If you burn wood in your fireplace during the winter, chances are good that you’re wasting a lot of energy and producing excessive, yucky particulate pollution.
That’s because most fireplaces are not built to be the tight, hot-burning fireboxes that use wood efficiently. They’re generally leaky and mostly decorative. This is why people who are serious about using wood as an energy source buy pellet stoves, which burn wood chips or pellets at high temperatures, spinning off a lot of energy and not much soot. (You can also retrofit a fireplace.)
But there’s a compromise available for those of us stuck with recreational fireplaces. We can enjoy the occasional toasty fire by burning logs made of waste. These won’t convert the fireplace into an efficient heating machine, but they are more eco-friendly: They recycle waste paper products, produce less air pollution and don’t harm any forests.
There are a few brands of waste logs. We tried the Enviro-Log, which is created from crushed waste waxed cardboard, and promises to burn cleaner than wood. Our tests confirmed that it appears to do just that. We experienced no smoky, charred back-flow while using these logs, which almost everyone appreciated. (One person complained that they missed that “wood” smell. The rest of us just enjoyed the balmy room and our hot chocolate.)
These logs produced a robust fire (see picture above). One five-pound log lasted more than three hours, and two burned simultaneously mimics a roaring wood conflagration, but lasts longer.
Enviro-Log Inc., based in Fitzgerald, Ga., uses waxed cardboard produce shipping boxes to create its fire logs. The logs emit 30 percent fewer greenhouse gases, 80 percent carbon dioxide and 86 percent less creosote than wood, according to the company. They can be used in any wood-burning equipment, including chimineas and firepits, and are safe for roasting food, Enviro-Log says.
The company reports that Enviro-Logs put out 50 percent more heat per pound compared with wood logs. We couldn’t verify that in our test exactly, but the dense Enviro-Log fire clearly lasted longer than wood would have.
We did find the log to be cleaner burning, and we liked that we were using a waste product, though our dreams by the fire included hoping that the veggie boxes used for Enviro-Logs have themselves been used more than once before hitting the shredder.
(Enviro-log is sold at many retail outlets, including ALDI, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Giant and Stop n Shop groceries. You can also find it at Lowes, Home Depot, WalMart, Ace Hardware, Family Dollar, K-mart and Rite Aid stores.)