It’s been nearly a month now since Michael Gove announced his ‘wood-natured ’ government ban on the worst polluting wood burning stoves. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the announcement was that no one seemed to get particularly ‘fired up’ about it.
Maybe the stove owning types are not the sort to march on mass to Downing Street, brandishing lipstick scrawled placards demanding “Ban Gove, Not Stoves!”. I was waiting for the #stovementum hashtag to get trending but there were apparently, no takers.
The fact is though, I believe that the Government has missed an opportunity here. It’s not only dirty log burners that are the problem here – it’s what people are putting in them. Logs.
Before I really get going, I have some owning up to do. I own a wood burner myself.
In 2015 when Putin was applying liberal smatterings of WD40 to his Ukrainian bound gas pipe supply valves, I thought it would be a smart idea to fit my new ‘Putin proof’ smart home with an alternative ‘off grid’ heat source.
Plus, I admit there was something rather ‘yurt-ishly ’ cool about designing an open plan kitchen / diner / lounge around what is basically a glass encased bonfire. There’d be nationwide blackouts if asteroid 2000 FL10 hit, but thanks to my astute decision to install a wood burner, my family and I would be cosy & warm, immune to the evolving breakdown of modern society on the other side of my snapped shut slatty blinds.
Why burning logs is simply illogical
As we know, 2000 FL10 harmlessly scuttled past the planet, and two years later, my wood burning attitude turned from smug to smog.
Here are the three top reasons why I fell out of love with logs:
1) Buying wood logs…. is all a bit ‘smoke and mirrors’
It would be hilarious thing if ‘comparethemarket’ would have a go at comparing wood logs, I would love to see what they came back with.
You can buy a ‘net’ of logs, an ‘XL’ bulk bag, small crate, medium crate, or large crate. Each vendor selling different wood, in different sized logs, in different sized bags, but exactly how much wood do you get? Do they tell us the actual WEIGHT? Certainly not! By not publishing weight, the wood seller is able to do you a ‘special offer’ on their favourite product ‘additive’ – the gaps between the logs (that would be thin air).
The ‘net’ result of all of this is that it’s impossible for you to shop around in order to get a better deal, because there’s no way to compare.
2) Wood store = wood chore
We have all been in to pubs and gazed in woody wonderment at those beautifully architected and meticulously stacked woodstores which look like a challenge from the grand finale of ‘Krypton Factor’.
If you have lived with a log store in your home, you’d know that after a couple of months, the task of re-stocking the ‘log store jigsaw’ is just one more horrible job for husband and wife to argue about not doing.
I have never been so quick at bagging bins or doing dishwasher duty – to seize the moral high ground necessary to absolve me of wood store puzzle punishment.
3) Wood logs are ‘single use carbon’
After a couple of episodes of Blue Planet 2, everyone is up in arms about ‘Single Use Plastic’ and rightly so. This got me thinking about the wood logs used in wood burning stoves.
Take a natural resource, fashion it into a product which is used just the once, the waste product from which is then harmful to the environment. Sound familiar?
Which reminds me of the wood burning stove sales persons eco gambit. Wood burning stoves are ‘Carbon Neutral’ because they emit the precise amount of CO2 when you burn wood, as the amount the tree has absorbed during happier times. I’m afraid this is a complete myth, and a myth which, for some reason, has still to be properly and publicly debunked. Consumers (and it would appear, some governments too) are literally still ‘buying’ this balsa-wood baloney.
If you have a spare moment I would strongly recommend reading Duncan Bracks myth busting article, over on the Chatham House Institute website. With all the subtlety of a block of (environmentally sourced and sensibly used) wood, his article entitled: ‘Wood Is Not a Carbon-Neutral Energy Source’ – must surely be up for a ‘woody’ at this year’s ‘It says what is does on the tin’ Ronseal Blog Naming Awards.
Should Michael Gove, ban the stove?
If it were possible to be a ‘responsible’ wood burning stove owner, I’d like to think this would be me. I made pains (great pains!) to buy the right species of hard wood (Ash & Oak), and with the lowest moisture content (Kiln dried).
The problem is, I suspect not all people are going to be quite as particular about the wood they buy and the people selling it, perhaps be even less so. After all, you could have the cleanest wood burning stove that Denmark has to offer, chuck a load of wet wood in there, and you’d be billowing out more white smoke than an XFactor papal conclave pope-off.
Let’s face it. The government is going to be no more successful at telling us what sort of wood we can put in our stoves, than if they brought in a law requiring us to trim 5mm of fat from our pork tenderloin Sunday dinner.
Philosophers ask, is the problem the gun or the bullet?
I ask, is the problem, the stove or the fuel?
Perhaps we could all try a change of ‘ammunition’….?
The art of ‘Briquettetiquette’
I’m probably going to annoy the 51.89% who voted Brexit, by stating that wood briquettes are by no means new, and that they have been doing a ‘roaring’ trade all over EU for some time now. It’s a well-publicised fact that our European friends have an aversion to bendy bananas, so I’m sure JC Junker & Co. must possess a similar aversion to the impossible to regulate, domestic fuel wood log.
