Wood Fuel's Developing Market

October 16, 1981

Report Outline
Increased Use Since 1974
Fall and Rise of Wood Fuel
Environmental Consequences
Special Focus

Increased Use Since 1974

Rising Number of Homes With Wood Heat

This winter more American homes will be heated with wood than with electric heat provided by nuclear power. It is ironic that in the last quarter of the 20th century an ancient heat source has become an important fuel for millions of Americans. A century ago nearly all American homes, businesses and industries were heated with wood. The use of wood fuel peaked in the 1880s, when Americans began switching to coal. Later, oil and natural gas came to dominate the home heating market. By the early 1970s only about 1 percent of American homes used wood as the primary source of heat. But the decline in wood fuel use reversed after the 1973–74 Arab oil boycott.

As the cost of heating oil, natural gas and electricity soared, wood burning for heat began making a comeback. Today the United States is “on the crest of the wave of nations returning to wood,” wrote Nigel Smith of Worldwatch Institute. More than a million homes use this renewable energy source as their primary fuel and four million other residences use wood as an auxiliary heat source. Wood accounts for about 3 percent of the nation's residential fuel supply; in heavily forested parts of the country the percentage is much higher. Last year 20 percent of the homes in northern New England were heated solely with wood, and from one-third to one-half of the homes in the entire region burned wood for fuel. In Oregon, about 10 percent of the homes use only wood for heat, and about half have wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. In Georgia about one-fourth of the residences have wood stoves.

The movement back to wood has been growing steadily since 1974, and analysts predict an even rosier future. A 1980 report by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimates that if fossil fuel prices continue to climb, as many as 10 million American homes might be using wood fuel exclusively or as an auxiliary heat source by 1985. The report also predicted that by the year 2000 wood could meet as much as 20 percent of the nation's industrial and residential energy needs. “Although this represents more than a tripling of current use, it is nevertheless a minimum,” the report said. “Much more energy could be obtained from this resource.”

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Oct. 16, 1981  Wood Fuel's Developing Market
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