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March 17, 2014

Increase in wood as main source of household heating most notable in the Northeast

graph of states with highest percentage increase in homes using wood as main heating source, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2005 and 2012 American Community Survey
Note: Northeast states represent the Northeast Census region

Wood as a main heating source in homes has gained popularity in many areas of the country in recent years, but the increase is most notable in the Northeast. All nine states in the New England and the Middle Atlantic Census divisions saw at least a 50% jump from 2005 to 2012 in the number of households that rely on wood as the main heating source. As the use of fuel oil and kerosene in this region has declined in recent years, many households have turned to lower-cost alternatives, including wood.

In total, about 2.5 million households (2.1%) across the country use wood as the main fuel for home heating, up from 1.9 million households (1.7%) in 2005. An additional 9 million households (7.7%) use wood as a secondary heating fuel. This combination of main and secondary heating accounts for about 500 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of wood consumption per year in the residential sector, or about the same as propane consumption and slightly less than fuel oil consumption.

Heating stoves are the most common equipment used by households that rely on wood as the main source of heat, and fireplaces are the most common choice for secondary wood heating. Most households still burn split logs, although wood pellet use has risen in recent years. And while households in higher income brackets are more likely to use wood, those at lower income levels who burn wood consume more on average.

graph of wood use by income, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed updated emissions standards for new wood-burning stoves and other biomass heating equipment. Although these proposed rules address health concerns associated with the release of fine particulates from burning wood, the standards would also result in increased efficiency levels of new wood-burning equipment.

Principal contributor: Chip Berry