Monday, August 30, 2021

Residential wood heating in Russia:

History, current state and potential

by Caroline Solomon and John Ackerly

The Alliance for Green Heat

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Executive Summary 

For many, Russia largely remains a blank area on the wood heating map, one that is hard to understand or fathom. In reality, though, Russia has a rich history of masonry heaters. Russian forests make it the largest forested area in the world, and many parts of Russia experience long, hard winters which have incentivized the creation of efficient and warm wood stoves. Russia also stands out because of its lack of emissions regulations for residential wood heaters and its large wood heating population.

The Alliance for Green Heat believes that the diffusion of more advanced wood heat technology is vital to the future of wood heating as the world transitions to renewable energy. One method by which to work towards this goal is understanding wood stove technology across cultures, countries, and histories.

This report is intended to help readers understand the state of wood heat in Russia and to explore how collaborations between Western and Russian institutions can advance stove technology. Some questions explored in this report include: What is the state of stove technology in Russia? Where is there potential for a transition to cleaner, more efficient, and still affordable stoves? And what practices and technologies used in Russia could be applied to wood stove users of Western and other countries? Of course, these questions cannot be answered in their entirety, and all the details of the Russian wood stove situation cannot be represented in a single report. However, this report attempts to give a general review of this topic. Future research could provide more insight into wood heating in both Russia and other countries of the world.

This report also does not make recommendations, as it is only a preliminary review of literature. We do not purport to have the expertise to fully understand all the complexities of residential wood heating in Russia. Exploring the best way to work towards some sort of emissions certification standards in Russia seems crucial, but our sources say this is still a secondary goal to avoiding massive heat insecurity among low-income households.


The Alliance for Green Heat chose to do a short report on Russian residential wood heating for these reasons and because our summer fellow, Caroline Solomon, is almost fluent in Russian and could conduct interviews in Russian and read Russian materials. However, the project turned out to be much more difficult than we expected. We found a stunning lack of information about residential wood heating, leading to some initial overall conclusions:

  1. Wood heat was replaced in Russian cities, large and small, by the Soviet system of centralized heating through massive coal district heat systems. This went hand-in-hand with the urbanization drive to develop Russia into a more modern, industrialized country. Wood remained the dominant heating fuel across the most rural areas of Russia as well as in Russian dachas (country homes) outside of cities and in private and public baths.

  1. Masonry heaters in Russia are still common in older rural homes and tend to be preferred over freestanding metal stoves, but we received conflicting reports about how many new ones are still being built.

  1. The Russian steel and cast iron stove manufacturing sector creates a wide range of heaters in terms of price, quality and size for the domestic market and for export to former Soviet Republics and eastern Europe. Burzhuika is the common way of referring to the generic metal stove model widely used in Russia and Central Asia for both heating and cooking.

  1. There are no national or regional emissions regulations for wood stoves as far as we could find, though a few Russian-made stoves do appear to meet certain EU emissions requirements.

  1. We found very little information about the amount of wood smoke in residential areas and if wood smoke is a social or political issue anywhere in Russia. Most sources discount the issue, given that most wood stove users tend to reside in remote/rural areas, but say smoke from coal heating is an issue in some towns.

  1. Low rates of residential and district heating with wood mean that the potential for growth in both sectors is substantial. 

This report provides a general overview of wood heating in Russia in its various applications (wood stoves, masonry heaters, district heating systems, etc.), but we have only been able to skim the surface of the issue, given the amount of time and resources we were able to put into it. To our knowledge, a similar report or overview does not yet exist, perhaps due to the difficulty of finding reliable information related to this topic, particularly information in English. AGH’s summer fellow Caroline Solomon put in many hours of Russian language research and interviewed several Russians in the U.S. and in Russia to research this report. 

Wood Heat in Russian History

Burning wood for heat has long been a part of cultures around the world, and Russia is no exception. Particularly due to its vast northern region, where an average winter’s day can have temperatures as low as -13° F, wood heat has long played a role in Russian history and Russian culture. 

Early stoves in Russian homes were made of rocks, clay, or wood, and featured prominently in a home. Old “black” Russian stoves were so called because they didn’t include chimneys. This meant that the home would frequently fill with smoke, blackening the ceilings and walls. Though obviously reducing air quality, this ensured a toasty interior.

