Wednesday, 20 January 2010

wood is not increasing efficiency!

This is biomass; wood, logs, wood chips, saw dust... no doubt, isn't it? Oh, and it is carbon! Right?

Yesterday I spent the better half of an hour on the phone with a gentleman insisting on his idea of sustainability.

He explained how much more energy efficient his 150 year old stone house had become since he generates the necessary heat by taking advantage of the latest technology from Austria, an automatic log burner.

My question as to how much energy his house would need to be comfortable he answered "Depends on how warm you want it; but a trailer-full a week is plenty. Before the new boiler went in we spent about 6,000 quid a year on oil and electricity for heating."


Well, I gave the polite and understanding admirer, just as I am told by our marketing and my preferred wife; however, in principle, I am offended: of course, stone-built-traditionalists might admire the strong and secure walls built by stone; fine, I do to, however, I avoid discussing efficiency and energy consumption when I discuss the architecture and construction of these houses; that is a bit like admiring the vintage RR while avoiding to discuss its CO2 performance. What would be the benefit? The difference of the footprints comparing stone built walls and modern high tech wood built frames is massive and positive reciprocal; structural strength and safety are no question at all.

What put me off was his egocentric declaration and use of wood as a cheap and - he insisted on what he has been told for what is probably the last ten years - carbon-neutral fuel. The picture of an enormous trailer a week, probably half a dozen of trees thrown in that burner to be turned to ashes in a fraction of a fraction of the time it took them to collect CO2 and create carbon, i.e. grow over the last 40 or 50 years, is hardly a sustainable one.

The real offence was the fact that he insisted on having turned his beautiful and ancient house into an energy efficient home just by switching from oil and electricity to wood.

I tried to explain that his house's efficiency like that of any construction rather depends on its demand than on what is generating the heat - but only once.

He is an engineer by profession designing roads and bridges. For the sake of my own safety I hope he won't calculate a bridge's load capacity by means of length and height-above-sea-level alone.

Carpe diem!


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