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BioBricks year in review

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by nhtodd, Mar 6, 2008.

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  1. nhtodd

    nhtodd New Member

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    As I reach the end of my last ton of Biobricks I thought I would post my impressions on them. I have been burning wood on and off for about 15 years but I do not have close to the expertise that others seem to have so perhaps my results will be of use to others who are considering using these things.

    Cost - Where I live a cord of seasoned wood runs around 250 I bought in October after getting my first oil bill so I paid more than buying green and seasoning myself. The bricks cost me 290 a ton in November again the height of the season so perhaps I could do better next year.

    Heat output- As advertised these things pack a punch, they seem to take longer than wood to get up to temp but when they do look out these baby's are like plutonium they glow bright red and if you walk away with your stove vent wide open it won't be long before it is glowing bright red as well. I normally got my stove up to temp and shut it all the way down.

    Burn time- This is where I really found the value. I am not sure what others consider burn time but here is how I judge. My stove is in the basement and heats two floors, because of this I need my stove temp not to go below 300. With a full load of 15 bricks I can keep it above 300 for 9 hours.

    Complete combustion- I found the ash to be very low as advertised which required my to clean the stove far less.

    Mess- I don't find these to have much advantage over wood. Although you don't need to worry about bugs you still get sawdust on the floor when you open the bag and I found they leave a fine dust on the stove I assume from opening the door to add more.

    The bottom line I will be buying them again next year assuming the price holds. As others have figured out they cost more to heat with over wood but the overall package is great for me.

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  2. argus66

    argus66 Feeling the Heat

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    i got my stove late in the season so all i could get was 9 packages of bricks but i too feal they work great, i burn 2 or 3 bricks and some wood to extend my bricks. now i bought some presto logs these to are a great product as well and i find burn a little better than bio bricks and a little longer. im impressed with both and plan on getting a ton of eaither one next year wich ever one is cheaper
  3. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    nhtodd, thanks for the report. I agree, if you get the BioBricks at a decent price, they can be quite competitive with bought wood and have some unique advantages. Your report does a good job of pointing them out.

    argus66, are the logs you have named Presto logs or are they Prest-Logs? There are a lot of similarly named compressed logs on the market. But there is a big difference in how some perform.
  4. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    nhtodd: you mention that a full load is 15 bricks. I have a couple questions.

    How big is the firebox on your stove? I'm burning an Englander 30. I'm wondering if I would use more or less per load.

    How many bricks do you get per ton? (and how many tons per pallet?)

    Does the manufacturer of Bio-Bricks make a chart that gives conversion factors to calculate equivalent amounts of Bio-Brick fuel vs. various types of cord wood?

    -SF
  5. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Sly, you have to use the adjusted weight to compare bio's to cordwood.

    Bios are probably only 8% or so moisture, so a rule of thumb might be that 1 ton of bios = 24-2500 lbs of 20% moisture content firewood.
  6. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    But won't the conversion also vary by the type of cordwood being used?

    It seems that the answer is to convert cords to tons for the type of wood you're using and compare it that way.

    -SF
  7. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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  8. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    OK... I think I got it.

    For example, if I expected to go through 4 cords of Oak next year, multiply 4 cords * 3757 lbs per cord, and get about 15,000 lbs. I'll split your earlier estimate right down the middle of the range (1 ton of Bio-Bricks equals 2400-2500 cordwood) and use 2450. 15,000/2450= 6.12 tons of bio bricks.

    Does that sound about right?

    -SF
  9. crazy_dan

    crazy_dan New Member

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    yep something like that
  10. nhtodd

    nhtodd New Member

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    I also have an Englander 30. I use 15 but have put as many as 25 in but I have found that 15 is enough for the night. As far as the specifications you get 50 bundles per pallet. If your goal is to determine if they are less expensive they are not. There have been several threads discussing this and I believe if you are looking for the absolute lowest cost fuel wood is probably it. I will continue using Bio's unless the price goes up.
  11. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    Yeah, by my calculations above, and based on the price you quoted, it would cost the same as propane to heat with bio-bricks.

    Just wondered if it would cost effective. I'll stick with cordwood.

    -SF
  12. bonfireman

    bonfireman New Member

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    Newbie post here : paragraph 2 is a must read.