The advances in heating technology in Russia, the rest of Asia, and later in the Roman Empire appear to have been lost in Britain and much of Europe during the ‘Dark Ages’ (10th-11th century) of religious persecution and witch hunts. That same era repressed scientific progress so that even the Roman underfloor heating technology was lost, according to one theory, but advances in masonry heating may have continued in Russia, China, Korea and elsewhere.

One Russian source reports that in the 1400s, smaller Russian masonry stoves without chimneys were used by peasants in Siberian and northern regions, though it wasn’t until the 1600s that Russian stoves began to incorporate chimneys once bricks became more widespread. One of the best English language articles on the history of heating in various parts of Russia can be found here, rambling from bathing to cooking to heating. 

The Russian stove has also become a part of Russian culture in a way, making appearances in many Russian fairy tales, which feature stoves that can talk or magically transport people. Multiple stories include the evil witch Baba Yaga attempting to cook childre
n in her stove.

Wood Stoves Used in Russia Today

Three kinds of stoves will be investigated in this section: masonry heaters, freestanding metal stoves, and sauna stoves. By far the most information could be found about masonry heaters, which seem to be the most common form of wood stove in Russia, though it appears that metal stoves and wood-burning sauna stoves are still used in many parts of Russia.

Masonry Heaters

The Russian masonry heater in its current form did not appear until around the 15th century, when many sources say that western Europe was still using open fires in fireplaces, over a thousand years after the Romans used hypocausts for underfloor heating. It is used both for cooking and domestic heating in traditional Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian households. Like all masonry wood heaters, the Russian version is designed to retain heat for long periods of time. This is achieved by channeling the smoke and hot air produced by combustion through a complex labyrinth of passages, warming the bricks from which the stove is constructed.

The builders of Russian stoves are referred to as "stovemakers" (pechniki). Good stovemakers always had a high status among the population, because a poorly built Russian stove was always very difficult to repair, and would bake unevenly, smoke, or retain heat poorly. There are many designs for the Russian stove depending on the economic status of the household, with distinct versions emerging for high end urban homes and buildings. A variety of “Russian” stove designs can be seen on Pinterest and various other Internet sources.

Once cheap bricks became available in Russia in the 19th century, the traditional “white'' Russian stove became more prevalent. This design included a brick chimney for smoke to escape through the roof. 

These masonry stoves tend to be large heaters that occupy an entire wall or corner of a room. For Russian peasants, they often doubled as both stoves for heat and cooking, and many times even provided places to sleep, bathe, or wash clothes.

Similar bed-stoves have existed in many other cultures, including northern China and several European countries. The kang, or ondol, a heated bed, that is associated with what is today China and Korea, has a chimney and is a type of masonry heater, and clearly existed as of 2,000 BC, but one source says 5,000 BC. In the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, excavations found a castle complex, featuring a well-preserved hypocaust (a furnace-heated floor) built between 200–400 BC. 

Russian innovators also contributed to the innovation of the masonry stove during the 20th century. During the 1920s, the famous stove designer Grumm-Grzhimailo worked at The Stal’ Proekt Institute (Steel Project Institute) in Moscow and was assigned to design metal furnaces, but spent most of his free time trying to improve the more popular masonry heater. Working with Leosiv Samoelovich Podgoridnikov, another Russian stovebuilder, they made many improvements, removing many disadvantages of the masonry heater, but the essential form of their efforts remained the single bell heater. In 1927, the Soviet Union hosted a nationwide competition for a more advanced Russian stove. Prizes were won by V.E. Grumm-Grzhimailo, N.S. Podgorodnikov and the All-Union Thermal Engineering Institute.

Podgoridnikov stayed with the Stal’ Proekt after Grumm-Grzhimailo’s death and continued his work on the popular heater. At his dacha he built many experimental heaters, some in the house and barn, and many outside in the open. The result of his exhaustive investigation was his belief that the efficient heater must be double and not single bell. This has since been considered a revolutionary point in heater design. 

During 1955, in Semipalatinsk, the traditional heaters in all public buildings like schools, hospitals, etc. were replaced by double bell heaters. The result was an immense saving of fuel throughout the municipality. This had been attempted many times by others but to little avail, and it was only the application of Grumm-Grzhimailo’s theory of free gas movement that solved the problem. One of the inventor's main aims was the improvement of the traditional Russian oven that could be found in almost every home.

