What’s it *really* like living with an open fire?

reduce-carbon-footprint-real-wood-burnerFor day 24 of our carbon fast we’re asked to look at the impact of using an open fire to heat our homes.

The advice reads “Consider the carbon impact of having a fire in your fireplace. Think about adding a fireplace fan, insert, or high-efficiency wood or pellet stove. The EPA compared emissions from real logs and five brand name artificial logs and found that fake logs had 75 percent less emissions than real wood. They also warm your house more efficiently since they burn longer and hotter. “

Well I’m not sure about all of that! I mean, how many people can simply install a high-efficiency wood or pellet stove? Most of my friends live in modern town houses without any provision for an open fire.

Consider too the idea that “fake logs had 75 percent less emissions than real wood”. Huhn? What is a ‘fake log’ when it’s at home? I don’t know what a fake log is, or what it is made from, but I fail to see how, even if it does have 75% less emissions than real wood, it can be more environmentally friendly. Anything with the word ‘fake’ in it usually involves the use of petroleum or energy-intensive manufacturing somewhere along the line…

While I LOVE our wood burner and wouldn’t swap it for the world, it’s not always the romantic idea many people think it is. Sure if you’re using one just for pretty effect in the evening and you have other means of heating your home then they are wonderful (and romantic!). But, if like us, you only have a woodburner to heat your home and water, it’s a hungry beast that needs feeding – regularly. And everything in the house is permanently covered in a layer of fine soot.

Think of a wood burner like a baby; regular feeding and cleaning out its other end are required for happines and health… Also, unless you have an on-going supply of good quality wood, running a wood burner is NOT the cheap option. Around here we pay £80 per tonne of wood and it will last us about 3 weeks during the depths of winter.

Fortunately there are enough farmers nearby who do not have time to clear their orchards, so we often get free wood in exchange for ‘tidying’ someone’s land.

We’ve recently installed a more ‘energy efficient’ wood burner and just had our first season with it. It’s taken some getting used to, but we’ve been warm this winter with outdoor temperatures plummeting to -15 and yes, everything is covered in a layer of fine soot. But would I swap it for any other form of heating? Absolutely not!


  1. Preseli Mags on April 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

    We’ve got two wood burners (backed up with an oil-fired boiler for radiators and water heating). As soon as I saw the ‘What’s it really like’ heading I said “dusty”! But gosh yes they do scoff wood like a greedy baby (pig) although we’re fortunate to have enough wood on our 22 acres to keep them just about supplied. I wouldn’t swap them for anything either and would rather light the fires and turn off the ridiculously expensive oil heating. I sometimes cook on my wood burners too.

  2. nazima on April 5, 2011 at 9:05 am

    So agree with you about the fake wood. Its probably like biofuels. The production of them is not as green as one would like…

  3. Lins on April 5, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Really interesting. At the end of last year we had a full wood store, I thought we’ll never go through all that. Of course we have. Luckily we have a wood next to our land and have bountiful supplies of the stuff so would not entertain using the fake stuff (whatever that is). We don’t use any energy harvesting the wood, other than kinetic. Our wood burner is a necessity not a luxury, but we love it.

  4. Mrs Green on April 6, 2011 at 10:56 am

    @Preseli Mags: We’ve started cooking on this one too – it’s fantastic for that. Sadly the season is coming to an end though, we don’t need it lit during the day any more 😉 It’s a mixed emotion – joy that I can clean and keep it looking clean for a few months, but I do love an evening infront of the flames 🙂

    @nazima: I must find out more about them, I dread to think what they are made from!

    @Lins: Ahahaha! I remember the first time we ever had a full wood store and I thought it would last 2 years LOL! It lasted about 4 months…Sounds like you have things well sorted over there 😉 I’d love to live next to some wood land (or better still, own it)

  5. Gr8fires on February 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    We sell Eco-logs, which would probably fall within the fake log bracket.

    I can’t speak for all fake logs, but the Eco-logs are made from compressed sawdust, wood shavings etc.

    The main benefit is the very low moisture content, which means they burn more efficiently and for longer.

    Having said that, as long as you’re seasoning your ‘real’ logs sufficiently, they too should be very efficient and carbon neutral.

  6. Mrs Green on February 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    @Gr8fires: Thanks for sharing the information. I’ve looked at the compressed sawdust logs but they DO seem expensive. I wonder how they compare in efficiency to wood. I can’t imagine the cost of buying 6 tonnes of eco-logs. I know it would be around £400 for ash and I doubt that would last us a full season.