There is something majestic about a flickering fire dancing away in a home fireplace. Of course there are more mundane applications for such a renewable heat source. Any way you use it, though, there has to be a chimney to provide air flow and allow smoke to escape. As the smoke rises and cools, the particulate matter can be drawn together and bound by remnant oils in the smoke or moisture in the air and then deposited on the surface of your flue.
Generally these deposits are referred to as creosote and have numerous detrimental effects. Their acidic nature will damage the chimney over time, resulting in costly repairs or necessitating replacement. If allowed to build up significantly, they may impede airflow lowering the heat produced by your fire and increasing smoke output. In some cases, if built up to enough of a degree and close enough to the heat source, they can catch fire damaging the chimney and perhaps the rest of the building.
There are many ways to reduce the buildup of creosote over time. The most well-known way is to sweep the chimney. Most of us imagine chimney sweeping isn’t something needed anymore, conjuring up images of a bygone era like a scene from Mary Poppins. However, as long as we are burning fuels attached to chimneys, deposits will continue to happen. Just like plaque on your teeth, the best way to remove these deposits is to brush them away. Granted the brush used in chimneys is a good deal stiffer, the process of repeatedly, firmly brushing at the buildup is the best way to flake away the grime.
In some cases the creosote is gummy and resists a brush. Should this be your case, there are chemicals which can either be applied directly or added to your next fire which will make the deposits more brittle and easier to brush off. A professional chimney sweep can help you determine if this is necessary and recommend the appropriate products. Modern sweeps have extra tools to help, too, like cameras and vacuums to enable precise cleaning with less mess.
It’s recommended to have your chimney swept at least once a year in order to maintain proper air flow and structural integrity. Usually this is done at the beginning of the cold season if you don’t burn fires year-round. Not only will this make your fires nicer, it also removes any impediments which may have been introduced by local wildlife. You never know if an intrepid bird thought your flue the ideal place for a nest!
Of course, if your fuel is particularly sooty, it may be necessary to have your chimney swept more often. To avoid this extra cost and inconvenience, you can burn a cleaner source of heat. Wood is renewable and fairly easily procured, but not all wood is the same. wood burns better, but it also burns cleaner. Less moisture in the wood allows the logs to burn hotter, which leaves less oils unburned to glue the soot together in your flue. As an added bonus, it is prettier to look at too with more flickering flames.
There are several methods of drying wood. One is to simply leave it in a dry place for a few months. While this is certainly sustainable, it isn’t very reliable. Depending on the area and how protected the wood is from inclement weather, the moisture content could still be quite high and barely better than burning green wood. Kiln-fired wood is put in an enclosure which is then heated.
The moisture is allowed to vent and the wood ends up much drier and more consistent. Most purveyors of kiln-dried wood test for moisture content and can tell you precisely what to expect. This will provide a consistent heat source. The reliability will be important if you are trying to achieve specific, constant temperatures for commercial applications. Even if you are just burning it in your home fireplace though, you still reap the benefits of a cleaner-burning fuel requiring less maintenance and creating less risk of dangerous buildup between sweepings.
From time immemorial mankind has been burning wood as a source of heat. We also found coal to be a good source long ago, especially in industrial settings. The two are often compared, and sometimes one is a clear winner over the other depending on the application. The question is, in this day and age, which one is right for you – and the world at large.
First off the benefits of coal are pretty clear. It is compact, burns well and steadily and is generally predictable from a single source. Different coal deposits do have different components, so there can be some variation if you get your coal from different providers. The downsides are pretty clear, too.
There is a lot of air pollution created when coal burns. Heavy metals are introduced to the air and coal is believed to be one of the chief contributors to the global problem of acid rain. Depending on where you live, coal can be expensive to purchase in small quantities or difficult to store in large enough purchases to be economically feasible. There are long-term environmental impacts from mining coal, such as polluted water tables and long-burning seam fires. Even when the mines do not catch fire, there is an often noticeable shift in the surface above the mine which can cause damage to buildings and ruin otherwise perfectly good farm and ranching land. Not-insignificantly, coal is also a finite resource. There is only so much of it and it will be ages before the planet has a chance to make more.