Despite this astounding innovation in masonry heaters, they started to fade into the background and be replaced with other heating systems during the Soviet era. Marcus Flynn, a Canadian masonry heater builder, recalls that he met “a stovebuilder in Minsk 25 years ago, who had been born in Kazakhstan. He learned to build stoves from his father who was originally also from Minsk. He told [Marcus] that in the reconstruction period after the war, some stovebuilders were forced to move from Western Russia where they were numerous, out into the Southern and Eastern extremities of the Empire in order to introduce stovebuilding into areas where there was never any tradition of heating with masonry stoves. The idea of this was apparently so that wood could be used for heating and cooking in these areas, keeping natural gas and oil for the industrial and military reconstruction.” 

Marcus also reported that “after the forced collectivisation of agriculture, stovebuilders were one of a few trades which were allowed to be practiced by individuals. Stove Builders would belong to an agricultural or industrial collective but not go to work there. They would instead build stoves independently in the areas they lived. Stalin could kill millions of uncooperative farmers, but he knew that stovebuilders were so few, and so unruly, that it would be an error to force collectivisation on them.”

Massive masonry heaters began to disappear around the Soviet revolution, when district heating systems began to be built. Like in Western Europe, masonry and tile stoves were removed and destroyed en masse when fossil fuels became cheap and their potential to warm the globe was not known. 

For those who still wanted to use space heaters in homes, smaller stoves became more popular. Alexandra Guzeva writes: “From the mid-19th century, massive Russian stoves began to give way to compact Dutch brick stoves. The latter not only took up less space, but had a much simpler design. One could not lie on them, but they had a small platform on top for preparing food, like a cooker. These days, the traditional Russian stove has become a rarity and can only be found in museums. Whereas, its smaller and simpler Dutch variety is still in use in villages today.” 

While it is true that the masonry stove has faded into the background a bit, a smaller, higher-end demographic in Russia is now importing more expensive wood stoves or masonry heaters in Russia. Examples include the Finnish company Tulikivi or Kuznetsov Stove, which focuses on more expensive masonry heaters with the goal of burning as efficiently as possible.

However, others report that the huge, traditional Russian stoves are still common in rural Russia. Alex Chernov, one of the best known North American masonry heater builders, who was also born and raised in Russia, reported that “the vast majority of all homes outside of the large cities and towns actually are predominantly heated with masonry heaters, not metal stoves. Masonry heaters are often built cheaply using local, often recycled materials by local craftsmen and provide a much better environment in homes while not requiring transportation of manufactured stoves and distribution system for their sale… I would say that over 90% of the rural population is heating with stoves and masonry heaters and about 70% use wood, due to abundance over the majority of the country. 

“Some areas where wood is not abundant use other types of fuels. For instance, my family in Ukraine used mostly coal, using wood only to start the fire. A Russian stove building textbook I have lists 6 types of fireboxes for masonry heaters for the following types of fuels: wood, coal, peat, dung, seeds and seed shells (like sunflower seed shells) and grass.”  Thus, he estimates there are millions of masonry heaters. “I doubt the trend for preference of the masonry heaters over metal stoves will be changing soon,” he says. 

In neighboring Belarus, a former Soviet republic, the tradition of masonry heaters has some distinct regional characteristics, but still shares many with Russia. In Belarus, the stoves are known as petchka, and as of 1995 “almost every rural home has a petchka, but only about 40% still have and use them.” The medium size version of the petchka is called a Grubka, which are also single-skin Russian-style masonry heaters. In rural areas they were usually built in brick with a whitewashed stucco finish. In cities, many were built with real stove stove tiles, as opposed to modern petchka which are finished in regular bathroom tiles.

According to Alex Chernov, “Russia has many old proven designs repeatedly built by stove builders but they also have scores of individual developers, who expanded the variety dramatically by their free thinking. There also were whole scientific bodies run by the government in the Soviet times,which developed and tested designs to be recommended for construction throughout the country. Designs were published and distributed. There were government run technical schools preparing professional stove builders. I still have one of the books printed for such schools. It was an industry and it still is.” During the Cold War, the Iron Curtain froze the exchange of ideas and technology, and even masonry heat experts still do not know how many innovative masonry heat designs may exist in Russia.

Though perhaps real numbers may never be known, a striking testament to the durability of Russian stoves can be found in the abandoned masonry heaters that are scattered around what looks like an open field in the Volosovsky region near St. Petersburg. The brick stoves are all that are left of the houses of the village of Bolshoe Zarechye, or “Big District” -- a town that was burned to the ground by the Nazis in 1943 during World War II.

