Q: On occasion, I use fireplace logs instead of wood for a fast-starting couple-of-hours-long fire. Do they burn as hot as real wood? How do I select the best types of real firewood to buy?
A: Fireplace logs, bought at your grocery store, are ideal for a quick evening fire. Depending on the brand, they produce more than twice as much heat per pound as real firewood and burn more than three hours.
In addition to the ease of handling and lighting, fireplace logs are friendly to the environment. They burn much cleaner than real wood -- 80 percent less carbon monoxide, 50 percent less smoke, 78 percent less creosote, 69 percent less particulate matter, and 50 percent less ash.
Fireplace logs are made of waste sawdust and a low-grade paraffin wax to bind it together. Before fireplace logs were developed, all of this sawdust ended up in landfills.
To get the maximum heat output from your fireplace, use real wood.
When you select firewood, the most important factors to consider are its heat content and burning qualities. Also, the aroma given off as it burns is important. Many of the fruit, nut, and cedar woods give off pleasant scents.
The heat content of wood depends primarily on the weight of the wood. Most firewoods produce about 7,000 Btu of heat per pound. Resinous woods produce a little more heat, but they produce more chimney creosote, too.
Firewood is generally classified as hardwood or softwood. Deciduous trees are typically denser hardwoods and conifers are less-dense softwoods.
Don't select all dense hardwoods to get the longest burning, cleanest fire. Resinous softwood is easier to light and is excellent for starting the fire. You can then add hardwood logs.
Make sure the wood is well-seasoned by looking for cracks and checks in the ends of the logs. Knock two logs together. Well-seasoned logs make a sharp ringing sound, not a dull thud.
Write for Utility Bills Update No. 836 listing heat outputs and burning qualities for major brands of fireplace logs and for 140 types of common firewoods. Please include $2 handling fee -- cash or check.
James Dulley, The Sun, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244