In 1940, a year before the U.S. entered World War II, nearly one-fourth of Americans cozied up to fires to keep warm in the fall and winter. However, by 1970, a mere 1.3 percent of American households relied on wood as a primary heating source.

Today, gas and electricity make up more than 90 percent of the primary heating sources for U.S. households, with wood sitting at just 2 percent. Yet in some metro areas in the country, wood remains a more common option for heating fuel.

“Heating with wood may not be hip like solar, but it’s proving to be the workhorse of residential renewable energy production,” says John Ackerly, founder and president of the nonprofit Alliance for Green Heat.

Spokane homes

Nearly 7 percent of homes in the Spokane, WA, area use wood as a main heating source.
Photo: SpokanePlanner

Logging In

Nowhere among the 100 largest metro areas is wood more of a workhorse than Spokane, WA.

Last year, 6.9 percent of occupied homes — houses, apartments, condos and other dwellings — in the Spokane area depended on wood as a primary heating source, according to a LawnStarter review of U.S. Census Bureau data. That’s the highest percentage among the 100 biggest metros. In 2014, wood was the main heating source for 6.7 percent of occupied homes in the Spokane area, our analysis indicates.

By comparison, 46.5 percent of occupied homes in the Spokane area used some form of gas as their primary heating source in 2015. Electricity came in second at 43.1 percent.

spokane firewood

Firewood is plentiful in the Spokane, WA, area.
Image: KXLY

Abundant Firewood

Although not basing her observations on research, Lisa Woodard, public information officer for the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, says one of the reasons wood is used as a fuel source in the region is that some people she’s spoken with don’t want to be subject to the price fluctuations of natural gas. Woodard thinks wood is used more often as a secondary source of heat rather than a primary source of heat, at least in the urban part of the area.

Whatever the case, she adds, “we live in an area where firewood is pretty abundant.”

 

wood burning stove

Wood-burning stoves contribute to winter smoke pollution in the Spokane, WA, area.
Photo: Pixabay

Fired Up About Smoke

One downside is that heating homes with wood is the No. 1 contributor to smoke pollution in the area during the winter, the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency says. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, stoves filled with logs are the most common way to burn wood for heating a home.

“While wood stove technology has vastly improved, smoke from improper burning can cause unhealthy air quality, especially during periods of air stagnations,” the Spokane agency says.

logs

Sustainably harvested firewood is a key to responsible wood heating.
Photo: Pixabay

‘Responsible’ Wood Heating

Nonetheless, the nonprofit Wood Heat Organization touts the merits of wood heating.

“While some users give wood heating a bad name, there are hundreds of thousands of responsible homeowners who burn wood well. By that we mean their firewood is harvested sustainably, it is burned cleanly and efficiently, and its energy is used to reduce the net greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming,” the Wood Heat Organization says.

Top Metros for Wood Heat

Here’s our list of the Top 12 Metro Areas for Keeping Warm With Good Ol’ Wood.

1. Spokane, WA

Spokane clock tower

Photo: SpokanePlanner

Wood as primary heating source: 6.9% of occupied homes

2. Worcester, MA

Worcester MA

Photo: Wikiwand

Wood as primary heating source: 4.4% of occupied homes

3. Syracuse, NY

Syracuse NY

Photo: Ironman.com

Wood as primary heating source: 4.1% of occupied homes

4. Albany, NY

Albany NY

Photo: GovPilot

Wood as primary heating source: 3.5% of occupied homes

5. (tie) Boise, ID

Boise

Photo: Search Ministries

Wood as primary heating source: 3.4% of occupied homes

5. (tie) Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids MI

Photo: Movoto

Wood as primary heating source: 3.4% of occupied homes

7. (tie) Harrisburg, PA

Harrisburg PA

Photo: Brinjac Engineering

Wood as primary heating source: 3.2% of occupied homes

7. (tie) Portland, OR

Portland OR

Photo: City of Portland

Wood as primary heating source: 3.2% of occupied homes

9. Springfield, MA

Springfield Mass

Photo: Morrison Mahoney

Wood as primary heating source: 2.7% of occupied homes

10. (tie) Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque

Photo: Urban ABQ

Wood as primary heating source: 2.6% of occupied homes

10. (tie) Rochester, NY

Rochester

Photo: University of Rochester

Wood as primary heating source: 2.6% of occupied homes

10. (tie) Sacramento, CA

Sacramento

Photo: CALSEIA

Wood as primary heating source: 2.6% of occupied homes

Top photo: WoodBurningStoves.com

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