Question: We enjoy burning our masonry fireplace, but dislike the mess of using firewood. We saw boxes of artificial firelogs on sale. Are they a reasonable alternative to firewood and do they pollute more or less? — Sarah J.
Answer: Burning real firewood (called cord wood) can get messy and be a hassle storing and handling the wood. When you buy firewood called "split and seasoned," the pieces often are too big to easily get the fire started. Even if you are strong and can swing an axe and a 10-pound maul over your head, it may be difficult to split these pieces.
Using artificial firelogs is a reasonable alternative to burning real firewood. 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 percent less carbon monoxide, 70 percent less particulate matter and 50 percent 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.
Because of interest in the environment and higher costs of waxes today, many firelogs are now made with less expensive natural vegetable waxes. Since the vegetable waxes are a form of biomass, burning these natural firelogs is almost global warming 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 percent 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 reduce creosote buildup. Saver Systems (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. Since they are 100 percent real wood, they can be burned just like real firewood. They are made by compressing waste sawdust which makes the particles to stick together into a solid block.
The following companies offer artificial firelogs: Bio-Diversity, (570) 884-3057, Bio-div.com; Duraflame, (209) 461-6600, Duraflame.com; North Idaho Energy Logs, (208) 267-5311, Northidahoenergylogs.com; and Pine Mountain, (877) 402-5185, 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? — Brian H.
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.
Since your have 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.