Winter is here and I’ve had a few people ask me if they should be burning firewood or firelogs for the most efficient and warm fire. While I have experience with both, I did some research to find out more. Here’s what I found.
Compared to firelogs, firewood is cheaper and the better choice if you make frequent fires and rely on them for heat. However, firelogs are a popular choice for homes that only use their fireplace a few times a year and don’t need a lot of heat. Firelogs are said to burn cleaner and more efficiently than firewood.
To help break it down, here’s a table I put together.
|Convenience||Lot of work if harvesting yourself||Quick light, less mess|
|Heat||6,989 BTUs per pound||14,420 BTUs per pound|
|Burn Time||2-3 hours per log||4 hours per log|
|Cost||43¢ per log||$5 per log|
|Environment||Contributes to air pollution||Often made from recycled materials|
|Safety||More creosote and smoke||Less creosote and smoke. Some concern over artificial materials.|
|Verdict||Good if you need regular fires with more heat.||Good if you need fewer fires with less heat.|
So, while firelogs seem like the better choice for most, what are the trade-offs of using firewood vs firelogs? Let’s take a closer look.
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Firewood & Firelogs: What’s the Difference?
Firewood is wood cut and dried for use as fuel in fireplaces, wood stoves, or fire pits. The most common types of firewood are cut from oak, maple, birch, and pine trees. Firewood is usually sold in bundles or in cords (equal to 128 cubic feet or 600-800 logs).
Firelogs are man-made logs that are manufactured from recycled materials such as wood chips, sawdust, and other plant materials. They also often contain wax and other additives. While firelogs are more convenient and designed to burn similarly to firewood, firelogs aren’t the best option for heat.
Below, we’ll expand on these differences and see which is the best option for you.
Firelogs are the clear winner when it comes to convenience. Not only are firelogs found in most stores (especially during the winter), but they’re quick to light and have little to no ash or residue. Because of this, they’re often referred to as big candles.
Here’s how firelogs are convenient:
- Widely available
- Easy to light
- Little to no mess and cleanup
Alternatively, firewood takes a lot of work, especially if you’re cutting it yourself.
In the case of firewood, you have to:
- Store for at least 6-12 months
If you’re buying firewood that’s already cut, split, and seasoned (dried), there are still a few cons.
First, firewood is much heavier, making it difficult to transport. It also leaves behind wood and bark shavings, making the back of your car and house dirty.
Overall, firelogs are easy to obtain and don’t require work other than lighting the corner of the package in the fireplace. Unlike firewood, you don’t need to get kindling or another fire starter to light it.
However, convenience isn’t everything.
Firelogs are said to provide 14,420 BTUs per pound, versus the 6,989 BTUs per pound of firewood. Also, firelogs have a burn time of around 4 hours compared to 2-3 hours per log of firewood.
This is due to firelogs being made of compressed sawdust and wax (with a few other, unknown materials). So, in a way, firelogs are really large candles. Just ones filled with compact sawdust.
The 4 hours of burn time for firelogs is for a 6-pound log. When looking at the average weight of a white oak firewood log, it’s also about 6 pounds. Because the weight is the same, the higher heat and burn time from firelogs are purely from the material and density.
Firelogs also have a crackle-like effect that is achieved with an additive that is unnamed by manufacturers. However, some people say the crackle effect only lasts for the first 30 minutes or so of burning.
Keep in mind that while firelogs have double the BTU compared to firewood, the manufacturers usually recommend only burning one firelog at a time and not mixing it with firewood. Because of this, you’re likely capped at a heat output of 14,420 BTUs.
Compare this to the average wood fireplace, where you have an average heat output of 30,000 BTUs or more.
So, if you rely on a fireplace or wood stove to heat your home, firewood is the clear winner.
Firelogs cost about $5 per log, while firewood costs about 43¢ per log. However, firewood is typically sold in large bundles, called cords, which is around 600-800 logs. This costs an average of $300. You can also purchase 1/4 or 1/2 cords.
For comparison, if you needed 700 firelogs, it would cost around $3,500.
Firelogs are about 12x more expensive pound per pound compared to firewood. However, you also have to factor in that firelogs provide double the heat in BTUs and potentially 1-2 hours longer of a burn.
