Some Bits We'd Like To Set Straight

Below are a few of the questions that we regularly get asked about woodfuel and it's benefits for the environment. It's by no means meant to be an exhaustive list and, as with most things in life, there are many different points of view...

Q:     Is burning wood carbon neutral?

A:     Yes and No. Trees by their nature convert C02 in to oxygen through the natural growing cycle and "lock up carbon" within their timber. This carbon is released during burning, it is this part of the process that people refer to as "carbon neutral". However we feel this is a rather simplistic view.

Understandably there are many additional processes such as felling, extraction, processing and delivery that need to be allowed for, all of which happens before your logs even leave the yard...And all of which uses fossil fuels!

We feel it is only right to include all of these other inputs when we are talking about the positives of using wood to heat our homes as it is undeniable that burning wood as fuel is a great thing to do. Trees are a truly sustainable and naturally occurring resource that have many benefits for people, rural communities and our native plants and animals.      

Q:     By using wood as fuel am I helping the environment?

A:     Yes, absolutely, providing that wood comes from a well managed woodland. You needn't worry too much about this part as according to the Forestry Commission (the government agency who deal with this stuff) there are very few illegal logging operations that happen in the UK.

In a well managed woodland many of our lovely native plants, birds and animals thrive in abundance. This is due to them having adapted over many thousands of years to get used to the continuous cutting and working of our forests, in fact many of them actually suffer badly when this management stops. This is why it is important as foresters and land managers that we manage our woodlands using rotational cutting or continuous cover systems, all of which, of course, must be carried out at the correct time and as sensitively as possible.    

Q:     How do I know that the logs I'm buying are from a sustainable source?

A:     As mentioned above this really shouldn't be a huge issue within the UK, however it would be wrong to say this is not a possibility and not to give you a few pointers what to look for. The best tip we can offer is 'get to know your supplier' and don't be afraid to ask questions as to where the wood comes from. It's unlikely your supplier will be able to give you a specific woodland but in general they should be able to give you a good idea and they definitely shouldn't have a problem with this sort of detail. We would also advise customers not to be totally driven by price...a tricky point we understand but as with most things in life (and even more so with logs) cheaper is definitely not better, by paying that little bit more you'll have better fires, emit less pollution (and yes burning wood can produce pollution) but you will actually be saving in the long term.

You can also check to see if your supplier is a member of any biomass, heating or woodfuel organisation, as they can give you a little extra peace of mind. However don't be immediately put off from your supplier if they're not a member, many of these organisations are expensive to join and require a lot of form filling, and few of us relish that sort of thing!

The organisations are: HEATAS, Grown in Britain, the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) and Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. There are also many other local and regional schemes that people are members of, all of which have some element of membership criteria.   

Q:     Is it better to burn hardwood or softwood?

A:     This is one of the most difficult and sometimes contentious questions to answer, mainly as it can get very scientific because of something called calorific value (CV) and due to lots of miss information connected to the use of softwoods. Put simply CV is based on 3 main factors; species, moisture and wood density. In general hardwoods and softwoods is forestry terminology that is only loosely connected with the actual wood density. To be more precise hardwoods are deciduous, trees that drop their leaves, and softwoods are evergreen or coniferous, those that don't, but even this has a few exceptions...we said it wasn't an easy one!!       

When we are talking about CV there is very little difference between species other than deciduous trees having more dense timber and evergreens containing higher resin values. The real difference between species is their moisture content and how quickly they release any water during the drying process. Once seasoned hardwoods tend to be heavier that softwoods, therefore based on volume (load for load) hardwoods are better as they contain more wood. However if you are measuring by weight (ton for ton) then there is no discernible difference, in fact many softwoods have a higher CV than hardwoods, albeit that you have to burn more wood. 

As we mentioned earlier, this is a very tricky point to answer in just a few lines, in general and based on volume (as this is how suppliers should deliver their logs) native British hardwoods will give you a better return load by load but will cost more, softwoods will (or at least should) cost less per load but you will need to buy more of them.

If you would like to know more about this subject feel free to read the document below.

Wood_As_Fuel.pdf Wood_As_Fuel.pdf
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Q:     What's the best wood to burn?

A:     There are many excellent woods to burn but Ash is regarded by firewood suppliers as the best of all. This is largely based on it's lower moisture content when standing and how quickly it dries one split.

There are however many other superb woods suitable for burning all of which can have slightly different burning characteristics.
Oak is a fantastic firewood but needs plenty of time to dry. It will give lots of heat and embers but not huge flames, it's great for those huge open fires in cosy country pubs...
Beech burns excellently if dried well and gives of lots of heat.
Birch is another good species but is best not stored for long periods as it degrades quickly.
Hornbeam is another great choice, it's a dense wood that burns brilliantly on all fires.
Sweet Chestnut has one of the highest CV's of all woods but will readily spit so is best used only on wood burners.

There are many other great species other than those above, the best advice we can offer is stick with native British species, but avoid willow and poplar as although they burn well they burn quickly leaving very few embers.

Q:    Can I burn wood that is green?

A:    The easiest to answer of all the questions we get asked and the answer is, definitely not, not ever!
At least never on a wood burner or open fire in a domestic situation. Burning green wood outside as a means to deal with forestry or gardening operations may be a different point altogether but breathing in the smoke should be avoided as far as is possible.

The main reasons for this is that burning of green wood on wood burners and open fires is not only a waste of time as most of the heat energy is lost to steam, but you'll you have to burn more wood which ultimately costs more money.

There is also lots of evidence to suggest that the chemicals given off from an unclean burning process (fires not burning hot enough) can actually be cancerous as well as being hugely polluting. Add on top of this the damage that can be caused to your flu through tar build up, increasing the risk of chimney fires, the burning of green or inadequately seasoned logs should be avoided at all costs...

The above comments are entirely our own and based on observations, training and best practice advice from industry experts and should only be used as a guide. Bernwoods accepts no liability for any loss or damage caused to third parties as a result of this information.        

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