The stove, which remembers the hand of the housewife. The stove, from which bread was taken. The stove, where they heated themselves. The stove, on which they slept… The stove, standing without a house in the wind and the rain, is absurd, just as war is absurd. The word stove itself is associated with war, moreso with Dachau or Auschwitz. But there was no less horror here.”

-- about the “lonely stoves” of the Volosovsky region 

Another moving set of old masonry stoves in deserted homes can be found here, in the Kaluga region, which was ravaged during WWII. 

Despite the larger trend of masonry heaters fading into the background of Russia, they are making a small resurgence in some areas. According to one Russian expert who we contacted, “there was a period when stove heating was considered a relic of the past, and work and research on wood-burning heating by the state was stopped. Now wood-fired heating is used both in small towns and in rural settlements, where it is very efficient. Wood-fired heating is widely used in dachas, in rural areas, in fishing and hunting lodges, and in private and public baths.” Masonry heaters, a staple of Russian peasant homes, are definitely not dead yet, but rather are living on in a slightly different way. 

Metal Stoves

"Burzhuika" is a generic name commonly used in Russia to describe a metal stove. This word actually means  "belonging to a wealthy capitalist," likely having the initial connotation that only those with excessive financial means could afford it, which demonstrates how extravagant metal stoves were in the early years of their use in Russia. The burzhuika is a comparatively compact stove which was produced in a large scale industrial production during Soviet time, starting from 1930 and up to 1960s. The burzhuika also existed in similar forms for several centuries in many other countries, from Mongolia to Pakistan to Poland. 

There are scores of references to the burzhuika during World War II, when Russians relied on it for survival, burning books and furniture to stay warm when central heating systems failed. The Burzhuika wood stove also has spawned a variety of homemade variations and, like most inventions, is continuously evolving. After the war, the burzhuika was used in dachas (country homes) for cooking and heat, and today can be bought throughout Russia and online. It is also very common in former Soviet countries, like Ukraine and the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as in Eastern European countries like Slovakia.

Russian manufacturers of metal stoves are now very active, both in Russia and abroad. Wood stove manufacturing still appears to produce mainly basic stove designs, meeting the demand for low-cost wood heaters.  Many wealthier Russians buy stoves made in Western Europe. This page, showing Russian-made stoves for export, provides a good overview of the Russian market. The dominant company making higher-priced stoves appears to be Termofor, founded in 2003 in the city Novosibirsk, and Teplodar. According to Teplodar’s site, the “ratio of price and quality of products of the Teplodar plant makes it popular on the Russian market, as well as in Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. At your service in the territory of Russia, Serbia and Ukraine there are more than 50 authorized service centers for high-quality installation and maintenance of our equipment.” 

Like with the U.S. or any country, it is hard to know what percent of stoves made in Russian are sold in Russia. Clearly, there is a large export market, predominantly to Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics. And as far as we know, there is still no Russian-made stove that is certified to any North American or Western European emission standards, which is a major barrier to entering those markets. 

Like most wood heater manufacturers in the U.S., almost all Russian manufacturers carry a variety of different types of stoves, and virtually all of them make sauna stoves. Some cater to lower-end markets, and some also make boilers and furnaces. Many stove manufacturers are based in Novosibirsk in southwestern Siberia, which is Russia’s third largest city after Moscow and St. Petersburg. These are most of the top brands, with their base location in parentheses (if that information could be found):

For more pictures of stoves from around the world, the Alliance for Green Heat assembled a photo essay of typical stoves from around the world that features many from former Soviet Republics and Eastern Europe, showing the prevalence and variety of older metal stoves.

Sauna Stoves

The Russian tradition of saunas, or “banyas,” is ancient and is most closely related to the Swedish sauna tradition. We found far more information about wood-burning saunas than we could find about residential wood heating, in large part because of its interest to tourists and connection to sauna culture in Western countries. Traditionally, all Russian saunas were heated with wood, and most of them outside the big cities continue to be. According to one testimony: “We are drowning with natural firewood - unlike many other inexpensive modern baths in the suburbs, where artificial heaters are installed. Urban baths, sauna, which is abounding Schelkovo, Fryazino, Chernogolovka, Balashikha, Ivanteevka, Korolev, Mytishchi, Krasnoarmeysk and other cities of the Moscow region, cannot boast of similar [wood heated saunas]. In cities, it is most often not possible to establish a special wood stove.” 

