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Building A Better Fire

There’s nothing better than a cozy fire in the fireplace on a cold night. I’ve always assumed that manufactured fire logs, such as Duraflame, were filled with unhealthy chemicals and not as “natural” as real fire wood.

I was surprised to learn recently that manufactured logs are actually better to burn than real wood.

It’s not that the wood is the problem, it’s the smoke that the wood releases when burned. Wood smoke has many negative health and environmental effects.

Health Concerns

Smoke contains particulate matter, which are microscopic particles that can get into your eyes and respiratory system, causing burning eyes and respiratory problems. This is of particular concern for children, the elderly, and those with asthma or lung disease.

According to the American Lung Association, “Burning wood emits harmful toxins and fine particles in the air that can worsen breathing problems and lead to heart and lung disease and even early death.” (Source)

Environmental Concerns

Wood smoke contains a mixture of gases such as carbon monoxide, as well as particulate matter. This is released into the air and causes a good deal of air pollution, especially during the cooler months, when wood burning is at a high. Some areas in the United States have even implemented regulations on burning wood.

Why Use Manufactured Logs?

Manufactured logs, such as Duraflame, are made out of sawdust and wax. There are even Java Logs, which are made out of recycled coffee grounds. Burning a manufactured log releases less carbon monoxide and particulate matter than burning wood.

Using manufactured firelogs also decreases the number of trees being cut down for firewood.

Photo by seantoyer

Tips for a Better Burn

If Using Real Fire Wood

  •  Always use dry wood that has been seasoned outside for 6 months prior to burning. Well seasoned wood is dark in color, cracked, and light in weight.
  • Don’t burn household garbage or cardboard, or wood with paint or glue on it. All of these things release harmful chemicals when burned.
  • Don’t burn wet wood or wood that is rotted, diseased, or moldy.
  • Start fires with newspaper or dry kindling.
  • Store your wood in a dry, covered area, off the ground to prevent it from getting wet.
  • Burn a hot fire. Hot fires release less smoke than smoldering fires.
  • Remove ashes to promote good air flow.

Other Options

  • Use manufactured logs such as Duraflame or Java Logs. (Make sure to look for logs that are made from recycled sawdust and renewable waxes and oils.)
  • Consider replacing your wood burning fireplace with an EPA certified wood burning device, such as a pellet stove. See here for a list.

Resources:

Burn Wise (Partnership program of the EPA.)

whentoburn.com (Input your zip code to find out local burning guidelines.)

Do you enjoy a fire on a cold night? Do you use or have you considered using manufactured logs?

Reading Time:

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18 Comments

  1. Andrea @ Frugally Sustainable

    Wow! I’ve always carried the same assumptions! Thank you for this very informative post! Your tips on fire burning with wood are excellent.

  2. Heather :) :) :)

    I would prefer natural wood, but after reading this, you’ve made me thing twice. I never would have thought of the smells etc that are given off as the natural wood is burning…could possibly be harmful. Oh, and a java log? That does sound GOOD. I’ll have to go look for one of those 🙂 🙂 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

    • Krissa

      Heather, I saw the Java-Logs at my local health food store. Try looking there if you’re interested.

      • Nicole

        I want to try those, too!

  3. Diane

    I have always thought that manufactured logs should be avoided. It would seem to me that just like food….pure and chemical free is a better choice. Plus, I thought that wax was a petroleum product and that it would be toxic to breathe. Learning to build a hot fire is what is really important for warmth and health.

    • Krissa

      I know…it does feel unnatural buying the manufactured logs. I’m planning on researching more and leaning towards trying Java-Logs. They say they’re made from recycled coffee grounds and renewable all natural-based waxes, which sounds pretty good to me. But I also agree that building a hot fire is super important too!

  4. Emama

    I’m not completely sold that the logs you buy is completely safe.
    The article sited above did say
    “the American Lung Association warns that gas and propane stoves can be a threat to any family’s health without proper outdoor ventilation. ”

    Which I know you did not state in your article but I personally, if ever have a fireplace would get wood and let dry for 6 months.
    Roasting a marshmellow on anything other than wood doesn’t sound very yummy to me even if its wax and saw dust.

