A pioneering new online poll has been commissioned by WWF Hungary to learn about how people use firewood to heat their homes in the country. The study has been financed by the LIFE BIO-BALANCE project that focuses on sustainable biomass use in the Central-Eastern European countries. The survey, which was carried out on a carefully selected 500-person sample to represent the demographics of the population, confirms that wood heating in Hungary is largely inefficient and polluting. Despite the catastrophic energy efficiency of residential buildings and the widespread tendency to burn wet firewood and waste, the motivation of respondents to change the situation seems to be depressingly low.

More than half of the people who burn wood live in homes that are older than fifty years. Less than half of the residential buildings are retrofitted with facade heat insulation, and the ones that do, are largely insufficient, only 7% of which are thicker than 10 centimeters. Only a quarter of the buildings have additional roof thermal insulation, while energy-saving doors and windows can be found in only half of the apartments. It is estimated that with these conditions, at least two-thirds of the energy used for heating is wasted compared to the current energy efficiency standards for new homes.

The situation is devastating in terms of firewood use habits as well. More than half of the respondents admitted burning wet firewood in the previous heating season. It is revealing that while they think an average of nine months drying time would be necessary, they can only dry the wood for an average of four and a half months. According to experts, to reach a maximum moisture content of 20%, which is considered desirable, would actually take more than a year in a well-ventilated, rain-protected storage. A third of the respondents cannot even buy all their wood in advance, and are only able to purchase some of it after the heating season starts. Obviously, in their case, we can’t talk about properly dry firewood at all, since traders usually sell wet wood.

Regarding how the wood is burned, nearly half of the respondents, 45% use it in a central heating boiler, while the rest employ some kind of individual heater for this purpose. Of the latter, unfortunately, very low-efficiency iron stoves are quite common; a quarter of the respondents have such an appliance in their homes. 21% use a tiled stove for heating, and every tenth wood-burning household has at least one open fireplace. 

60% of respondents heat with gas or electricity in addition to wood, thus only a minority heats exclusively with wood. 31% use a gas boiler and 16% use a gas convector to satisfy the additional heat demand, while 13% use an electric heater for this.

Some questions were directed towards assessing people’s willingness to invest in energy efficiency renovations. Unfortunately, the resulting answers won’t make us feel better. Despite the fact that many households practically heat the street, only 28% plan to invest into any type of thermal insulation. Another 20% would be willing to do so, but feel they have no money for it. Slightly more, 31%, plan to upgrade their current heating system, which typically means installing or upgrading the central heating system. Only 22% are thinking of switching to another type of energy to replace firewood. It is somewhat encouraging though, that a visible minority is already thinking about turning to heat pumps (~3%) or solar energy (about 8%).

The best part is that only 31% of wood burners consider air pollution a significant problem. All the while an estimated 14,000 Hungarians die due to air quality and the damage to the economy amounts to more than three billion euros a year.

Since the survey was completed just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the impact of the war is clearly not visible in the results. We can hope that many people have since re-evaluated their views on energy efficiency…