In tandem, firewood annual sales in Ireland have risen to an estimated €29m. The market has grown by 35% since 2006, reaching 200,000 cubic metres in 2010 — significantly above previous industry estimates, but tying in with what is reported from the market, and the growing level of first thinning of forest plantations.
With timber more freely available in rural areas, rural dwellers with log stoves are becoming big customers.
Forestry Development Officer Áine O’Callaghan recently advised on forest fuel in the teagasc Todays Farm magazine.
She said it is possible for Ireland to become less reliant on fossil fuels, by using our home-grown natural resource to heat our homes, to reach a 12% renewable heat target, taking advantage of our 11% forest cover and excellent climate for growing trees.
Log stoves are at least 65% to 70% efficient, unlike traditional open fires, which can retain as little as 30% of the heat produced.
There is a huge range of log stoves available for heating a single room, a small or larger house so it is important to shop around to get the best value. A warm winter cannot be secured by using a log stove alone, it is important to ensure the house is well insulated.
According to Áine O’Callaghan, firewood is readily available, but it is important to know what you are buying. Ash, oak and beech are the main hardwood species that are used for firewood.
Hardwood is dense timber that matures slowly, some trees may take over 100 years to reach maturity.
Softwood firewood is produced from conifers/evergreens, mainly sourced from Sitka spruce plantations. The timber grows fast and is less dense. When it is properly dried, it is lighter in weight than hardwood.
Wet firewood burns slowly and releases little heat. Freshly cut softwood is about 60% to 70% water. It is extremely important that firewood is dried below 30% moisture content to burn efficiently. The timber should be dried for 18 to 24 months to maximise heat, with broadleaves generally requiring less drying.
If the bags of firewood you buy seem very heavy, or if there is condensation inside a plastic bags of logs, beware. Don’t buy water.
Softwood and hardwood are equally efficient for burning at low moisture (but softwood burns faster). Hardwood will need less storage space because the timber is denser. For this reason, hardwood is generally sold at a premium.