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“We remember though all the firelit glow
Of a great hearth’s gleam and glare,
And we looked for a space at each happy face
And the love that was written there.”
~ Caris Brooke
Chilly winter evenings are wonderfully well spent before a roaring fire, sipping a cup of hot cocoa, and immersing yourself in a good book, in my opinion.
However you choose to wile away the colder months, careful consideration of what to burn in the fireplace is one way to make greener choices.
Firstly, the elements of a good fire are a suitable choice of the tinder, the kindling, and the logs or fuel. Depending on your type of fireplace, you may need to go with traditional chopped and dried logs or pellets for more modern setups.
Seasoned wood is always better than green or moist wood. It should be left for at least a year (maybe longer) to dry out and harden before being useful as firewood.
Be cautious when wood is covered in moss and lichen growth as these may create too much smoke for an indoor fire.
Layer the pile with both hardwood and softwood to ensure a speedy start, and a slow finish burn. Cherry, Hard Maple, Oak, and Birch are considered hardwoods (Oak and Hard Maple being the hardest, longest-burning wood choices of the lot).
Softwood comes from Fir, Pine, Spruce, and Poplar, all of which are perfect kindling ingredients and quite aromatic, too.
Please note: If you are cooking over the fire avoid toxic wood such as Australian Cypress, Ash, Alder, and Red Cedar, for example.
Unfortunately, traditional fireplaces are not exactly the most efficient contraptions. The heat escapes right up the chimney.
The good news is there are inserts to solve this common insulation problem.
Burning natural resources only seems worth it if it is going to do what you need it to do – warm up the house! If you haven’t installed a fireplace yet, choose one that is going to increase heat efficiency and direct it into the house.
Ask local suppliers about inserts or modern fittings to improve the insulation of the fireplace, and expel harmful smoke emissions.
Wood is the go-to for a cosy fireplace with some crackle and spark, but it can sometimes be an unsustainable choice.
If you are buying wood, choose renewable sources, quick-growing trees, and not indigenous trees which take decades to mature.
If you are chopping from your backyard or natural area, choose wood which will dry well and minimize CO2 emissions.
Choose Eco Logs
Strangely, we shun man-made materials as not being Eco-friendly. Sometimes this is a wrong perception. In the case of fireplaces, fake logs, called Eco logs, can be a much greener alternative.
The Eco logs are made of compressed wood chips, sawdust, and excess products like grape seeds, and even coffee grounds.
Be sure to choose Eco logs which contain no petroleum-based wax (bio-wax is much more environmentally-friendly).
They give off fewer emissions, burn for longer and often burn hotter because there are fewer wet spots in the compressed log.
A hotter fire (from Eco logs which burn for longer) also keeps the chimney cleaner.
Choose clean and green
Both Fir and Pine will spark from the sap, especially younger trees. They will not burn as hot as the hardwoods.
The more smoke is created, the more emissions are released into the atmosphere. Ensure good airflow, as dry a wood as possible, and only as much kindling as needed to light the main component.
Soot and creosote also build up quickly, and this can lead to excess smoke, heating efficiency problems, and health hazards.
Be sure to keep both the fireplace and the chimney clean throughout the year.
An annual cleaning may not be enough – check often.
It is not recommended burning any of the following substances indoors, for both health and environmental concerns:
- Anything plastic, or containing plastic-like elements like colored prints
- Plywood and chipboard
- Treated or painted wood
- Wood that has not been fully dried out (called “unseasoned”)
- Wrapping paper, Christmas trees, and pizza boxes
- Coal or charcoal
Choose something different
Overall, wood smoke is not considered a healthy or environmentally-safe way to burn fires, especially if it is an ongoing, daily occurrence in the home.
If you are not using the fire for warmth, but are still looking for something heartwarming and aromatic, try a few candles and scents to build an ambiance instead.
Why not try burning a few cinnamon sticks, cherry or apple wood for sweet smells, and birch for a woodland scent?
Herbs (like rosemary), old pinecones, cedar wood, dehydrated citrus peels (the drier the better), and drops of preferred fragrances on the wood also create amazing aromas around the house.
In all cases, the less you use of the added substance the less smoke it is likely to produce.
These added scents won’t take away that ‘woodfire’ smell, but it does add a touch of something to the air. It often tones down the after-effects of stale smoke as well.
What other calming and natural aromas can be achieved with a few handfuls chucked into a roaring fire?
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for freshness and consistency.