It’s the time of year where most of us long for some rest and warmth – or hygge as the Danish call it. Whoever has the kit, lights up their wood burner for some nice, clean, carbon neutral comfort – no oil or gas damaging the environment and climate. The stove of course is DEFRA approved and all wood fully FSC certified sustainable logs from local sources – a carbon cycle: any carbon released from burning the wood is absorbed by the a new tree already providing logs for the next fire.
With peace of conscience and no need to worry about the climate for a moment we can relax.
Unfortunately, log burners do not only spill out carbon they also contribute to air pollution from particulates in a similar way as a diesel engine. Obviously when sitting in front of the fire enjoying the cosy heat we don’t notice any of that but researchers have estimated that even the most efficient ‘DEFRA smoke exempt appliances’ emit as much particulates as starting up 6 HGVs in your back garden – nice fire but your neighbours will probably be less appreciative. Air pollution has been linked to respiratory diseases, asthma, lung cancer, obesity, dementia, neural development of children and newborns etc.
We often also forget that a grown tree is not only a source of fuel or green construction material but an important ecosystem sustaining wildlife. Recent research estimated that since the 1980ies 50% of all species of insects have dropped in numbers by more than 60% due to the loss of habitat from industrial scale farming and the resulting decline of natural ecosystems.
So what to do?
Switch to direct electric heating? If it works with cars to make them ‘green’ why not heating, right? Well, it doesn’t. Although electric cars reduce particulate emissions within cities the pollution and carbon emissions still happen at the power plant. Even though the UK energy mix got ‘greener’, an electric car does not necessarily produce lower emissions. It very much comes down to size and efficiency. A small, lightweight electric car will indeed outperform a petrol car already after about 13,000 miles. However, a larger, heavier middle class electric car (no names mentioned) will have to run 360,000 miles before it has caught up with the petrol car.
Answers are never easy!
It comes down to system thinking and many of the environmental issues we face today – climate change, energy generation, air pollution, health – are interlinked. We have to take a balanced view on things and develop more holistic solutions. When it comes to comfort the answer is efficiency. Where for cars efficiency is about weight and size, for buildings it’s about reducing heat losses. The solutions are all there. Using insulation, high performance windows, air tight construction and ventilation with heat recovery will allow to reduce heat losses by 75% when compared to a standard building. At the same time the building will be more comfortable, use less heating and reduce energy bills drastically. We know from some of our first Passivhaus customers that in the last 11 years they have never switched on their heating and still enjoy outstanding comfort and air quality. Independent from the heating system or fuel source – their homes will emit less carbon and particulates.
If you want to learn more about a truly holistic approach to sustainable building design, why not attend our next Building Biology Seminar in Brighton on 14th and 21st March 2019? https://www.greenregister.org.uk/sites/all/modules/civicrm/extern/url.php?u=9663&qid=5403736