Choosing Fuel – Coal vs Logs
What is the best fuel to use on an open fire or stove?
Is coal or wood more efficient? And which is more environmentally friendly? We bring you a quick guide to the pros and cons of each so you can make up your own mind.
Firewood is relatively easy to come by. Logs can be bought from firewood suppliers, who will usually supply bulk bags. Choose from hardwood, which is better, but slightly more expensive, and softwood, which burns more quickly and tends to spit more. You can either buy seasoned wood, which is ready to burn straight away, or you can buy cheaper unseasoned wood, and store it outdoors but dry, with a through breeze, to season for about a year.
There are plenty of people who claim to obtain most of their firewood for free by skip-raiding or asking at building sites for scrap, but it’s not a very reliable source. The wood from such sources may also be painted or treated with harmful chemicals, and if so, you won’t be able to burn it safely.
You can also buy coal or house coal from coal merchants and again, in bulk. You will need a coal bunker or similar in which to store it. Coal tends to burn hotter than wood, so makes the room warmer more quickly. This means you need to use less, making it more efficient.
Burning wood is generally viewed as carbon-neutral, especially if the logs come from a sustainably-managed forest, as the carbon in the wood is part of the current carbon cycle. It doesn’t matter whether the tree is chopped down and burnt, or falls down and rots, the trees will absorb the carbon dioxide produced. Coal, on the other hand, is not part of the current carbon cycle. There are companies out there claiming to make it more environmentally friendly, but coal is coal. You will probably vaguely recall that it was burning fossil fuels that created the greenhouse effect in the first place. OK, a little bit of CO2 from your fire probably won’t make that much difference, but we must be honest here, it does result in more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than burning logs. Burning coal will also create more particulate pollution, so do make sure that you’re allowed to burn coal in your area.
As an alternative, you may have heard that you can make briquettes from old newspaper. However, the Centre for Alternative Technology says this only really makes sense if your council don’t do doorstep recycling and so you can’t readily recycle your newspaper. If your council do a doorstep collection, your newspaper is best recycled into other newspapers while you burn wood or coal.