Sauna stoves are made and exported from Russia by many manufacturers -- virtually all Russian stove manufacturers sell sauna stoves due to their popularity. One big reason for this large export market is the fact that sauna stoves have no emissions requirements in North America, and probably in many other regions of the world, where emissions regulations focus primarily on residential wood stoves. It is common to see Russian sauna stoves exported to countries where their freestanding metal stoves are not.

Wood Stove Usage in Russia - Summary

To sum up the contents of the previous sections, wood stoves in Russian homes generally tend to be multifunctional, used not just for space heat but also for cooking, heating water, and for baths/saunas. The large brick masonry stove still exists in some areas, though more modern, freestanding wood and pellet stoves have also gained popularity in recent years. In general, though, wood heat is regarded as old-fashioned and a bit backwards. Most Russians prefer to heat in a more modern way, so wood and pellet stoves are mostly restricted to those who don’t have any other choice, which includes mostly those in rural or poor areas. Wood heating for saunas, however, is more accepted.

Wood Heat Regulations

Emissions regulations often are the driver for even basic technology advances, leading to safer, more efficient residential stoves. However, unlike North America and most western European countries, Russia does not have any national emission certification process for wood stoves, and we could not find evidence of nascent regulations in any local or regional administrative district. Building codes requirements reference clearances, though only vaguely, from the ones we reviewed, and fire safety protocols also refer to wood stoves. Russia does have standards for the construction of solid fuel heaters related construction and materials. Specifically, this standardapplies to solid-fuel room heaters (hereinafter referred to as heaters), and defines design and operational requirements, safety requirements, test methods, labeling requirements, as well as test fuel requirements for heating apparatus tests. Heating devices are designed for direct heating of the room in which they are installed.”

In 2015, a standard was enacted that “applies to pellet burners with a maximum thermal capacity of up to 100 kW, designed to be installed on the appropriate water heating boilers and to use high-quality pellets. The standard contains requirements and test methods for safety, quality of combustion, performance and maintenance of pellet burners and covers all components of external equipment that affect safety systems.”  We expect these standards may include or reference the type of safety listings like UL that exist in the United States.

One Russian designer of masonry heaters, Igor Kuznetsov, Chairman of the Board of the NGO Development of the Kuznetsov Furnace System, came up with a novel fuel combustion process that claims to exceed EPA minimum emissions standards for wood stoves. 

Biomass as a Resource in Russia

Russia’s massive landmass contains over 20% of the world’s forests, or approximately 763.5 million hectares: this is even bigger than the Amazon rainforest. Hence, forests as a resource have long been used by Russians not only for fuel but also for lumber, agriculture, hunting, and foraging. Specifically with regards to burning wood for heat, the vast forests of Northern Russia meant cheap firewood. Even in the second half of the 19th century, when both Moscow and St. Petersburg had populations of over a million, the price of firewood was still relatively low, thanks to the railways, according to Mikael Loginov. In the 1960s, natural gas from Siberia began to replace other fuels in heating plants in the European part of Russia, and the problem of heat loss over long distances in district networks remained sidelined. The following subsections list two main uses for wood and biomass in two non-wood-stove applications: district heating systems and electricity generation.

Biomass in District Heating Systems

District heating systems, which were constructed in the Soviet period, remain a hallmark of heating in Russia today. With this system, entire towns or parts of cities are heated by a single power plant, which produces heat which is then transferred to buildings in the form of hot water or steam. District heating is controlled by the regional government, which tends to switch the heat on between October and May, though it depends on average daily temperatures and can vary with regions and years. This system tends to be very efficient (though in recent years many old heating systems have been breaking down), and keeps apartments and homes very warm. For example, in parts of Siberia during the winter, it can be -40 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but the district heating system can keep the inside temperatures up to 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

District heating systems in many Russian cities are prone to breaking down due to their age and lack of needed repairs. This is when, for many families, wood stoves can be a good alternative. However, it should be noted that it is not common for a wood stove to be running while the district heating system is in working condition -- as one article from Open Democracy points out, Russians are not able to opt out of the district heating system -- if they use a different fuel source, they still have to pay their heating bill.

Unlike much of Western Europe, biomass is not a common heat source across Russian district heating systems. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reported that in 2010, 0.63 ExaJoules of biomass (wood) for heat both in district heating systems and individual buildings was generated in Russia, or 5.9 x 1014 BTU. To put that in perspective, burning wood for heat makes up about one-tenth of the share of coal that is burned for heat.