    1986-2007 History: I have burned cord wood exclusively to heat my 2500 sq ft Northwest Connecticut house since 1986, that's 21 years. I am now legal to drink the fire! Each year I paid for 5 cord per year but averaged 4 cord per year because sellers actually deliver only 2/3 to 3/4 cord and tell you it's a cord. Over the years I bought from many independent back-yard loggers and some pros. They all, repeat all, ripped me off and when they saw where i stacked it and demonstrated it was not a 5 cord they agreed, delivered more or just stopped returning my calls. None of them returned my calls the next year. For the last 5 years they have been delivering wood represented as "seasoned 2 years". This is a crock. They were logs 1 hour before delivering to me. They say ther were seasoned as logs. They were dripping wet. I stood each piece in a perimiter arc around the stove to dry before burning. They each left a wet spot on the floor and hissed all the time they were burning. I had ants, bugs, little flies, beetles, dirt, you name it. I was done with it.

    2007-Feb 2008 I switched to Bio Bricks because a ton is a ton, then I found out a skid was only 1900 pounds. I can live with that because all dealers sell by the skid, all is apples to apples. I started with 6 skids to make it thru the winter. They were gone by end of February but did a great job! I had one bad experience but Tom Engel walked me through it over the phone. It is important everyone knows this: READ THIS: My Allnighter Big Mo does a great job of accepting an entire shink-wrapped block of bio bricks. It would probably hold two. I used to rake the coals to both sides of the fire-brick lined chamber and then slide a new block into the center of the stove. It would burn just great but turn the stove way too hot. I throttled the stove by closing down the input air vents. I was able to throttle it such that it would go all day on just 3 blocks! Then one night my house rumbled like an M-80 went off in the basement. I went down to the basement where the stove is and the 8"round pipe was out of the thimble and there was ash all over the floor in front of the stove. I closed the vents on this air-tight stove and the fire went out. The next day I went thru the ash and found nothing. I then called Tom Engel and related the story. He offered the following which makes sence. 1.] Wood burns by emmitting a flamable vapor that does the actual burning. 2.] By loading the stove such that the block could burn on all sides there was a lot of flamable vapor in the stove as it got hot. 3.] by throttling the stove by cutting back the entering oxygen the fire would actually go out as it starved for air. 4.] As entering air would go in, the combustable gas would auto-ignite and kaboom. you got the drift, I'm sure.

    Tom advised to throttle the stove by throttling the fuel, not the air. He suggested I put in less bricks to get less heat output. I said I wanted it to get 8 hours between loadings. After some discussion he agreed the following was a good approach: 1.] I rake the coals to one side. 2.] I slide the full block of bricks into the back corner of the stove. 3.] I rake the coals against the side of the block. This makes only one side and the font of the block available to burn at one time. 4.] I leave the input air vents open quite a bit. This provides a great heat for about 7 hours. At the 8 or 10 hour mark there is still enuff coals to slide in the next block and get it lit!

    Mar 2008 - Just got a skid of ENVI bricks. Scott from CT-Pellet delivered it this morning. I carried it into the basement tonight and lit the stove. They are currently less expensive than Bio Bricks, and supposed to be 100% hard wood. March should tell me what I will do next year. It will be one of the two.

    One observation so far. Bio Bricks in 40# bundles are harder for my wife to move but the shape of the bundle allows for an interlocked stack. This is important for safety as these plastic wrapped bundles are slippery. The slippery ENVI Bundles have a square footpint and the stacks are teetery. Steel toed shoes are advised near the stack. I will write them to suggest a different footprint to the bundle so a stack can be interlocked.
  13. chaynes68

    chaynes68 New Member

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    I burned 90% of a ton of Envi-blocks and about 1/2 cord of pallet wood....this is my first season with a stove. My fire goes from 5PM till 10AM each weekday and full time on weekends. I have nothing but good things to say about them. A typical burn session for me is about 1/2 stove full of pallet wood with maybe a small split or two, when only coals are left (9PM) I stack 4 Envi blocks on top. I usually give it 5 minutes of full primary air and then close it up for the night. If the coal bed was good Everburn works as it should and I get heat till 7AM.

    If the coal bed was weak I get an effect similar to what bonfireman describes. Where gasses build up and ignite with a loud Whooshing sound. Somtimes its pretty intense and can force small puffs of smoke into the house....fortunately this does not happen often. The fix is to open the stove up and let the blocks get going real well....then close it up and hope. Another thing that I find works when my stove in this mode is to crack the primary air just a tad...this shortens the overall burn but stops the whoosing problem after a while. For the record, I dont think this issue is a result of the Envi blocks but rather the nature of the Everburn system in my stove....when it works its great.....when it doesn't.....

