The Pros and Cons of Using Manufactured Fire Logs

Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep contractor and the executive producer of the YouTube channel, podcast, and blog Ask the Chimney Sweep. He is also an award-winning educator and public speaker in the chimney and fireplace industry.

AsktheChimneySweep.com….Educational Videos
FireplaceandChimneySupply.com….Chimney products
AmChimney.com….American Chimney Cincinnati, OH
Clay Lamb

There are very few supermarkets these days that do not have firewood stacked up outside: small batches of logs wrapped in cellophane with a handle attached that seems to be more useful for punishing hands than serving as an effective method of carrying 20 pounds of wood.

It’s all in the spirit of convenience, however, and although those tortuous totes of timber can make an effective fire, there is no retail option more appealing than manufactured firelogs.  There are many brands, but one purpose: to provide a quick, easy-to-light fire for homeowners who wish to entertain their family or guests for the evening.

But how safe are they?  Are they better than just using traditional firewood?  Let’s compare firewood and firelogs to figure out the pros and cons of each.

1) Emissions

The biggest complaint against burning firewood is the amount of greenhouse gases created by a typical fire.   Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of burning wood, and although the levels are not high enough for concern to the homeowner, the gases that come out of the chimney are considered significant enough by some locales that limits have been placed on wood burning, such as “no burn” days.

imgresThe most common fire logs are made from two components: paraffin wax (a petroleum byproduct) and sawdust.  Both are manufacturing waste products that are now combined, packaged and resold by some companies as firelogs.

The origin of firelogs may not sound incredibly environmentally friendly, but they do provide ecological upside when used in the fireplace as a replacement for wood.  Studies have been performed on the emissions from firelogs, and although their final conclusions vary, they all agree that firelogs give off less harmful emissions than a fire fueled by wood.

Part of the difference is also due to the amount of material used.  In a typical evening’s fire, 20-25 pounds of wood are used.  Firelogs are designed for single use, and weigh up to six pounds.  Less material burned equates to less emissions.  It also means less creosote buildup over the course of a burning season.

Manufacturers have improved on the initial sawdust and wax model over the years by offering products that use more natural vegetable-based binders and even coffee beans.  So, as far as the Earth is concerned, chalk a victory up to firelogs.

Winner: Firelogs

2) Ambiance

Part of the appeal of a fire in the fireplace are the nostalgic tingling of many senses: the smell of a fire, the crackles and pops, the dancing flames.

Burning a firelog may be a bit of a letdown for those looking for a more traditional fire.  The smell is certainly different, the flames are there but aren’t necessarily as random as a wood fire, and all that can be heard is the faint hiss of the escaping gases.

Some manufacturers have introduced firelogs that imitate the sounds of a wood fire, and even some with different colored flames.  But quite honestly, there’s nothing that compares to a good, raging wood fire.P33CE-A-610x340

Winner: Wood

3) Heat

Although aesthetic appeal is a big plus of owning a fireplace, many also enjoy (or even rely on) the heat that is generated by their fires.  It’s one thing to see the beauty of a fire from across the room, but even better when it can be felt from up close.

As mentioned previously, a wood fire is often made up of many logs, not just one, and the volume of fuel helps to create a warmth that is a signature of wood fires.  As firelogs are designed to only be burned one at a time, the single log certainly does not generate enough warmth to attract anyone to want to sit closer.

If the attraction of heat is a big desire, steer away from firelogs.

Winner: Wood

4) Convenience

Walking by that woodpile in front of the local supermarket might be tempting, but consider this: is tinder and kindling handy?  Will someone be around to add another wood log on the fire when it dies down?  Is someone even available who knows how to properly start a wood fire?

Picking up a four-hour firelog for the night and merely lighting the packaging may seem like cheating to some, but it sure makes having missed out on being a scout that much easier to deal with.

Winner: Firelogs

5) Cost

This may seem like an easy answer, but it all depends on how often the fireplace is used.  Will it be used on just the occasional weekend, or is this the type of home that has a fire every night?

For some, wood is easily the cheaper choice because fallen trees are readily available for cutting and splitting.  (Of course, the monetary cost is replace with much blood, sweat and tears, but adds the benefit of feeling tough.)  For the frequent burners, it may also be more economical to buy a cord or two of wood every burning season.