In the end, if you only need a few fires and not much heat, firelogs are the cheaper option. But if fire is a frequent and primary source of heat for you, it’s much more economical to use firewood (or a gas fireplace).
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When purchasing firewood, ask if it’s seasoned. If not, you might have to wait at least 6-12 months for the firewood to dry before you can use it. Bring a firewood moisture meter with you to test the firewood.
Firelogs were invented in the 1960s when companies were looking to repurpose the waste of sawdust and petroleum wax. They compressed these two materials together into a log shape and were sold as firelogs. Since then, they’ve been a big hit and an estimated 90 million firelogs are sold annually.
Today, manufacturers say their firelogs burn 80% cleaner than firewood and are made from recyclable materials, but this depends on the brand. Some are more green than others.
For example, some firelog manufacturers recently switched from using petroleum waxes to natural vegetable waxes.
Another example is the brand Pine Mountain Fire, who produces a firelog made from recycled coffee grounds. It’s called Java-log and is said to produce 80% less carbon monoxide and 75% less particulate matter. Some say the log smells like coffee grounds while others say they don’t smell it.
Overall, firelogs are reported to burn cleaner than burning firewood and are made from recycled materials, but what’s not considered is the carbon footprint it takes to manufacture and transport the logs, among other factors.
As a result, the best environmental option is to cut your own firewood. The next most environmental option is likely firelogs, followed by purchasing firewood from a store or major supplier. Gas fireplaces are also fairly environmentally friendly as they have little to no pollutants.
For more information on firewood and if it’s renewable or sustainable, check out my other post below.
Recommended: Is Firewood A Renewable Resource? Answered
Since firelogs burn cleaner than firewood, they don’t produce much smoke or creosote (the harmful tar buildup you see in chimneys). Also, because of their cleaner burn and lower temperature, the chance of a chimney fire is much less likely.
For context, firelog manufacturers claim their logs produce 66% less creosote per hour than firewood.
The largest safety concern when it comes to firelogs is burning anything artificial in the logs, especially if you’re burning indoors. I’ve heard from many not to burn colored paper such as magazines as the ink creates fumes, and this could be true for firelogs as well.
Firelogs are largely made of sawdust, agricultural fibers, waxes, and oils. Although, some manufacturers mention they have special additives that make the firelog burn longer and hotter, and produce a crackling.
Here are some safety tips when using firelogs, according to firelog manufacturers:
- Avoid burning firelogs in a wood stove or in fireplace inserts with doors that affect airflow, especially those that pass fumes into the home.
- Avoid cooking over the firelog, unless it’s an outdoor or camping firelog that mentions its cook-safe.
Similar to firewood, firelogs are made of mostly wood (carbon). So, it’s normal for both of them to release carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide when burned. As a result, it’s a good idea to get a carbon monoxide sensor.
Also, make sure your fireplace damper is open, so any potential fumes or smoke goes up the chimney and not into your house.
Keep in mind, the CSIA recommends having your chimney inspected about once a year.
Overall, due to the reduced heat and smoke, firelogs are likely the safer option. There’s also less of a chance of jumping or popping embers.
If you make frequent fires and rely on them for heat, firewood is the better option. However, if you only use your fireplace a few times a year and don’t need heat, firelogs work best. While firelogs are more convenient and efficient at heating, the biggest con is that you can only use one firelog at a time.
Keep in mind that open fireplaces are highly inefficient as they often create drafts in the house—pulling warm air from inside the house to feed the fire oxygen, and sending the warm air up the chimney. As a result, cold air is sucked into the house through spaces in the doors and windows.
Because of this, the most efficient option for wood heating is to get a wood stove and place it in the center of the home. Using firebricks or other earth around the wood stove significantly retains heat in the winter and stays cool in the summer.
Gas fireplaces are the next best option for heat efficiency.
When it comes to firelogs, I personally avoid burning anything artificial, so I’ll stick to firewood. Although, the coffee-logs and other eco-logs seem interesting and potentially more environmentally friendly than others.
Firewood has been around for millions of years (compared to 60 years for firelogs), so it makes sense why firewood is still the better option. Unlike fossil fuels, the carbon released from burning firewood is easily offset by growing more trees, so don’t feel too guilty about burning it.
To see a comparison of the different firelogs, check out this video by Peter Von Panda.