Wood can be a bit more variable in heat production. Different woods burn at different temperatures and the same type of tree will react differently as a heat source depending on how well it has been cured. It also creates some carbon dioxide emissions during combustion, but they are at lower levels with less additional pollutants than coal. While some would claim deforestation is a product of wood-burning, modern techniques of cultivating trees for harvest eliminate the clearcutting practices of the past.
This practice makes the provision of wood for burning environmentally neutral and creates a completely renewable source of heat.
While coal tends to burn hotter, we know enough about various kinds of wood and how to treat them to create hot-burning, consistent logs from the cultured forests grown. Once it is harvested, the wood is cured to remove excess moisture, which allows it to burn hotter and thereby cleaner. This process creates less emissions and requires less maintenance of chimneys, too.
Different woods will burn at different temperatures, allowing specific applications of the heat to use the tree best suited to its needs. Rather than just cutting down trees and splitting the wood, there are multiple ways in which the renewable resource can be manipulated for our use. In addition to the previously mentioned drying method, the wood can be ground to sawdust and pressed together to create briquettes.
These have less moisture content and tend to be denser than a natural log, so they burn hotter and longer. Similarly processed smaller pellets can be used in automated machines, creating a long-lasting constant fire as they are released over time. These applications are particularly useful in commercial settings or for homeowners wishing to avoid the hassle of throwing another log on the fire. It also has the added benefit of using the whole tree, rather than just logs big or pretty enough to be burned in a home fireplace.
As you can see, while there once may have been clear advantages to coal, they pale in comparison to the flexibility and renew-ability of burning wood in modern times. Not only do you have these added effects, but the devastation caused by accidental fires in a forest is far less severe than a coal fire. While forests can burn for months at a time, there is a coal seam fire in German that has been burning since the 1600s. The devastation of such fires will be prevented if we no longer need to mine coal as a heat source, leaving cleaner air, less polluted ground water, and more stable ground.
One of the greatest crazes in home entertaining and cooking has been the increased interest in outdoor ovens and fireplaces. These features are reminiscent of the old European community ovens. In just the same way the modern versions are places of industry as well as gathering. In summer they allow baking and cooking without creating a sweltering home, and in winter they allow a warm place to snuggle together and get some fresh air. Year round the multipurpose space allows more flexible use of your whole home and yard.
As with the indoor variety of oven, there are numerous construction types and heat sources for outdoor fireplaces. Coal can be a popular fuel, as can gas if your backyard has an accessible line. Both of these have certain benefits for heat overall, but they can be tricky if you want the oven to serve as both a cooking space and one in which to enjoy the flickering of firelight. Coal fires are not always lovely to view, and the inevitable impurities make it difficult to be comfortable cooking directly. Making the heat source indirect can add expense to construction and removes or encumbers its use as a traditional fireplace. Gas can be both lovely to view and used directly as a heat source for cooking, but it has expense issues and may also add complications to construction and zoning requirements. Firewood offers the best of both worlds.
With varying species of tree available as a fuel source, you can adjust the temperature of the fire easily. The burning properties of different woods are well documented, especially if you get them from professionals that kiln dry them to tested moisture levels. In addition to varying species, they often have different forms available including natural logs and briquettes or pellets made from compressed sawdust. The latter two forms can be drier and thereby burn hotter than split logs. This consistency ensures you are able to bake and cook as precisely as you would in your gas or electric cooker inside the home, though it may take a bit of research and experimentation at first. As an added benefit, you can easily introduce certain wood chips like hickory, oak, or pecan to enhance the flavor of your foods with their smoke. When you are ready to enjoy your outdoor feature as a fire pit, there is nothing quite like the flickering flames of natural wood fire crackling away.