    Wish they were cheaper....maybe try to pick up a deal in the summer months.
  14. BioPellet

    BioPellet New Member

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    Sorry Master but you are wrong on this one - per my testing. In fact, and to clear up the matter, one pound of BioBricks(tm) is the same in terms of heat delivery as 1.7 lb typical 20% cordwood. You ignor the efficiency improvement in burning a highly consistent product. Cordwood LOOSES enery in the form of smoke and unburned carbon in the ash.

    please see www.biopellet.net/data.html
  15. RedRanger

    RedRanger New Member

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    They are a niche product, but wonderful to use when in a pinch. I just bought some from the grocer to test out in my new insert
  16. BioPellet

    BioPellet New Member

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    Envi Blocks are a great alternative to big stoves. March is, however, not a good testing ground for February. Everyone should be aware that very cold temps and lots of wind can dramatically change (increase) the combustion rate - all other things equal.
  17. BioPellet

    BioPellet New Member

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    Guys, this rule of thumb does not capture the efficency gains in buring BioBricks(tm) compared with cordwood. As the plot shows (scroll down) http://biopellet.net/data.html one lb of biobricks is the same heat delivered as 1.7 lb of cordwood....

    This makes my pallets easily equiv to a cord of NE hardwood..
  18. BioPellet

    BioPellet New Member

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    Watch out! there are some %!@*^%%$!! retailers out there charging $350 per pallet for my product, just cause they can!!! This is a 1.53x markup over my price, which I struggle to keep as low as possible to get the product to you.

    If you know someone doing this then give them a piece of your mind - don't forget also to let me know so that I can sell around them...
  19. nhtodd

    nhtodd New Member

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    Funny you should say that the first retailer I visited here in New Hampshire was charging 360 a pallet. If I had not tried pelletsales.com I would never had tried them. The bad news now is I can not find them anywhere.
  20. drlbuilder

    drlbuilder New Member

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    $350.00 per ton heck,I'm seeing $400-$500 per ton,thanks but no thanks. Don
  21. Heat Miser

    Heat Miser New Member

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    I have burned presto logs for about a season and a half in total. I agree with most of the comments the original poster said. Recently, our area started carrying "Atlas" branded bricks, but they were significantly more expensive than my presto log supplier so I didn't try them. However they booth appear to be just compressed sawdust and I suspect operate the same.

    I'm going to be the dissenting voice. I prefer cordwood having burned both now. The presto logs have some advantages:

    1) Easy to stack
    2) Very dry and easy to make into kindling by cutting into small pieces
    3) Burn very hot
    4) Can be stored inside and not have to worry about bugs/critters. No more cold mornings having to get wood!

    However I found the following disadvantages:

    1) They burn very hot or they smolder. There is no in-between. I've burned them now in a VC Defiant Catalytic and a Hearthstone Mansfield and have seen the same effect. Controlling temperature with them is difficult.

    2) They burn very completely, but this also means they tend to leave smaller and harder to start coals behind compared to cord wood. The coal bed between reloads is much less consistent with the presto logs.

    3) You can really only burn about three logs in a wood stove safely (in my big stoves that is). Any more than that and the appliance can get to an overfire condition even with the damper shut down almost completely.

    4) The logs tend to smolder and this created situations in my VC Defiant where the gasses would suddenly ignite at low damper settings. This force was great enough to push smoke out of the seams of the doors and top loading system. My Mansfield did not do this, but I ran the damper open to ensure the logs wouldn't have this problem. I think this is a dangerous condition and never has happened with cord wood with me.

    5) They are just as messy as cord wood with the sawdust around the hearth. They also aren't any cheaper and may be more expensive in some cases.

    FWIW. I haven't noticed any differences in burn times between the compressed wood products and cord wood. Because I limit myself to no more than three presto logs at a time for safety reasons they burn just as long as if I had loaded the firebox up with cord wood. I think anyone loading a wood stove to the brim with compressed wood logs of any type is just looking for an over fire and I'd never recommend doing it.

    Overall, I'll burn presto logs when I'm out of wood (as happened to me this year), but I prefer cordwood for the way it behaves when burning for me.
  22. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Dampering down too quickly with any wood or wood product is not advisable. As you've noted, when they are outgassing rapidly, shutting the air down too soon will cause smoldering which will fill the stove with unburnt gases. When these gases ignite, it can be quite dramatic. The same thing can happen with wood.

