O! for a muse of fire…

It’s only just September and already my mind is turning towards the subject of fire. Our main source of heating comes from two multifuel stoves and, until last year, we always burnt coal. It burns well and it’s easy to source, but it’s filthy, leaving a tarry dust on every surface every day, and it’s ecologically more than a little suspect. Becoming single has brought many changes to my life and one of them has been a huge lowering of our environmental footprint. Burning wood is part of this, but which type of wood and how to source it is the on-going question.

I have read a massive amount of literature on the calorific values of things that burn and similar amounts on ways to dry wood and the relative moisture content of the resulting products. On paper briquettes seem to be the way to go, but not all briquettes are equal – hard woods are better than softwoods, oak and ash briquettes have not been transported across the globe so will be ecologically superior to their exotic wood cousins, bark briquettes burn fast and are poor value for money…

Then there are the issues of transport and storage. The company I used last year brought briquettes by the pallet load with a lovely driver who didn’t make any fuss about driving his large lorry down the cramped (and usually partially blocked) road that leads to the house. I know from experience of book deliveries that not all lorry drivers are so easy-going. On the other hand I’m not sure that last year’s briquettes were the best. They seemed to burn rather faster than advertised. Was that simply the bitter cold and hungry winds howling down the chimney or should I switch to another make?

Logs come stacked on pallets and would be a devil to find a home for and keep dry, so again briquettes win – they come in plastic bags which can be stacked in our ‘tunnel’ – a cave like area behind the kitchen that goes underneath the road at one side of the house – too damp for a log stack, but works for briquettes under wraps.

So yes, briquettes it is. But which ones? Last year’s model with the friendly driver, but not the best price or burning time? Or one of three or four other companies I’ve found who all claim that their briquettes should not be confused with those inferior ones? I can’t find anyone who says they sell the inferior ones.

Some kind person recently told me about a very good supplier of very good wood – I’m sure I kept the email, but I just can’t remember who it was… And while I’m moithering about fuel for the fires I need to get the chimney sweep to come and work his magic (he doesn’t normally come so far as the wilds of Blaenau, but I persuaded him last year) and I need to find the part for the door of the main stove that needs refitting – oh, and buy some of that wonderful powder that stops the lignum in the wood from gunking up the insides of the stoves…

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing in this odd old house that reminds me of days huddled round an open fire as a small child in a Victorian terraced house in Middlesbrough. But there is something deeply satisfying about a house that keeps me in touch with the most elemental parts of life. And where else could I afford to live but this quirky, rambling house that makes its demands, but provides a home for an equally quirky and independent press? We are soul mates; Meirion House and I, so I’d better get on with that research and find the best wood for the fire.



Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “O! for a muse of fire…

  1. Do you remember I dreamed that house I’m sure a while before you went there

  2. good luck for your looking. better luck for your finding.

  3. O Jan! I’ve never thought about what it takes to burn wood for heat on that small island you live upon! You’ve instantly increased my appreciation for the vast forest up the road from my house, and our quirky wood guy who eventually gets around to bringing us wood every year (except that one year, when he left us all high and dry… yet we all took him back again the next year and since). We heat with woodburning inserts in two fireplaces in our modern passive solar home in the dry US southwest, where drying out wood is just a matter of time and not much of it, at that. I will think of you with every load of firewood we split and stack!

    We also have a pellet stove at our in-town location. Hooray for small towns where the fellow can drive a forklift through the streets to drop a pallet containing bags of pellets in our driveway. The pellets are made of byproduct sawdust which is compressed. We pour them in a hopper and a screw feeds them into a chamber where they burn, and a fan blows warm air around. I am wondering if your briquettes are anything like this, and if such technologies are used on your side of the pond? Here, briquettes refer to charcoal that one uses in the outdoor barbeque, to grill the burgers 🙂

    The thing about the pellet stove- which is quite efficient- is that it doesn’t work if/when the electricity goes out. With the wood burners at least you can have heat in one area, even if you can’t blow it around with an electric fan.

    And how about the aesthetics? The dancing flames of a wood fire warms the cockles of our hearts as well as our bones in the dead of winter. Does your method offer a visible and pleasing flame? Pellet stove manufacturers offer inserts to mimic the look of a wood fire, as do natural/propane gas fireplaces. We make do without it, ourselves, but it is a popular gimmick.

    I could go on re: winter heating and fires, but I won’t bore you any longer 🙂

  4. The wood burners do look the part, Sue – they have glass fronts so the flames are visible and the larger one heats water, which is wonderful. There are pellet systems here too and the briquettes are basically larger versions – compressed sawdust. And you’re right about not relying on electricity – ours goes out a few times in the winter and it’s good not to rely on one source of fuel here. I have a mix of electric and bottled gas for cooking and we keep plenty of torches and candles on standby 🙂

  5. Mavis Gulliver

    I had to smile at Sue’s comment about Jan living on a small island. Here on my very small island of Islay we have little choice for heating. Some people have oil-fired central heating but the expense of delivery by ferry is exorbitant. A few have calor gas heating but the cylinders don’t last long. So we are on electric so-called total control heating which includes storage heaters, an immersion heater for hot water and an electric fire for that extra comfort on cold winter nights. It’s not ideal, but at least here on the island we have a wave generator which adds to the national grid, and Scotland also has hydro-electricity from various schemes including one inside the hollowed-out mountain of Ben Cruachan. There is also a scheme in progress which is going to fit turbines on the seabed in the fast flowing currents between the islands of Islay and Jura. I have bottled gas for cooking – a necessity here when high winds bring down power lines and we lose our electricity. At least then we can cook, and if all else fails we can fill a hot water bottle and keep warm in bed!

Leave a Reply