For others, it is much better to buy individual firelogs for the handful of times company is over to enjoy the fireplace. So, as the frequency of fires increases, wood becomes the more affordable choice, and firelogs benefit the casual burners.

Winner: Even

What did you expect, an endorsement of some sort?  Of course, it is not the chimney sweep’s job to recommend one over the other, as both have their positives and negatives. Regardless of whether wood or firelogs are the best choice for home burning, make sure to still have an annual inspection done by a reputable chimney professional, and cleaned if necessary

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Cincinnati Chimney Sweep, Clay Lamb owner of American Chimney Sweep. Executive Producer of Ask the Chimney Sweep Podcasts and YouTube channel.

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Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep contractor and the executive producer of the YouTube channel, podcast, and blog Ask the Chimney Sweep. He is also an award-winning educator and public speaker in the chimney and fireplace industry.

AsktheChimneySweep.com….Educational Videos
FireplaceandChimneySupply.com….Chimney products
AmChimney.com….American Chimney Cincinnati, OH
Clay Lamb

Nine Things To Know About Chimney Fires

Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep contractor and the executive producer of the YouTube channel, podcast, and blog Ask the Chimney Sweep. He is also an award-winning educator and public speaker in the chimney and fireplace industry.

AsktheChimneySweep.com….Educational Videos
FireplaceandChimneySupply.com….Chimney products
AmChimney.com….American Chimney Cincinnati, OH
Clay Lamb

In the middle of a brutal winter, it is only natural to desire the warmth of your own home.  In most homes a fireplace is a natural gathering place for the family to escape the truth of the cold air right outside.Panorama_P42

Unfortunately, that soothing fire could start a chimney fire, causing significant and even dangerous damage to your chimney system.  It is no wonder that most chimney fires occur in the winter, but what do you know about them?  Here are nine items to keep in mind to help avoid or deal with chimney fires.

1) A fire is only meant to be within a fireplace.

A popular news item around the holidays is the home caught ablaze due to a chimney fire. A chimney is designed to handle hot gases, such as the smoke that comes from burning a fire down below, but once flames enter the system direct above the top of your fireplace, damage can quickly occur.

So, how does that happen?  One common cause is an lit item floating up and igniting creosote build-up. That’s why any chimney sweep worth their weight in soot will recommend only burning wood or approved fire logs in your fireplace.  Items such as wrapping paper left behind after frenzied Christmas present opening and pizza boxes from your winter sports bash should never be burned in a fireplace.

2) A chimney fire may go undetected.

It is commonly said that a chimney fire can sound like a freight train or jet coming through your house.  While that is certainly true for large-scale chimney fires, smaller ones can often go undetected.

If you suspect you may have had a chimney fire, an inspection of the flue system will certainly uncover some clues. Something to look for are blotches or spotted areas where some creosote is present but some of the flue tile is clean. Other telltale signs of a chimney fire are puffy creosote (looking very much like black cheese puffs) and vertical cracks in the flue tiles.  All of these are sure signs your chimney may be damaged from a chimney fire.

If any signs of a chimney fire are present, it can be assumed that the system has been compromised and should be considered unsafe to burn.  A chimney professional can come and investigate as well to confirm your suspicions.

IMG_01323) Having your chimney inspected annually and swept (if necessary) is the best prevention for a chimney fire.

As with any fire, there needs to be a catalyst of some sort, and fuel.  Some catalysts have already been mentioned (if you’re not starting your fire, don’t throw all that newspaper in there!), but normal levels of creosote that build up in a year are typically not enough fuel for a chimney fire to ignite.

It takes what is known as glazed creosote, and it is much different than its powdery sooty beginnings.  Using treated, green or wet wood in your fires will cause creosote to build up faster. Burning too much of this wood, or any excessive wood burning without cleaning, turns what most recognize as soot into a glossy, oily looking creosote that is baked onto the tile and brick of the chimney.

Annual inspection and cleaning when necessary is the best way to prevent this buildup.  Look for a chimney professional to provide this service, and schedule it annually to prevent your chimney from developing glazed creosote.