There are numerous online and print resources available for building your own outdoor oven from readily available materials, if you are interested. A simple search will give you multiple ideas and help you round out what you want from your new space. While browsing, take into account the space you have available and your primary desired function for the oven or fireplace. Build to the strength you want, but keep your eye out for options to incorporate multipurpose features. Just make sure there are no local ordinances with which you must comply if doing the work yourself. Should you pursue this option, wood is a great choice as a heat source. While it burns hot enough to cook your food, it is less likely to damage your DYI construction with temperature extremes.
Should you choose the professional installation route, many manufacturers know you would like a unit to be as versatile as possible. There are options available in different types of construction material, with or without hybrid heat sources, and you may even request multiple burning pits. You can have a stand-alone heat source or build in surfaces for food preparation and dining. If you go for the hybrid heat source option, you may even want to install a range to facilitate total meal making. The advantage of hiring someone to install your new feature, besides the plethora of options, is being able to pass on the headache of dealing with local government compliance.
Looking at your options may lead you to incorporate other forms of heat, but by and large wood has the most advantages. In addition to those mentioned above, it burns cleaner than coal (especially when using the kiln dried firewood ) and modern harvesting techniques have made it an incredibly renewable resource. Nothing makes a little indulgence feel better than it also being environmentally friendly. Other options include electric type outdoor heating.
Based in Berwickshire, Scotland, the company supplies a range of products including kiln dried hardwood logs in a variety of sizes from bulk bags to 2m3 pallets, as well as wood briquettes, pellets and kindling products. Managing Director of The Real Firewood Company, Niall Whyte, recently contacted Fires & Fireplaces to share his views on how the firewood market has changed and the growing awareness among consumers of the importance of good fuel. Niall wrote: “The transformation of the UK firewood market over the last seven years is truly remarkable. Before 2007 kiln dried firewood was virtually unknown within the UK. Prior to this most stove owners would order firewood from a local firewood
merchant or woodcutter, and this would typically be delivered from the back of a pick up and dumped on the customer’s drive. More often than not it would consist of various species, good and bad, and be at best partially seasoned, nothing wrong with that if the customer was prepared to further season them, though this was rarely the case and most was burnt semi seasoned.”
“The UK was first introduced to kiln dried firewood around 2007 by Certainly The changing firewood market Wood, and a year or so later the first of the importers started selling Baltic sourced firewood. As customers and stove installers started realising the benefits of burning dry firewood over wet firewood a whole new market emerged whereby the customer could place an order online and have a crate of neatly stacked dry firewood delivered to them the following day.”
“The change within the firewood market can be linked directly with the huge rise in numbers of wood burning stoves being installed, a figure of 200,000 per annum being quoted within the industry, a figure which would still appear to be growing. Based on that figure and making an assumption that the average stove will burn approximately 3m/3 per annum, this equates to a staggering annual growth of 600,000m/3.”
As one of the early importers of kiln dried firewood from the Baltics, Niall noted that The Real Firewood Company Ltd learned the hard way about the perils of firewood imports. He added: “Many traditional firewood merchants think all they have to do is answer one of the many offers emailed to them from the Baltics, pay their money and wait for their container of quality firewood to arrive. Unfortunately this is rarely the case and many are scammed one way or another. More often than not the picture showing the lovely neat crates of kiln dried firewood is not what arrives. We’ve have had containers not turn up despite having paid for them, containers full of mouldy logs, containers full of very small logs and taken delivery of containers of low grade aspen and alder when expecting ash.” Based on its own experience The Real Firewood Company now operates as an importer and guarantees its products to its customers. Niall now only imports from a family run business in Latvia and he and his team works very closely with them. Niall said: “We visit each other’s businesses on a regular basis and are always looking to make improvements to both the product and the delivery. This focus on quality is vital as the consumer is now more aware than ever of what they are looking for with questions such as “What species is it?” and “What moisture content is it?” regularly being asked of us. The firewood market has matured in the UK and is far from the beast it was 10 years ago. Here at the Real Firewood Company we firmly believe that we cannot be beaten on quality.” For more information on the company’s range of products visit www.realfirewood. co.uk. Alternatively Niall can be contacted on 01361 883911 or by email to [email protected]
Brought up in a cold draughty house? In the winter (and sometimes the summer) the only rooms in our home that were warm was the kitchen and the living room (open fire).
