where they store their offcuts and not a waste disposal place. In my opinion, if the wood is treated and wood for joinery usually is (and I think it may depend upon the treatment method) then it is illegal to let someone take it away for firewood whether the intended fire is in a smoke control zone or not.

    I will get back to you about the Environment Agency and the legislation (although billt seems to know something about it).
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    For Saxony and all interested in waste burning regs:

    Environment Agency contact page: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/contactus/default.aspx

    Attached is my only very slightly edited correspondance with them:

    I saved it as a word .doc file
    • CommentAuthorsaxony
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    Thanks Simon, that's very interesting and I like the way you argued your case. The problem seems to fall between so many different groups no-one can take responsibility for it.

    The bit about pallets - "The waste pallets would be treated in some way whether to stop fungus growing on it or to prevent the wood rotting. The wood pallets could contain harmful substances which when burnt could be released." is a bit of a worry - don't people commonly use pallets for kindling? I never realised they were treated.

    It's interesting how everything comes back to the local authority, though, and ultimately to making a formal complaint and if they back it up having to go to court over it.

    I hope your friendly word with your neighbour goes well.
    • CommentAuthorsaxony
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    For anyone interested - it seems that pallets that might import pests or diseases from other countries have to be either heat treated or fumigated with methyl bromide. Heat treated ones have HT on, and the others have MB on next to the IPPC logo (International Plant Protection Convention).
    Posted By: simeonif the wood is treated and wood for joinery usually is
    Actually, it's not usually treated. Pressure treated wood is used for external applications (such as decks etc.) and would never be used for internal applications as (a) there's no need and (b) it is more expensive. I know that when we built our new house, the builders used all the scraps pieces for kindling (that were too small to be useful for anything else) but the pressure treated wood used to build the deck was disposed of as hazardous construction waste. Amazingly, we only had 2 skips in the entire building process and most of that was for scraps of drywall and the PT wood.

    Paul in Montreal.
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    Thanks for the info, Paul. It means that in the UK (my understanding is that these regs have only been in force since April 2008) that untreated timber can be used for firewood. However, if that untreated timber has been in a skip mixed with treated timber, then it can't be.

    Thanks for the comment Saxony. I doubt whether the neighbourly exchange will go well but I will try. I think if you are getting no joy from your Council re waste burning then could you not contact the Environment Agency to have a go at the Council? (Politely of course)
    • CommentAuthoradwindrum
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2009
    The chemicals in the treated timber is going somewhere burnt or not. Burning it probably just increases our intake of it rather than it rotting into the ground where it damages soil life. We should wherever possible encourage the purchase of untreated timber, and reduce the use of decking timber etc.
    • CommentAuthorSimonH
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2009
    re: Burning treated timber - don't quote the law to your neighbour - point out to him that it will be wrecking his flue. All those toxic chemicals settle on the inside of the liner and then start to eat the stainless steel or concrete liner. If he's got no liner it will be through the cement between bricks in no time.

    You can also increase the risk of a chimney fire as some of the chemicals are flammable and if not burnt off initially, they are just settling in the flue waiting for the old heat+air+fuel equation to flare them off !

    If that doesn't scare him, then you have no hope, other than to find some huge GM bananas to stick down his chimney ;-)
    • CommentAuthorsaxony
    • CommentTimeFeb 10th 2009
    "Pressure treated wood is used for external applications (such as decks etc.) and would never be used for internal applications" (Paul in Montreal)

    Actually, a fair bit of softwood used in house construction is treated against rot, fungi and insect infestation - roofing timbers and the like. You can't always tell by looking at it. You need to know your offcuts - assuming you're the kind of person who cares.

    SimonH - Where can I get some giant GM bananas? What can you do when people are basically ignorant, in denial and happy to stay that way? : (
    • CommentAuthorsimeon
    • CommentTimeFeb 11th 2009
    I'm on the Environment Committee of a municipality that is on the Island of Montreal and we are discussing whether to follow the lead of Montreal or not. There was some uncertainty as to whether EPA-certified appliances would be allowed - I think part of the problem is some of the EPA certification designations are quite old and those stoves can still emit several grams of PM10 particles per hour (PM10 are the particles that are sub 10 microns, cannot be even seen by the naked eye (so no visible smoke) but are particularly damaging to health). The proposed changes in the provincial legislation is only one paragraph that states new appliances will have to match or exceed the EPA quality - but many are upset that this doesn't go far enough.

    Anyway, it all goes to show that burning wood in an urban environment is not without its health costs. People say what about cars and such like, but they are not emitting the dangerous PM10 particles (we have relatively few diesels here). Winter smog is completely different than summer smog - where cars are the main source due to oxides of nitrogen, but in winter it's all the fine particles from wood that are the issue.

    Paul in Montreal - about to head off to an Environment Committee meeting
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeFeb 12th 2009 edited
    EU is prosecuting Britain for breaking air pollution laws..


    Legal proceedings against the government were started today by the EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, and could result in unlimited daily fines.

    Britain had been given nearly 10 years by Europe to reduce its levels of the minute, sooty "particulate matter" known as PM10s, which are mainly emitted by industry and traffic.
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