    To be fair to these products, there is a learning curve involved and following the instructions is important. There is a significant difference between burning Presto-Logs vs Homefire Prest-Logs and Bio-Bricks. I wasn't too impressed by Presto-Logs, but liked the Prest-Logs. Even with the better products, there is a big difference. Prest-Logs are not meant to be packed in a stove, BioBricks are and burn better when tightly packed in the stove.
  23. Heat Miser

    Heat Miser New Member

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    FWIW. The ignition of the gasses would happen after several hours of being damped down well into the burn cycle. It wouldn't happen when initially damped down. I hate running my stoves on the lowest setting and never do with cord wood. However with the presto log products if I ran the stove on medium I'm definitely going to be in the redline section of the stove operation and will cook everyone out of the room. This happened on my Defiant and my Mansfield. The worse part about the Defiant was the thermostatic control didn't seem to adjust well to the presto logs on the low setting and that is where the gas ignition was a problem. It hasn't happened on the Mansfield (yet).

    I've never experienced the lighting off of the gasses with cord wood. It's only happened with presto log products and happened consistently.

    I'm using the word presto log generically. I burned brands from a couple different companies (Bear Mountain, Lignetics, etc.) with similar results. I may look into the bio bricks next season, but they are much more expensive around where I am than cord wood even when I factor in the extra heat supplied per ton. I'll check out the instructions on them to see how they recommend burning them. I'd be pretty nervous about loading my stove to the brim with them though based on my experience with other compressed sawdust products.
  24. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'm curious about the lighting off of gases as that never happened to me. Which specific product was this with? What was a typical burn cycle?

    Good point about the thermostatic control. When I tested the HomeFires it was in the Jotul with manual air control. It's important to not use the generic term because it adds to confusion. There is a very significant difference in burning behavior and btu output between the different products. For example, I didn't particularly like how the Presto or Lignetics logs burned, they tended to flake and expand. They burned hot then diminished quickly leaving a lot of ash. But I really liked the HomeFire Prest-Logs and the Northern Idaho Energy logs heated and burned. I found them pretty easy to regulate and predict operation. They provided a much more steady heat and little ash. But as you've note, they're not for everyone or every stove.

    The Castine never got over 600 degrees with 4 HomeFire logs and behaved well. I might not have used 4 logs when it was 40 outside, but at 35 and below the heat was just right for our house. The Northern Idaho product was much heavier (8#) and more btus. For that product I would recommend only burning 3-3.5 logs at one time. I too was skeptical about the BioBricks and it took me a second try to get a good packing configuration for the Castine, but they also proved to be winners and had the longest usable heat burn time in our stove. That said, we've been burning almost all cord wood. Hard to be free wood for price.

    I haven't had a chance to try these products in the PE T6 yet, but look forward to it. Unfortunately I haven't seen a BioBrick type product on the west coast yet. Too bad as they work best in a stove with a flat floor that can be tightly packed with bricks.
  25. Heat Miser

    Heat Miser New Member

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    It happened with the Lignetics and Bear Mountain brands for sure. I only used the Idaho Energy logs for a short time (a few days). I didn't notice it with them, but it's been too long to accurately recall everything.

    The thermostatic control seemed as if it was designed to regulate for cord wood burning optimally. It's entirely possible the fluttering open and close of the damper by itself was causing the situation where the gasses would form and then ignite. It would consistently happen with the VC Defiant stove. It didn't happen with the Mansfield, but that damper is manually controlled and I never run it all the way shut if I can avoid it. Also the Mansfield is not catalytic. The Defiant with the catalytic tends to really choke off the air and perhaps it just made the right situation to be a problem. The Defiant stopped behaving badly when I ran it 1/3rd open or more. All the way closed on the thermostatic control just didn't work well for the presto logs. It worked fine for cord wood though.

    We just started to get the Atlas branded "bricks" in SW Washington. They look like BioBricks but are made by Atlas I suppose. They were extremely expensive though compared to presto logs and cord wood. It could have been because the store was not selling them by the pallet, but by the tray.

    I looked at them and they just look like presto logs in a brick form. I'm not sure why they would burn differently. Maybe they can be packed in tighter and this restricts the airflow better. I'd still be VERY nervous about loading up my stove completely with them based on my experience with the presto log burning. If they run as hot as presto logs I'd be in big trouble. Yet, I'll have to try them next season and see how they burn.
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