The coalman was a regular, carrying sacks of coal, dumping them in our outside store. I was instructed to stand, count how many sacks were being delivered. I still remember watching him deliver 26 sacks before the winter and after each sack him patting me on the cheek. I clearly remember having to wash both my face and blow my nose after each visit to our coal shed, the dust went everywhere!
I’m unsure why I drew the short straw, I seemed to be in charge of all our household fuel requirements and also had the daily chore of not only cleaning the fireplace out but filling the two battered dirty coal scuttles whether it was raining, snowing, freezing cold or boiling hot. I became an expert in both open fires and wood burning stoves by the time I was 7 years old!
I remember one winter; Dad managed to purchase some old railway sleepers. He spent hours, with my uncle, sawing and chopping the sleepers into useable sized logs. They seemed to weigh a tonne and worse still they were cut what appeared to be miles away from our house! The wood was heavy, damp and covered in oil and grease, he was so pleased, we would have hours of burn time, he would say, it will reduce the amount of coal we use, at little cost! In reality, we were either roasting hot (opening windows, doors and unable to sit in the room for the heat) or huddled over the fire (fighting for an inch of warmth) and being told to ‘shut the door’ seemed to be the only words ever used. The fireguard was in place permanently, to prevent us being hit by the metal rivets that would suddenly explode like a projectile missiles out of the log fire or to prevent that all too familiar smell of smouldering carpet and yet another visit from our local Fire Service.
When we first bought our own wood burning stove, some 15 years ago, we were really excited; I couldn’t believe how easy it was to both clean, light and the amount of heat it gave out! With each of our stoves, we read the manufacturers recommendations and I think I can safely say that all those involved in our Company have all become firewood anoraks, not just the boss! We know the differences between our luxury birch, ash and oak staying well clear of the likes of alder and other known less superior firewood! We consistently quality control our products, use them ourselves so what we sell we can talk about with certainty!
I still can’t believe, all those years ago, that we were burning wet wood, in fact it wasn’t just wet firewood, we would burn anything and everything that may have given us a little heat, nothing was ever wasted in our open fire.
In 2010, after a particularly wet British summer and a very cold winter, we couldn’t find a source of ‘dry’ firewood for our own wood burning stoves. The boss at The Real Firewood Company, also a forester came up with a solution to our problem. After sourcing for ourselves he thought this could be a national solution. If only he could deliver our firewood across the UK in a tidy clean fashion. It was really important we sourced our firewood from sustainable forests; we tried at first sourcing this in England, Scotland and Wales. We were one of the first retail and wholesale Companies in the UK importing quality kiln dried hardwood in a palletised form.
Our aim now is to try and educate the British public, to get the best out of our products, which have all been tested by ourselves.
TopTip1 read your stove instructions and test the products against their recommendations. If you do not spend one evening reading it and you are using unsuitable products, it may/will invalidate any warranty that you receive. Burning firewood at more than >25% moisture, is not only damaging to your stove (build-up of creosote in your stove flue) but also dangerous, as this can cause chimney fires, you will also not get the heat from your stove which in return is not cost effective.
The Real Firewood Company guarantee all our kiln dried firewood is less than <25%. We never ever mix softwoods and hardwoods in the same pallet, in fact we never purchase softwoods or inferior hardwoods. The reason we do this is so that the customer will get a consistent burn and receive the best quality firewood you can source. We deliver in a pallet and all it needs is a rainproof cover popped over it on the top, it is a ready built wood or log store.
#TOPTIP2 – You don’t need to buy glass cleaner to keep your glass stove doors clean. We use a piece of newspaper slightly dampened, dipped into the cold ash, add a little elbow grease and rub the glass with the ash/newspaper it will come up as good as new!
It must be cold outside? Our pallets of kiln dried firewood are being delivered throughout the #UK! Our direct line telephone number is 01361 883911 if you want to discuss delivery on a specific day!
Have you ever wondered who we are and what we do? Huge thank you to Diana and her friends who helped to make this. read more →