As part of our ongoing energy review, we now have a wood stove to heat our primary office.
Formerly this was heated by oil, which to say the least, didn't really gel with our clean-energy principles.
Our firewood is locally sourced, from sustainable woodlands and necessary tree surgery. Two cubic metres of it was delivered yesterday, and we took a welcome break from our desks to stack it in neat, well ventilated piles. This was surprisingly tiring but good exercise, and felt like satisfying manual labour, something not often seen in IT offices!
We don't know of any other small offices heated by a wood stove (although there surely must be plenty) but can definitely recommend it. It takes a few minutes each morning to fire it up, and then it needs topping up with a log or two every now and then. Other than that, the only downside is that the flames are rather hypnotic, so there is a temptation to watch them instead of working!
It is also proving to be a favourite place for Adam's dog to sleep in front of (sadly we don't have a photo of this handy).
Burning wood for fuel may at first not seem to be environmentally friendly, because it does of course release carbon into the atmosphere. However, this carbon would be released anyway as the wood eventually decomposed naturally. Throughout the lifetime of the tree it of course absorbs carbon so provided new trees are grown to replace the old it becomes a reasonably carbon-neutral solution. The managed woodland that it comes from is also a habitat for a large amount of British wildlife.
The alternative to using firewood for most people in the UK is:
- oil - has to be transported long distances, is extremely energy-intensive to extract and process, reserves are rapidly running out and dependence on this fuel leads to conflict.
- gas - still has to be transported a reasonable distance, is still energy intensive to extract and our national reserves are likely to be exhausted within a few decades, meaning we will need to import from abroad.
- electricity - with modern technology this can be an efficient way of heating your home, but most existing buildings would need costly modifcations, eg electric "smart rads" with zoning controls. How "green" this solution is depends on how the electricity is produced. Hopefully with more solar and wind installations in the UK, electrical heating will become more viable and environmentally friendly.
There are also several complementary technologies for heating that are worth looking at, again only considering the UK.
- geo-thermal (ground source heat pump). This takes the latent heat of the earth and uses it to pre-heat water, meaning your boiler burns less fuel. The drawbacks are the initial cost, and the fact that it still needs electricity to power the pump. In winter the system potentially becomes so inefficient it is not worth using. Despite this, it is an interesting technology and we are not ruling it out for the future.
- air source heat pump - this works like a fridge in reverse, extracting heat from the outside air and typically blowing the warm air into your room. It of course requires electricity to run, and gets less efficient as the outside temperature drops. If the electricity used is obtained in a non-polluting way, this could be a decent solution. Two potential drawbacks are the size of the unit itself and the noise it gives off. You wouldn't necessarily want one near your desk!
- solar thermal - this is a tried and tested technology, as simple as pumping water through tubes that are warmed by the sun. Like all of these technologies, it unfortunately gets less efficient during the winter months, which is of course when you need the heat the most. Once the UK government decides on their Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) plan for solar thermal, it is likely that this solution will become more attractive. You do ideally need a south facing roof though... At Celerity we would rather use our roofspace for Solar PV (to power our computers) but again, it is an idea for the future.
In summary then, a wood burning stove is a cost-effective means of reducing your dependency on oil, gas or electricity. It is also eco-friendly, especially if sourced locally in a managed fashion.
Celerity got their first load of firewood delivered from Astwick Forestry Services, run by a friendly fellow called Patrick, who is passionate about responsible forestry management in England.
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