What are briquettes?
Briquettes are becoming more popular in the UK but there is still plenty of confusion about what they actually are. That’s understandable – they are still relatively new in the UK and traditional logs and coal are what we’re used to burning in our stoves and fireplaces. Miles Brignall wrote Briquettes are the hot new thing for your wood-burning stove in The Guardian, which gives some basic information you may find useful. So, what are briquettes?
Briquettes are compressed logs and are also known as heatlogs.
They’re made from pure wood by-products from industry. For example, a company making hardwood flooring produces a lot of sawdust and offcuts as they process the timber. Usually, this waste goes to landfill but more companies are investing in machines to turn their waste sawdust into a useable product.
The briquetting machine simply compresses the waste sawdust and under very high compression levels the wood fibres bind together. This means that there is nothing added to the briquettes to make them keep their shape. Pure compression is all you need.
This surprises people sometimes, because it’s widely-assumed that a man-made product will contain additives and chemicals. Although some cheaper briquettes might contain glues and paints, we don’t stock these as they’re not good for you, your stove or the air outside.
Good quality briquettes like ours are made from pure wood, so that’s one myth laid to rest.
How do they compare to logs though?
There’s a detailed section on our website about logs vs briquettes, which is well worth a read.
The basic fact is that briquettes are denser and drier than logs, so they burn longer and hotter. A dense oak log burns longer than a lighter wood such as birch. A very dense briquette, like our Enviro-Bricks or Beech Nestro, will burn for longer than a traditional oak log. One thing that always surprises me when I burn logs instead of briquettes is how often I need to feed the fire. Every half hour or so, I need to put another log on, whereas with briquettes I might only need to put more on every couple of hours.
Most stove manufacturers recommend a low moisture content in the fuel you burn, to keep the stove burning correctly and to reduce problems in the future. Kiln-dried logs are usually between 12-20% moisture content (m/c) and briquettes are always under 10%m/c – sometimes significantly less.
Dry fuel has a few benefits. It keeps your stove healthier and releases less tar and residues, which keeps your stove and chimney or flue cleaner. They’re a lot hotter, because the energy of the fire releases heat rather than burning off moisture. The extra heat means that you use fewer briquettes as well, since you just don’t need as much fuel to get the stove up to optimum temperature.
Environmentally, dry fuel is also better because it releases fewer particulates into the atmosphere than damp logs do. This is because dry fuel produces less smoke.
Logs are more natural, so they must be better for the environment?
Well, yes and no.
Logs are a very traditional fuel and there is something very rewarding about the idea of chopping and stacking. In places like Norway, log burning is simply a part of life in the countryside. However, stoves are now so popular here, the UK is now struggling to meet demand. This means the UK has to import hardwoods from Europe to meet the demand for dry logs. Hardwood trees tend to take longer to grow than softwoods, and are better for burning because of this (the wood is denser if it is slow-grown). However, this also makes it less sustainable because the wood takes longer to grow and replace.
Although we sell kiln-dried logs, from both Scotland and Latvia, we use and prefer briquettes. We think that chopping down trees for firewood is not as environmentally sustainable as using briquettes. Briquettes make good use of a waste product that would otherwise go to landfill, and reduces the pressure on our native hardwood forests.
For more information on this, have a look at our blog post on wood fuel sustainability.
Overall, if you have a stove briquettes are a great choice. They give off more heat than logs, produce fewer pollutants and make use of a product that would otherwise be going to landfill. Why not try them out and see how they work for you?