But let’s humour Jean Claude for just a moment, perhaps he’s on to something? Let us hence go forth and examine the benefits of the (not at all bendy) wood briquette. If we could embrace this European tradition – who knows, perhaps it might help us to achieve a more positive, better for the planet… ‘Briquette Brexit’?
1) What you see is what you brique-get!
Right off the bat, you will notice that briquettes are sold as completely uniform objects, in a uniform pack.
When you buy a 10 pack of these, what arrives is a precise number of briquettes (yes, 10), all with a precise heat output, they have a precise (and extremely low) moisture content, and, of course, a precise weight. It’s just a shame they always seem to come wrapped up in plastic.
Despite the ‘placaging’, there are simply no unknowns with a briquette. Being so ‘quantifiable’ surely makes them a smarter choice of fuel – perhaps we should even refer to briquettes as ‘Smart Wood’?
2) Briquette storing is a completely different story.
How do I describe the ease of filling a briquette store? Imagine you are playing a game of Tetris, where all the blocks are single squares. That’s a pretty good analogy!
Even forgetting the ‘wood store chore’ factor, also remember that due to their uniform shape, you can simply store more briquettes in the same size of woodshed, than you can wood logs. My very own Kettner 4×3 log store shed illustrates this fact very nicely:
With logs (on the left), I managed to cram about 60 nets of wood in and it was a struggle to shut the door. The same shed, (on the right) but using briquettes, I was able to easily store 80 packs. Plus, there is still space left over kindling, firelighters.. and a hosepipe!
Being able to store more in the same sized shed, means I can buy more, which means I pay less due to bulk discounts.
3) You can make a good saving with a wood shaving
Googling around for a good deal on Kiln dried wood logs, you can pay around £229.95 (including the 5% VAT on domestic use) for 70 nets. Quite a reasonable £3.29 per 10kg ‘net’. I can cram 60 of these into our woodshed and put 10 in our internal wood store.
However, with briquettes, due to their uniform size, I can store far more in the very same shed – 80 packs, and 16 in the house. This means I can order a full pallet of 96 packs of ‘Hottie’ Briquettes, coming in at £312 or £3.25 per 10Kg pack. You may be thinking this represents meagre wood shaving of a saving, but there’s more to this….
Consider the fact that the wood briquette can have a max moisture content of just 6% versus 10-20% of good kiln dried wood logs. We also have a precise calorific value for the 10Kg briquette pack as 49.2 kWh.
I have asked a briquette sales outlet for a good estimate for the calorific value of 10Kg of hard wood logs with a 15% moisture content, and they have told me 43.8 kWh/10kg. So even though roughly the same price, it’s clear that you get more heat output from briquettes. Moreover, as they are highly compressed, they give this extra heat off slower, so you will literally ‘burn through’ your wood briquettes less quickly than if you would, if you used wood logs.
The combination of being able to store more and use up your stock slower also means fewer briquette deliveries, so there is a bonus saving in the diesel used by the trucks burning rubber on the pallet network too.
4) Don’t burn life, burn leftovers!
This is probably the most important point I will make in all of this. When you burn a briquette, yes you are still emitting CO2, but you are also burning a waste product. You are burning the sawdust by-product that went into making perhaps, a joist for a home (a Smart Home of course!) that should stand for a 100 years or more.
We should aim to make the first use of any wood, one that involves a long-term use. It could be argued that wood used for construction is actually ‘dual use’ in that it serves a primary useful (structural) purpose, but additionally, also acts as a sort of mini carbon store, locking in all that CO2 that was absorbed throughout the lifetime of the tree, and unlike our flaming log, our joist will not need replacing for a very long time.
Important! Which briquettes go with your stove?
Before you rush off to stock up on briquette wood logs, it’s important you first check with your stove maker, that this type of fuel is compatible, and if so, what sorts of briquettes are recommended. They will usually advise you stay under a certain calorific value, and give you a maximum number of logs which can be used at one time.
This is because burning briquettes will result in your stove reaching higher temperatures, which if out of specification, may damage your stove. So always check with the manufacturer!
Conclusion: Wood logs have had their chips!
I conclude, therefore, that there really is no excuse; all wood burning stove owners with compatible stoves, should immediately embrace the wood briquette! If a briquette is indeed ‘smarter’ wood, perhaps the people that buy them are… smarter too?
Rather than simply banning dirty stoves, perhaps Mr. Gove could instead consider an alternative solution which both might stimulate briquette usage, plus also cheer his colleague Mr. Hammond at the same time? Putting the VAT on domestic wood logs up from 5% VAT to 20% might be a solution that would encourage consumers to use a more responsible fuel?
The argument about Wood Logs vs Briquettes will probably all come down to one of form over function. I suppose, wood logs do look a lot prettier.
But if we could be better ‘in-formed’ about the ‘function-al’ result of burning wood logs, perhaps we may change our wood burning ways, anyway.