We’ve been looking for ways to heat our home in more efficient and environmentally-friendly ways. This naturally led us down a rabbit hole of if firewood is renewable or not. We couldn’t find a good answer, so I did some more research. Here’s what I found.
According to the United Nations, firewood is a renewable resource since it can be regrown. Softwoods such as pine are considered to be more renewable as they grow faster than hardwoods such as oak. However, firewood is currently unsustainable as more is consumed than grown.
Let’s look at the firewood facts and how it’s renewable and potentially sustainable.
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Why Firewood is Renewable
When we think about firewood, we often think of cutting trees down and burning them—creating smoke, tar, and other byproducts. With these negative images, it’s no wonder why many think firewood is nonrenewable.
However, since firewood can be regrown, it’s renewable.
When firewood is burned, carbon is released into the air (as carbon dioxide) and is reabsorbed by the trees which use it to grow.
Trees take the “C” out of CO2, leaving us with O2 (oxygen).
Then, when we burn wood, we’re releasing this stored carbon.
The cycle repeats.
On the other hand, fossil fuels such as oil and coal are nonrenewable resources as they’re made from fossilized plants and animals and cannot be remade unless we wait millions of years.
The plants and animals that became fossil fuels lived in a time called Carboniferous Period, around 300 to 360 million years ago.National Geographic
Compared to fossil fuels, trees regrow quickly.
Pine trees take around 25-30 years to mature, while oak, walnut, ash, and other hardwood trees can take 100 years or more (due to their denser wood). This is why softwoods are said to be more renewable than hardwoods, even slightly.
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Another difference between firewood and fossil fuels is that fossil fuels weren’t designed to be dug up and burned. If left untouched, this large carbon reserve would stay locked underground, not impacting the surface.
On the other hand, burning wood is a normal process as it naturally occurs from lightning, wildfires, volcanos, and more.
Why Firewood isn’t Sustainable
Renewable and sustainable are similar words with a lot of overlap, and it was surprisingly difficult to write this post, but I’ll give it my best shot.
The truth is that while firewood is renewable, our current global use of it is unsustainable.
This is often where the confusion comes from.
We can always regrow more trees, but since we’re using more than we’re planting, we’re at a deficit. For example, we’ve lost about 20% of our forests in the past 100 years.
The good news is that we’ve passed peak deforestation since the 1980s. This is largely from improvements in agriculture which require less cropland per person.
When considering the sustainability of firewood, also factor in the energy used for:
For example, when trees are harvested, they need to be transported to be cut, split, dried, stored, and then delivered to consumers. This requires electricity and other resources, most of which are powered by oil, gas, and coal.
However, there are ways around this.
How to Make Firewood Sustainable
The ideal use of firewood and other wood products is to match or grow more trees than what we use. In this case, we’d store more carbon than we emit. Many call this carbon neutral or carbon negative.
Here are some ways to make your firewood more sustainable:
- For every tree that you use for firewood, plant three in its place
- Harvest your own firewood instead of relying on commercial operations
- Only burn seasoned (dried) firewood for a cleaner, hotter, and longer fire
- Season your firewood by air-drying it instead of using a kiln or oven
As long as the carbon dioxide from burning wood doesn’t exceed the carbon stored by trees, firewood is sustainable.
Even better, if we store more carbon than we use, we can begin to compensate for the increased carbon released from fossil fuels.
Recommended: Firewood vs Firelogs: Which is Better?
Final Thoughts (The Good News)
Keep in mind that firewood can be sustainable at your scale. We often can’t control global forces or other countries’ policies, but we can influence our backyard. For example, plant 3 trees for every 1 you cut. This way you’re carbon negative when it comes to firewood.
Planting trees around you also means you have emergency backup fuel during natural disasters or other events.
While hardwoods are better when it comes to firewood and storing carbon, softwoods grow faster and still work nicely (just make sure they’re seasoned properly).
We’ve already passed our worst point of deforestation. As we continue to improve processes, we’ll need fewer trees and land and begin the process of being carbon negative at a global scale. And…maybe feel less guilty about burning firewood.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Fireplace Tips, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Chimney Safety Institute of North America (CSIA): The CSIA is your BEST resource for fireplace and chimney safety at home. They’re a non-profit governed by a volunteer board of directors dedicated to the education, training, and certification of chimney and industry related professionals.
- Self-Sufficiency and Off-Grid: If you’re like me and passionate about off-grid and self-sufficiency, see my number 1 resource—Abundance Plus. Check out their Frugal Homesteading Course on growing 90% of your own food. Get 7-days free and 10% off with the code: TYLER10