Also, using commercially available products such as creosote powder treatments on your logs can help to alleviate this buildup.  This is a great option for those homeowners who have wood burning stoves, or use their fireplaces daily throughout the winter, though it should not be used as a substitute for a proper cleaning.

4) Chimney fires are considered “sudden occurrences” by most homeowner’s insurance policies, and repairs are therefore typically covered.

Repairing the damage caused by a chimney fire can be an expensive proposition.  In most cases, the chimney fire has damaged the system to the point that the liner can no longer protect your home from the hot gases emitted by a fire.  A repair of this magnitude can cost thousands of dollars

This is one of those cases where homeowner’s insurance comes in handy.  A chimney fire is classified as a “sudden occurrence” in most homeowner’s insurance policies.  Although each policy is different, making a call to your insurance agent to verify coverage is a good idea if you have had a chimney fire.  This can take an expensive repair and makes it much more affordable.

5) The most important thing to do if a chimney fire has occurred is to document everything possible.

Working with an insurance company is certainly not a homeowner’s dream, but the best plan to make it as pleasant as possible is to properly document what has happened.

Things to consider having documented are the date and time the fire occurred (if known), the name of the service professional who inspected the chimney after the fire, and the date it was inspected. Also be sure to save any paperwork provided by the professional, as it will often contain additional items observed by the service company that would be traditional signs of a chimney fire.  Many times an insurance claim can be expedited if these things are documented in advance.

Home & Garden Pic's 2906) Video and/or photographic evidence of the damage done by a chimney fire is crucial if the date of the fire is not known.

If the fire occurs slowly and quietly, in many cases it can still do enough damage to make your chimney unsafe to burn.  So, if the fire department wasn’t called and flames weren’t seen coming out of the top of the chimney, it can often be difficult when the damage occurred.

Chimney professionals who work with insurance companies will typically offer to do a video chimney scan when a chimney fire is suspected.  In this type of inspection, a small closed circuit camera is attached to a rod and run through the entire length of the chimney system and recorded.  This is a level of inspection that insurance companies prefer, as it can provide irrefutable evidence of a chimney fire.  If video is not available, photographs are a recommended fallback option

.MVC-009S (2) 2

Looking down the chimney to damaged flue liners that  must be replaced!

7) Let the insurance company lead the investigation, but keep a dialogue with them every step of the way.

When working with insurance, it is always the best policy to allow them to take the lead and provided the documentation and assistance they need as they need it.  If no one has been out to service the fireplace yet after the fire, feel free to arrange that service after the insurance asks for a more detailed inspection.

However, feel free to check in with the insurance company from time to time, asking what the status of the claim is and if they need anything other information or documentation.

8) The first word from the insurance company may not be the last word.

Sometimes a homeowner may initially get a “no.”  This can be for many reasons and can vary from company to company, but don’t just assume that is the end of the conversation.  A policy holder certainly has a right for an explanation to any denied claim.  Many times, it may be because they do not have enough information or the correct information.

Once again, documentation is priceless in this situation.  Ask to have the claim reviewed by another claims supervisor or the manager of the claims department.  See what gaps in information might be there and suggest ways you can provide what they need to reconsider.

9) Even if the insurance company ends up denying the claim, there are other legal options.

Although most claims are hassle-free if you have proper documentation, there are certain times when the homeowner and the insurance company may come to an impasse.  If that is the case, there are ways to challenge the insurance company legally. As a final effort, the homeowner can consider contacting an attorney that specializes in insurance fire loss claims.

In most situations, though, the insurance company is more than willing to work with homeowners who are well prepared.  With a bit of documentation, a homeowner who suffers a chimney fire can join their family around their fireplace with a newly repaired chimney system in no time flat

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Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb

Clay Lamb is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep contractor and the executive producer of the YouTube channel, podcast, and blog Ask the Chimney Sweep. He is also an award-winning educator and public speaker in the chimney and fireplace industry.

AsktheChimneySweep.com….Educational Videos
FireplaceandChimneySupply.com….Chimney products
AmChimney.com….American Chimney Cincinnati, OH
Clay Lamb