Excuse this diversion into home heating solutions. I’ve noticed of late that the Graun has got it in for woodburning stoves – correctly identifying perhaps that this is a very middle class and privileged home heating solution. They’re fond of pointing out that the particulate emissions from woodburning stoves can be greater than those from road traffic. This is especially true if people burn wood that is not properly seasoned. Sales of unseasoned wood have now been banned in the UK.
Now, we do have a woodburner but because I am too lazy to pick up fallen branches and logs from the woods, I always have properly kiln dried logs delivered. Kiln dried logs are not such a problem, especially if you burn them in a modern, continental stove like those you can get from Contura. We’re talking 85% efficiency and very little smoke or ash.
But mindful of the Guardian’s sly digs at this middle class shibboleth, I thought I’d give Hotties Heat Logs a go. Hotties are a by-product of the timber industry. They look like they’re made from compressed sawdust, basically, but unlike coffee logs, say, they don’t contain any other chemicals to help them burn. So they’re clean, made from wood waste, and they’re also compact and uniform in size.
But you will know if you’ve ever seen chipboard or MDF when it gets wet, that you cannot let a product like this get wet. And there’s the problem, because if you are seriously using a woodburner to heat your home (and we have barely run the gas central heating this winter), you need a lot of logs, and where do you keep them? We keep our logs outside in crates, which we try to cover to protect them from the rain. But when it is properly stormy, they do get wet. So we have two baskets: one by the stove, and another in the conservatory, where we get logs in to dry out before we burn them. So we’re never putting wet wood in the stove.
The hotties are much smaller than they look in the marketing photos. They’re about the size of a traditional Thermos flask, I reckon. One issue is that they come wrapped in plastic, which is not ideal. They do ignite quite easily and they burn hot, and for a decent amount of time. They would in fact be great for the pizza oven, because they’re a lot hotter than most logs. They also leave very little ash residue and produce very little smoke. But! Even though they were being kept outside in a sheltered place and not getting rained on, and even though they were wrapped in their plastic packaging, a tiny bit of water underneath them (which got in underneath when it was particularly wet) completely did for them. They swelled up, lost structural integrity, and turned back into sawdust.
So although you’ll see these reviewed with five stars, you have to be very clear that you have somewhere to store them that is completely dry, with absolutely no chance of them getting wet. Take off a star for this problem, and another for the plastic wrapping, and another because they’re quite expensive*: and you have a two-star product.
*£499 for a whole pallet of 1000, making them about 50p each if you have the space to store them and keep them dry. For comparison, I just paid £235 for a “large bulk bag” of seasoned wood (1.6 cubic metres). Hotties also cost more in smaller quantities. I got a three-pack for £25, which means they were around 83 pence each. And I lost half of one pack to the rain.