Environmental damage costs of domestic heating methods

This study, for the Flanders Environment Agency (VMM), analyses the costs of the environmental damage caused by the various types of domestic space heating systems used in Flanders. It shows that an open fireplace leads to environmental costs 250 times higher than those for modern gas-fired central heating (CH), while wood-fired heating systems are generally far more polluting than gas- or oil-fired systems. Even the latest wood-burning systems (sealed stoves, wood-fired boilers, etc.) score have 5 to 12 times higher environmental costs than the cleanest gas-fired CH units. In contrast to open fireplaces, these more modern word-fired stoves and boilers are being used increasingly as the main source of home heating. This means additional damage to public health, nature and buildings.

In principle, environmental damage costs are calculated in a four-step process:

  • Emissions: what are the real-world emissions of domestic heating, by system and fuel type?
  • Dispersal: Where do these emissions end up?
  • Impacts: What is the resultant damage to human health, buildings and ecosystems?
  • Valuation: What value is to be assigned to this damage?

In this study, based on current literature on damage cost indices and the latest understanding of the World Health Organization (WHO) with respect to pollution-related health impacts, calculates the most appropriate environmental damage costs for domestic space heating in Flanders. The damage costs for PM2.5, PM10 and NOx differ for the urban and rural environment, with the former higher because of the higher population density there.

Digital appendix available here (in Dutch)