While there may not be a national push for biomass district heating across Russia, several smaller regions have expressed interest in switching their fuel source for their district heating to wood heat. The Arkhangelsk region, which boasts lush forest resources, already uses wood and animal waste for its district heating systems. Other regions are also starting to realize the potential, but transitions to biomass are still slow.

As a University of Helsinki study reports, “The share of renewables (mostly biomass) in the heating supply has been minimal… but their potential is significant.” And according to the IRENA report, “From the business perspective, solid biomass CHP [combined heat and power] offers the lowest substitution cost for district heating, compared to the uses of expensive diesel fuel in Siberia.” And though it’s true that the transformation of a district heating system from fossil fuels to biomass can be expensive and difficult, these costs have been found by the Federal Arbitrazh Court of the Northwest District to be “economically well-founded.”

Given Russia’s vast biomass resources and its potential as a heating source, it may seem odd that biomass isn’t more integrated into heating systems in Russia. However, there are scores of obstacles, especially in a society that is not aggressively promoting renewables. A 2008 report from the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) looked at one region which, like most, relies intensively on coal for heat. Conditions may have changed but in 2008 they concluded:

  • Projects face too much uncertainty, since future increases in the price of biomass could lead to an increase in price of the project. 

  • Preliminary calculations indicate that without some monetary returns from carbon savings, projects are unlikely to be financially viable. Hence mechanisms to realize these carbon savings in monetary terms are essential. One difficulty is that these mechanisms incur high transaction costs, which can only be recovered if the project is large enough. Hence these risks need to be well understood and explained to any potential investors.

The overall political atmosphere in Russia tends to not be as accepting of renewable energy due to the immense economic benefit the country receives from fossil fuel exports and its dependency on fossil fuels itself. A widespread, structured transition to renewable heat would also be slow due to the expense of having to change large, centralized power plants. Schools, hospitals, residential areas, and factories are all linked to these district systems, which makes switching to a new heat source an expensive task that isn’t frequently undertaken, according to the University of Helsinki report. However, most of the Soviet-era thermal power plants are due or overdue to be replaced anyway, so it is possible that this could present an opportunity for a switch to renewables.

LIke many other countries, renewable energy sources do not receive the same incentives and subsidies as fossil fuels do in Russia. One expert cited in the University of Helsinki report pointed out how expensive it is to transport wood pellets than it is to transport coal, remarking that it is frequently cheaper to move coal 5000 km than it is to move pellets 500km.

Despite the challenges for biomass in district heating, it is clear that a push for renewable heating exists in several Russian cities and regions, and transitions to biomass heat may happen soon as more heating systems get replaced.

Biomass for Electricity

Russia’s vast forests can perhaps only be rivaled by its huge allotment of fossil fuels – with Russia’s huge oil and natural gas reserves (currently estimated at 17.8 billion tons and 48.8 trillion m3, respectively) the renewable energy industry is tiny by comparison. As of 2015, only 6 of the 156 renewable energy plants in the whole country used biomass; as of 2019, only about 3% of total primary energy demand in Russia was for renewable energy sources.

*data from World Energy Outlook 2020

The Seventh National Communication of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2017) shows that in recent years, the percentage of harvested timber used for fuel has dropped slightly and stagnated around 14.9 million cubic meters.

Table 1: Calculated Use of Timberland and Production of Certain Types of Product by Activity






Calculated use of timberland (%)






Softwood logs (coniferous) (1 mil. m3)






Hardwood logs (deciduous (1 mil. m3)






Wood for fuel (1 mil. m3)






Untreated wood (i.e. poles and stakes) (1 mil. m3)






Data from the Seventh National Communication of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

In recent years, the wood pellet industry in Russia has flourished, with 3.0 million tons of wood pellets being produced in Russia in 2020, according to WhatWood, the only Russian consulting company specializing in timber industry analysis. Additionally, the use of wood biomass for energy is expected to go from 32 million m3 to 75 million m3 from 2010 to 2030. This puts Russia in the top 5 wood pellet producers in the world. Domestic consumption of wood pellets tend to be restricted to those regions with large amounts of forests, those without substantial fossil fuel resources, or those who require seasonal supplies of wood.

For the pellets that do remain in Russia, little priority or support is given them by the Russian government, which is mainly concerned with fossil fuel development.