    Just my 2 cents. Thanks for getting me to think about these decisions.

    • Krissa

      I think properly seasoning your wood is a good way to go if the thought of manufactured logs is unappealing. I think one of the main concerns, according to the EPA, is air pollution. On the EPA’s Burnwise site, they state, “Data show that burning one manufactured wood log in a fireplace emitted less air pollution than burning several pieces of wood.” So, I think that’s where the benefit to burning the manufactured logs comes in.

      • Micah

        I would hope that burning one manufactured log would emit less than several pieces of wood! That statement doesn’t mean anything. Do they mean that they burned several pieces of wood that were equal in volume to one manufactured log, or an amount of wood that when burned puts out the same amount of heat as one manufactured log, or something else? What I want to see is the source data AND who paid for the research.

  5. Donna McPherson

    We have a wood stove and have never ever cut down a tree for just wood burning. Mother nature drops plenty of wood and often gives us the opportunity to help our neighbors since my husband has a couple of chainsaws and a truck.

    Also, I am not sure but I am think there maybe some sort of build up in your chimney/flue that is bad and can cause back up some and other toxins. I have not done any research on the subject lately.

    • Krissa

      Donna, I’m interested in hearing more about the build up that can accumulate in the chimney…is that from any type of burning or only from burning certain materials? Let me know if you do any research and find out more. Thanks!

  6. Teresa Zuehls

    I am glad you wrote about manufactured logs. We have been using them for the last few years in our woodstove. The former owners left us a lot of wood that lasted us a couple of years and then my husband cut up a dead tree from a friend. After that we switched to the manufactured logs but I had doubts about how safe they are. And if you use a wood stove or fireplace you should have the chimney cleaned every year to get rid of any creosote that can build up in the chimney. If it gets thick enough it can catch fire. Also during the summer when your fireplace is not being used animals like birds can build nests in your chimney and catch fire if you don’t check it before you start your first fire of the season.
    My question is if you are using manufactured logs do they create creosote at all or the same amount or less then wood?

    • Krissa

      Hi Teresa! I would check with the manufacturer on your wood stove regarding burning manufactured logs in there. From what I’ve read, manufactured logs are meant for open hearth fireplaces and not for wood stoves. So definitely check that out!

      Also, according to this source: http://www.duraflame.com/safety-tips/fire-logs-and-fireplaces “Creosote forms when moist smoke from a wood fire cools and condenses on the chimney walls. Burning unseasoned wood with high moisture content contributes to greater creosote accumulation in the chimney.” So the manufactured logs do not create creosote because they are made from dry sawdust, so do not have a high moisture content.

  7. Charis

    i don’t agree that burning artificial wood is better. people have burned wood in fires to create warmth and light for thousands of years, and the epa just sounds ridiculous on this to me. it is good for our forests to be thinned – it prevents forest fires and we have experienced first hand here in ca what happens when environmentalists oppose the clearing of smaller trees and brush… we get out of control fires that actually DO make unbreathe-able air and endanger lives. the real thing is ALWAYS better in my book – just like the above commenter said about applying the rule of real food to life.

  8. Jenni@MomEssentials.net

    Great article, Krissa! It’s fun to see you here, sharing healthy, valuable information as usual. I didn’t know half this stuff you mentioned. Keep up the good work!

  9. Andrea @ The Greenbacks Gal

    I did not know that manufactured logs were considered “friendly”. I have a few coupons for them I can now use! Thanks!

  10. Amber

    This is a knee-jerk reaction. I live in a pretty rural area where wood-burning is the norm. I wonder if you considered the environmental impact on purchasing duraflame (the process needed to create the sawdust, wax, manufacture the log, distribute).

  11. Maribel

    What a great thought. I would like to say thanks for telling us your idea’s. We will for sure bookmark your article.

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