This episode was originally published on December 2, 2019.

For the same amount of heat, wood produces more emissions than oil. Plus if everyone in Rhode Island uses wood stoves to heat their home, we would deplete our forests in just a few years. However, if the wood you burn is already dead or dying, then it would decompose and release those same emissions.

Our recommendation is to heat your house using an oil furnace and only use a wood stove if you burn salvaged wood.

Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet, and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall.

Today we have a question from listener Lisa Wright. She asks: “Our house has an oil furnace and a wood stove. Which one is best to heat our home in the winter?” 

We had Alina Kulman and Molly Magid from our Possibly team look into this. Welcome Alina and Molly!

Alina Kulman: Hi Megan!

Molly Magid: Hello!

Megan Hall: So should Lisa heat her house using an oil furnace or wood stove?

Alina Kulman: Well first we talked with Lisa to learn more about how she heats her house

Lisa Wright: We keep the furnace around 64 during the day and when the stove is going nicely it keeps the house cozy

Molly Magid: So during the day, Lisa sets the temperature for her furnace low and uses the wood stove to boost it up to 70. 

Megan Hall: Ok Lisa uses both her furnace and stove, but she wants to know the impact of each heating source on its own?

Alina Kulman: Exactly. And this question might apply to many Rhode Islanders. The state has seen a spike in people who rely on firewood to heat their homes. 

Megan Hall: Alright, so where did you start?

Molly Magid: First, we looked at her oil use from last year, which was about average for household heat in Rhode Island, and calculated that it releases about 10 tons of CO2 per year. 

Megan Hall: And what would the emissions be if Lisa just heated her home using the wood stove?

Alina Kulman: Well we estimated that, to heat her house for a year, Lisa would need to use the wood from about 50 trees. The number depends on what kind of wood, but 50 is a good ballpark.

Molly Magid: And burning all of that wood releases about 14 tons of CO2 per year.

Megan Hall: So burning wood creates more emissions than heating with oil?

Molly Magid: Yes, for the same amount of heat, wood creates more CO2 emissions.

Megan Hall: So, it’s always better to burn oil instead of wood?

Alina Kulman: Well, that depends on where Lisa gets her wood 

Molly Magid: She says that sometimes she buys firewood but also...

Lisa Wright: We had a couple of trees removed in our backyard, so we used that wood.

Megan Hall: Is that better?

Alina Kulman: Well, trees also release CO2 emissions when they die and decompose. In fact, those emissions are equal to what happens when you burn that wood in a stove. 

Megan Hall: So if Lisa only used salvaged wood for her stove, those CO2 emissions would be released whether she burned the wood or not? 

Alina Kulman: Right. 

Molly Magid: But cutting wood specifically to burn it is a different story.

Alina Kulman: Cutting trees to heat all our homes just isn’t feasible.   

Molly Magid: Remember, it would take 50 trees just to heat her house. If everyone in RI used wood to heat their homes, we’d clear all the trees in the state in just a few years.

Megan Hall: So, what’s the answer to Lisa’s question? 

Alina Kulman: Our recommendation is that Lisa should heat her home using her oil furnace, and should use the wood stove to supplement only if she burns salvaged wood.

Megan Hall: Great! Thanks Alina and Molly 

That’s it for today. For more information or to ask a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, check out our question page.

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and the Public's Radio.