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EcoRubric 14:25 25 Nov 2022

Lighting fire energy-efficiently: how to spend less money, get more heat and minimize environmental damage

A solution for those who use a fireplace and a furnace to heat the house.

What is the problem?

This year, due to russian attacks on critical infrastructure, the demand for wood in Ukraine is much higher. However, heating homes with wood is an extremely risky idea. After all, wood is an exhaustive and valuable resource, and deforestation causes significant damage to the environment. 

In Ukraine, huge territories are covered with forests, which are under protection and have defined limits of use. But will there be enough of these forests in the future if the new energy crisis caused by the russians continues? How can Ukrainians preserve the woods but not freeze themselves? 

Maksym Soroka, an expert on the use of the environment, emphasizes the danger of delaying environmental consequences due to the war on the environment. We talked about this back in the summer, but now the issue has become urgent. When the russians first started shelling the energy infrastructure, we already knew that the air quality would be worse in winter due to increased emissions of combustion products into the air, as well as possible illegal logging.

But there is a solution — Rubryka tells about the intricacies of choosing wood for burning, its storage, and other life hacks that will help to use this valuable resource as efficiently as possible and minimize damage to nature.

What is the solution?

Of course, the main rule is not to carry out or sponsor unauthorized deforestation. But that's not all.

Tip 1: Choose wood that gives more heat

Remember that it is best to buy wood cut locally to reduce the risk of forest pests during transport. Beech, oak, and ash have the best calorific value. This may be why firewood of these species is the most expensive. Therefore, it is worth paying attention to these options for firewood to be more efficient and, accordingly, not to burn more wood.

Each wood has a different calorific value in the 4-4.5 kWh range. For comparison, a conventional air conditioner has a heat output of 4.5 kWh.

However, each species has both pros and cons:

🌲 Birch firewood is often used for burning in a fireplace, as dry firewood does not produce sparks. The flame burns with a slightly blue tint and has a pleasant, characteristic smell. The disadvantage of birch firewood is high soot formation. By volume, birch has about 85% of the calorific value of beech. About 105% by weight. Drying time: 1.5 years. Calorific capacity: 1900 kWh/m3 and 4.3 kWh/kg.

🌲 Beech is the most popular wood for heating. Easy to cut and store, beech also has a high calorific value. Ideal both for fireplaces and burning in boilers and stoves. Drying time: about 2 years. Calorific capacity: 2200 kWh/m3 and 4.1 kWh/kg.

🌲 Oak is also excellent wood for heating. Oak belongs to hardwood trees, so it is difficult to chop. Due to the high content of tannins, oak firewood needs to be dried longer than other types of wood. Burning tannin requires a high temperature, which can only be achieved when the wood is well-dried. Oak firewood needs more oxygen for burning than, for example, beech wood. Drying time: 2.5 — 3 years. Calorific capacity: 2100 kWh/m3 and 4.2 kWh/kg.

🌲 Alder is a tree with a low heating value. The advantage of alder is low soot formation. The top, even freshly cut, burns relatively well, but it is not recommended for heating. The drying time is 1.5 years. Calorific capacity: 1500 kWh/m3 and 4.1 kWh/kg.

🌲 Ash wood has a very good heating value, similar to oak and beech. However, ash logs are difficult to chop, so ash is not a popular heating material. Drying time: 2 years. Calorific capacity: 2100 kWh/m3 and 4.2 kWh/kg.

🌲 Spruce sparks when burning and is therefore suitable for burning only in closed furnaces. This tree is easy to work with and easily chopped. That is why it is great for kindling. Spruce is also ideal for kindling because it is about 30% cheaper than hardwood. In addition, spruce wood dries much faster and is also easier to process. An additional advantage is the rapid recovery of spruce resources. Calorific capacity: 1600 kWh/m3 and 4.4 kWh/kg.

🌲Pine, spruce, and larch also cause sparks when burning, so they are optimally suitable for burning in closed furnaces. Pinewood works easily and is easily chopped, so it is great for kindling. Pine burns very quickly and unevenly, like all types of softwood. This is due to the low density of this wood. Calorific value: 1700 kWh/m3 and 4.4 kWh/kg for pine and larch and 1500 kWh/m3 and 4.4 kWh/kg for spruce.

🌲 Willow. Most varieties of willow grow quickly — an annual growth of 1.5 – 2 m is not uncommon. Willow is rarely used as firewood. In the future, due to the rapid growth of trees, it is possible to breed willow as an agricultural crop intended to produce wood chips. Calorific capacity: 1400 kWh/m3 and 4.1 kWh/k.

Some wood you can burn in the fireplace but not in the furnace

In stores, you can find artificial logs made of wax and sawdust. They also burn well, but such fuel is suitable only for an open fireplace. Before using artificial logs, read the operating instructions for the wood-burning furnace or fireplace. If you use briquettes, choose ones made from 100 percent sawdust.

як розпалити вогонь енергоефективно

Artificial logs made of wax and sawdust

Tip 2: The wood must be of certain moisture content. We will tell you how to calculate it

Effective burning requires good quality wood in the right amount and good equipment. Below is an instruction on how to ensure efficient boiler operation through a decrease in fuel moisture:

  • Burn only dry, chopped, at least half-year-old wood.
  • Wood with a moisture content of less than 20 percent burns best. You can measure the moisture content of timber using a moisture meter.
  • Most likely, you don't have a wood moisture meter, so try to determine it by the wood's appearance. Aged wood is darker, weighs less, and makes a hollow sound when tapped.

як розпалити вогонь енергоефективно

Tip 3: Ready drawing for the woodshed 

Store wood outdoors, but not on the ground. Wood should be covered from above so that precipitation does not fall on it.

The US Environmental Protection Agency website has detailed instructions in which you can find the project and the number of necessary materials to manufacture a woodshed.

Tip 4: Make the fire as efficient as possible

When using boilers or other combustion equipment, remember:

  • Keep deflagrable objects, such as curtains, furniture, newspapers, and books, as far as possible from the fire.
  • Start the fire with newspapers, dry wood chips, or other natural kindling, or install a natural gas or propane burner. Never light a fire with a gasoline, kerosene, or charcoal lighter.
  • Keep the heat high. A smoldering fire is dangerous and ineffective for most boilers.
  • Keep your boiler door closed when you are not loading fuel or lighting a fire. If the fireplace is open, harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide can enter your home and poison you.
  • Regularly remove the ash in a covered metal container. Store the ash container outdoors on a non-combustible surface.

Tip 5: What burns well not always can be burnt

Remember that combustion products from some materials and coatings can be harmful to your body and have an unpleasant smell. Here is a list of items that cannot be burned:

  • Household waste, including cardboard, plastic, Styrofoam, and colored ink on magazines, boxes, and wrappers;
  • Painted or pressure-treated wood;
  • Plywood, chipboard, or any wood with glue;
  • Wet, rotten, diseased, or moldy wood;
  • Plastic, asbestos, rubber, manure, and animal waste.
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