Common green sense generally dictates selecting the natural and simple option over the artificial and processed. This thought brings me to the fireplace, more specifically, the fire log. There’s the characterless cylinder you can buy at the supermarket versus a beautiful, organic hunk of tree. I hate to be a wet blanket here, but alas—artificial logs beat the pulp out of real ones in terms of environmental advantages.
This comes as a bit of surprise, I admit. Driving to the store, buying the packaged, factory-produced, fake log made of god-knows-what, and plopping the anemic little tube in the fireplace—it just seems wrong. Most items manufactured for convenience tend to be relatively lacking in their wholesome attributes; but things are different with the fire log.
Where There’s Smoke
The problem with wood isn’t really the wood, but the smoke. Wood smoke has a wide range of ill-health effects. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from particulate matter. Particulate matter can cause burning eyes, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis. Particulate matter can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases—and are linked to premature deaths in people with these chronic conditions. When released outdoors, wood smoke becomes air pollution. In some parts of the United States during a typical wood-heating season, wood smoke can account for up to 80 percent of the air pollution in a residential area.
Real Versus Fake
In 2006, the United States Environmental Protection Agency published a study that compared emissions from real logs and five brand name artificial logs (Northland and Pine Mountain from Conros, Easy Time and Xtra-Time Firelog from Duraflame, and Java–Log from Robustion Technologies). The study shows that the carbon monoxide emission rate of artificial logs is around 75 percent less than real wood, and that the artificial logs create 80 percent less particulate matter than their cousins from the forest. Chemical emission were dramatically less as well. Artificial logs will also warm your home more efficiently: Their heat content is 12,620 to 15,190 BTUs per pound compared to oak, which is about 8,300 BTUs per pound.
Fake Logs go Green
So, I am still choking on my marshmallows here, but those are some pretty convincing numbers. Although there are other green logs on the market, the tides really turned when Duraflame, the largest manufacturer of fire logs, went green. Duraflame switched from using petroleum-based waxes as a binder, to vegetable paraffin. The vegetable paraffin is used to bind wood sawdust and recycled biomass (like nutshells and unprocessed fibers from food production) so that waste is being put to use rather than out to pasture. The resultant tube is a highly efficient burning log with a much cleaner burn. In terms of duration, a 6-pound Duraflame lasts 3 1/2 hours, which a company representative says is the equivalent of burning 30 pounds of firewood. Since so much less smoke is produced, artificial logs are being recommended over wood logs by many clean air agencies.