Several people at work tell me cooking and heating with a wood stove leaves a huge carbon footprint, and that electricity leaves a much smaller one. I live in western Oregon, and I have to heat my house for about 6 months. We have hydroelectric power here, but I’m burning wood that came down in a snow storm last winter. Does electricity have a smaller footprint than my wood stove?
I don’t know, but I’d love to learn how to use a wood stove. How my ancestors did it without a temp gauge is a mystery to me.
A wood stove helped me as a baby I’m told. When I was about a month old, in January of 1955, an ice storm took out a lot of the electric grid in my city. My folks took me to friends who live in the country, and had a wood stove. I was a baby and needed the heat.
What kind of footprint? I’m no expert, but it kind of depends.
Wood burning has a larger carbon footprint than hydro. But, hydro can destroy ecosystems and affect the local environment drastically by diverting water, flooding areas, and otherwise majorly disrupting animal habitats. Also, on a case-by-case basis, lakes/reservoirs from hydro can turn into major greenhouse gas emitters, as vegetation grows and decomposes in the still waters.
Wood is very dirty. But, it’s a renewable resource.
Hydro is, on the surface, cleaner, but it’s not always true, and it is majorly disruptive to the environment.
Burning wood at home is also either self-foraged (as in your specific case), or is likely going to be purchased from a local source, so there are positive economic impacts for the community that aren’t necessarily true when you’re getting your energy from hydro.
Plants and trees are already part of the carbon cycle, so burning them doesn’t add more carbon to the system. Since you know you get your electricity from hydroelectric, however, burning deadfall buys into the kharma of creating smoke rather than not; you have the opportunity to sequester the carbon for a while in this wood rather than turning it into smoke now, but even if you do burn it, you’re not adding carbon to the system like people who live places where they get their energy by burning coal or natural gas.
If you’re burning wood from an area where you’re replacing the trees or allowing natural regrowth (maintaining the soil is necessary) the only carbon emissions that aren’t accounted for by natural cycles are those expended in chopping it up if you use a chainsaw and those used in making the stove in the first place. Probably. You may be effectively removing a small amount of lignin build-up from the soil.
There can be other pollution concerns from burning wood on the other hand and, though it is unslightly, rotting wood is an important part of the ecosystem as a lot of fungi and insect larvae feed on it, and the carbon footprint of an already established hydro system is also pretty low. On a single household domestic level, it probably doesn’t make much difference either way.
Yes, it’s a complicated question that doesn’t have a simple answer. I’ll throw into the list of complicating factors already posted that some wood stoves are much more efficient, and much less polluting, than others.
You might be thinking of something more like a pizza oven. I’ve never seen a wood stove with a temp gauge. I just cook on top of it.
I use a DEQ-approved wood stove that re-burns smoke before it goes up the chimney. A lot depends on how you burn. After about 1/2 hour, there’s no visible smoke from my fire.
I’ve cooked on a wood stove many times and it’s truly not that difficult. For me anyway, the biggest challenge was in not adding too much fuel. Too much fuel with too little air from the damper creates a smoky annoying mess. Too much fuel with the right amount of air creates a clean(ish) fire with little smoke that roars like a runaway freight train. Unless you like you food, your cookware and maybe some of your favorite personal bits turn to ash, it’s not good.
Many wood stoves are primarily heating stoves; some of this type have a cooking surface. But many others are primarily cooking stoves; and those very definitely have ovens – sometimes more than one.
Some of those ovens do have thermometers built into the doors. For others, you can use a stand-alone oven thermometer; any hardware or cooking store, and a lot of groceries, carry them. For either type, you can buy stove thermometers designed to be used on top of a wood stove; though I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone using those to monitor cooking temperatures, as opposed to checking whether the stove is overheating or whether it’s hot enough to engage a catalytic or other bypass control.
But the real answer to ‘how do you cook on a wood stove without a temperature gauge?’ is ‘practice’. For any individual stove, you use it a while, you get a feel for it. You watch the results in the pan, and adjust as needed. – A proper wood cookstove allows better temperature control on the cooktop than any other type I’ve ever used: just slide the pan a little closer to or further from directly over the hottest part of the firebox.
As Alpha Twit says, learning to adjust the fire itself also takes some practice.
I also use a raised metal heat diffuser (I think there’s a name for those) that helps adjust the temp. Awesome for cooking rice, boiling potatoes and veggies, etc. Only takes a little practice and one or two burned meals.
SWMBO’s got her grandmother’s recipe book and it is all based on cooking and baking with a wood oven/cooktop. “Insert pie into med hot oven…” and the like. Haphaphia’s honey cookies are to die for, even if we make them with a convection oven now…
A trivet, maybe?
I use trivets when cooking on my wood stove; but that’s because it’s primarily a heating stove, and although better than many for cooking on because it has not one cooking surface but two at different levels, it doesn’t allow anywhere near the adjustment of a proper cookstove, which has a firebox on one side and then gradually decreasing temperatures across a significant distance to one side of the firebox. I don’t remember ever needing a trivet on the stove when I had an actual cookstove.
(Before putting a trivet on a wood stove: make sure it’s made of something designed for the purpose. Some of them are only for protecting a tabletop from hot pots, and may have feet or entire construction that will melt or burn if put on a hot stove. I once melted the feet of a trivet I hadn’t looked at hard enough before using – the top of the thing was metal, and I didn’t realize the similarly-colored feet were plastic.)
You’re likely creating a slightly larger carbon footprint, but not anything worth worrying about.
Sounds like you live in a semi-rural area so your transportation footprint is almost certainly orders of magnitude larger than your cooking footprint.
Thank you. I kept thinking turret
I live in a rural area with a 10 min commute to work, 1 stop sign and no traffic. I would think an urban commuter would have a much larger transportation footprint than mine