Newest artificial fireplace logs have advantages over wood

  • The firelog on the left (Java-Log) is all natural and the one on the right (a store brand) uses sawdust and petroleum waxes. Both firelogs produce very little smoke into the outdoor air.

    The firelog on the left (Java-Log) is all natural and the one on the right (a store brand) uses sawdust and petroleum waxes. Both firelogs produce very little smoke into the outdoor air. Courtesy of James Dulley

 
 
Posted11/6/2021 7:00 AM

Q: I want to help the environment and use my fireplace more often but hate handling firewood. Is using commercial firelogs better than real wood and what types are best?

A: In all but very mild fall and spring weather, most fireplaces lose more energy up the chimney than they produce to warm your home. If you want to use any fireplace in an environmentally friendly manner, install tightfitting glass doors, make sure the chimney damper seals well when closed, and provide some outdoor combustion air (even from a window slightly open).

 

Handling firewood can get messy, but there is nothing exactly like the ambience of a real wood fire, although some firelogs get close. Storing firewood that is stacked properly under a cover can really reduce the mess from handling. Well-seasoned firewood has fewer insects, and it will be easier to split pieces that are too large to burn well.

Using artificial firelogs is a reasonable alternative to burning real firewood (technically called cord wood). Firelogs have a unique contour on the top of the log to produce realistic-looking flames. The only drawback to using them often and for long periods is the cost will be greater than using real firewood. For the occasional or short two- to three-hour fire, the actual cost difference is not significant.

Burning real firewood does create air pollution, and it is limited in some communities. Firelogs burn significantly cleaner than real firewood, producing 85% less carbon monoxide, 70% less particulate matter and 50% less visible smoke.

In the past, firelogs were made from sawdust held together with petroleum waxes. Their heat content comes somewhat from the burning sawdust, but most from the waxes. The sawdust acts like the wick of a candle. These firelogs produce a significant amount of heat per pound. They keep waste sawdust produced at wood mills and woodworking companies from ending up in landfills.

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Because of interest in the environment and higher costs of waxes today, many firelogs are now made with less expensive natural vegetable waxes. Because the vegetable waxes are a form of biomass, burning these natural firelogs is almost global warming and carbon neutral.

An environmentally friendly type of firelog, Java-Log, is made from recycled coffee grounds. The coffee odor is not noticeable when they burn. The high heat content of coffee grounds produces 25% more heat than standard sawdust firelogs. Their flames are more colorful and bright.

Firelogs create less creosote buildup than real firewood in the chimney. Special anti-creosote firelogs are available to use regularly to minimize or reduce creosote buildup. Saver Systems (www.saversystems.com) makes an anti-creosote spray liquid for wood fires. Use a couple squirts each fire.

No-wax, compressed sawdust firelogs and bricks are also available. Because they are 100% real wood, they can be burned just like real firewood. They are made by compressing waste sawdust to make the particles stick together into a solid block.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The following companies offer artificial firelogs: Bio-Diversity, (570) 884-3057, www.bio-div.com; Duraflame, (702) 803-7701, www.duraflame.com; North Idaho Energy Logs, (208) 267-5311, www.northidahoenergylogs.com; and Pine Mountain, (877) 402-5185, www.pinemountainfire.com.

Q: We are having a new shingle roof installed this week. I know the attic needs more ventilation. Is it better to install several whirlybird vents or a single ridge vent across the top?

A: A long ridge vent at the peak of the roof is more effective overall. The whirlybird (turbine) type draws well on windy days, but not as well on still days. A ridge vent also is at roof peak, the hottest part.

Because you are having the roof installed, definitely go with the ridge vent. If you are doing the work yourself on an existing roof, several whirlybird ones will be easier to install. And make sure your soffit vents are not blocked by attic insulation.

• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit dulley.com.

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