Much of Russia’s wood pellet production ends up going to large energy companies for generation of electricity. It is unclear how much exactly this leaves for wood pellet usage in domestic heating applications, though in recent years conversion of old district heating systems from fossil fuel to biomass boilers has picked up.

Russia in Perspective

The countries with the largest shares of their population who use wood for heat are China, Mongolia, Russia, and the other former Soviet Republics. Standardized statistics are difficult to come by, as households in Asia often burn a combination of coal, animal dung, crop residues and other types of biomass, and stoves are often used to both heat and cook. This map (pictured) comes from one of the best reports of worldwide wood heating by Ricardo Carvalho, a Portuguese academic who moved to Scandinavia, the report “Wood-Burning Stoves Worldwide: Technology, Innovation and Policy,” does not dig into Russian wood heating, but provides excellent discussion of the issues around finding basic statistics and looking at the the level of heat stove technology in many countries.


The table below provides some insight into the residential energy landscape in Russia compared to the US. We could not find statistics like the ones provided by the US Census or the EIA on the number and percent of homes using wood as a primary or secondary heat source. 

Data from Nation Master


In Russia, wood stoves have played a more important role in culture and history, though nowadays they have faded into the background a bit, used mostly in rural, in poor areas, and for applications other than residential heat (i.e., sauna stoves). The wood stove market in Russia definitely exists, and a range of manufacturers provide stoves ranging from sauna stoves, freestanding burzhuika stoves, and masonry stoves. Some high-end manufacturers have also started coming onto the scene, though most of the market demands lower-priced stoves. Finally, potential for biomass heating systems is growing and may result in more biomass district heating systems in coming years, and wood remains an important fuel source for electricity generation.

All of this research can be summarized in the six main conclusions that we found during the course of this report:

  1. Wood heat was replaced in Russian cities, large and small, by the Soviet system of centralized heating through massive coal district heat systems. This went hand-in-hand with the urbanization drive to develop Russia into a more modern, industrialized country. Wood remained the dominant heating fuel across the most rural areas of Russia as well as in Russian dachas (country homes) outside of cities and in private and public baths.

  1. Masonry heaters in Russia are still common in older rural homes and tend to be preferred over freestanding metal stoves, but we received conflicting reports about how many new ones are still being built.

  1. The Russian steel and cast iron stove manufacturing sector creates a wide range of heaters in terms of price, quality and size for the domestic market and for export to former Soviet Republics and eastern Europe. Burzhuika is the common way of referring to the generic metal stove model widely used in Russia and Central Asia for both heating and cooking.

  1. There are no national or regional emissions regulations for wood stoves as far as we could find, though a few Russian-made boilers do appear to meet certain EU emissions requirements.

  1. We found very little information about the amount of wood smoke in residential areas and if wood smoke is a social or political issue anywhere in Russia. Most sources discount the issue, given that most wood stove users tend to reside in remote/rural areas, but say smoke from coal heating is an issue in some towns.

  1. Low rates of residential and district heating with wood mean that the potential for growth in both sectors is substantial. 

These conclusions are tentative and only reflect the information that was available in the form of online Russian and English sources and interviews of people familiar with the Russian stove situation. Further research investigating how wood stoves are used in various parts of the world could further illuminate similarities and differences in the global wood stove community, and provide stakeholders with context, ideas, and a better understanding of how heat is generated in all corners of the world.

* The primary author, Caroline Solomon, is a fellow at the Alliance for Green Heat. John Ackerly is its President. Many thanks to the Masonry Heater Association for their assistance and expertise.

Appendix A: Images and Credit

Exec. Summary: St. Basil’s Cathedral and Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum seen through hazy smoke from nearby forest and peat fires on August 2, 2010.

History: A sketch of what the oldest adobe stove probably looked like.

Masonry heaters: A traditional Russian stove in a Russian home.

Masonry heaters: The “lonely stoves” of the village of Bolshoe Zarechye. Photos from here and here.

Metal stoves: A diagram of a Burzhuika stove.

Metal stoves: A Burzhuika cast iron stove.

Saunas: A sauna stove from Igor Kuznetsov.

Saunas: The Kaira stove from Tulikivi.

Further reading:

Photo essay: Wood stoves around the world (Oct. 2014)

Russian can't consume all its wood pellets after sanctions (March 2023)

Average prices for firewood in Russia, 1995 - 2019 (March 2023)