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Quick Review : Bear Mountain "Bear Bricks".

Post in 'The Wood Shed' started by Oregon Fire, Sep 15, 2008.

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  1. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    Bear Bricks are very similar to the "bio bricks" that have been sold on the east coast for some time; Made by Bear Mountain Forest Products in Hood River Oregon, they are a small 2 pound brick that comes in a "flat" of 12 bricks. At a total of weight of 24 pounds - same size as a "case of coke" - it's a perfect size and weight for movement.

    Because the bricks are square in shape - they can be stored in a very compact space. I was able to put 2 pallets, nearly 2 tons, in an 8 foot length along the side of my garage (4+ feet high and 2 feet deep).

    I did a test burn earlier in the year in my jotul stove and decided to pick up two pallets of bricks @ 972 bricks per pallet. I live in a development and have room for a cord or 2 outside my home - the ability to additionally have the equivalent of 2 cords of wood along 8 foot of garage wall is a god send. My wife's desire to strangle me in my sleep is greatly reduced! :)

    I had previously tried the canadian made energy logs that were previously reviewed here - very hard to control and I had a scary run away fire with them. The Bear Bricks, on the other hand, were easy to control the burn. You pack the bricks in tight and have less of the fuel load involved in the combustion compared to energy logs (aka presto logs). With the small, rectangular Bear Bricks, you can also get more fuel in the stove. This yielded an extremely long burn time with a moderate stove temperature of 500 degrees. I have the jotul c450, which is a relatively small insert, and I expect to get easy overnight burns with Bear Bricks.

    There is a bit of a learning curve to overcome to get this fuel working well in your stove. Two things come into play. The density of the product and it's low moisture content is a double edged sword. It is very very efficient when the stove is up to temperature, but getting the fire started and up to temperature with solely Bear Bricks is difficult for the novice. It is easier to start with a softwood like Fir and get a base fire going - rake these coals to the front and then load the bricks in the back with space at the sides to allow heat to radiate to the sides of the stove.

    Starting the fire solely with Bear Bricks is more difficult, but once you master a good technique things go quite smoothly. I would recommend breaking two bricks in half and using the method shown on the eco-bricks website (teepee) for starting. Bear Mountain provided an instruction sheet at the store - using a small square of bricks with kindling at the base of it - but I tried it by that method and it worked very poorly compared to the teepee method.

    I had to provide more primary air to the fire to get it established. I saw where another jotul owner was trying to dampen down his stove and would have his eco-bricks smolder. I thought about this and attribute it to the small moisture content in the bricks. You have less steam and less volume of air going up the flue (decreased draft). I found I had to provide much more air to the bricks to get them going and had to provide more air when the fire was established. It seems scary at first to "open her up" more than you are used to - but the stove temperatures are moderate and easy to control.

    I also found it's best to reload the stove while the temp is still relatively high - say 350+ degrees. If you use a standard technique of letting the stove burn down to coals, it is difficult to re-establish a fire with a large fuel load. With the stove hot and a sufficient amount of coals -you can load the stove up and get that dense cube of fuel efficiently cooking again with ease.


    Advantages :
    - Longer burn times with higher average temps for easy overnight burns.
    - Cleaner burning - better for the environment and reduced maintenance costs with less time cleaning the flue and glass.
    - Easier to control fire - greatly reducing chances of over-firing the stove.
    - Great form factor and packaging - like grabbing a case of coke from the garage. My wife loves them.
    - They take up much less space than other compressed wood products (presto-logs, etc.).
    - Quality and consistency of the fuel - moisture content is very low compared to cord wood. Purchased cord wood could need 6-12 months more of drying out to be truly seasoned (e.g. Oak takes a long time to season).
    - Can be stored in the garage without fear of insect infestation. The wood comes pest free and is too dry to be a food supply for wood destroying pests.

    Disadvantages :
    - Availability - Coastal Farm supply was carrying them locally and just quit for some reason. I don't think users are being properly being educated on their use and Coastal may have received negative feedback on the product. Mount Scott Fuel in Portland is carrying them.
    - Learning curve - burn differently from cord wood - usually require more air to get proper draft (less moisture = less steam = less draft).

    Last year I would have said cost is a disadvantage but the price of dried hardwood is up 50-100 dollars per cord this year. The Bear Bricks were $250 per pallet (just shy of a ton). For me, it seemed a no brainer, I could get the equivalent of 2 cords of wood (2 pallets) that fits in a tighter space in my nice dry garage.

    For my stove, there are changes in stove operation -
    1. more air supply to start fire and keep fire established.
    2. Reload stove sooner while stove is still hot.
    3. Starting requires new technique. See bio-bricks website for teepee technique - www.biopellet.net

    Bottom line - two big thumbs up. I'll post to the wiki and also post an update when we get into the burning season.

    Thanks,
    jeff

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  2. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Great info Jeff. Thanks for posting. I need to get in touch with the Bear Mtn folks. They make some good products from the reports I have read. But I need to get used to the Alderlea a bit more before testing new products. I'm looking forward to your winter review.
  3. johnnywarm

    johnnywarm Minister of Fire

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    Same here Jeff,Thank you.

    John
  4. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    I had listed "availability" as a disadvantage above because employees at Coastal Farm Supply told me they would no longer carry them. I got the following correction via e-mail from Stan at Bear Mountain Forest Products :

    FYI: There was some bad communication between the buying office and the
    Coastal Stores. All stores will be getting additional shipments of
    Bricks this week, and they will all carry this product for the entire
    season. Should you need more later in the season, we will keep Coastal
    well supplied.

    Regards,

    Stan


    For coastal farm locations - www.coastalfarm.com. Bear Bricks are also carried by Parkrose Hardware in Portland, OR.

    jeff
  5. johnnywarm

    johnnywarm Minister of Fire

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    For coastal farm locations - www.coastalfarm.com. Bear Bricks are also carried by Parkrose Hardware in Portland, OR.

    jeff[/quote]


    Any places that carrie the Bear-Bricks in Connectiut???
  6. Heat Miser

    Heat Miser New Member

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    I've also seen Atlas brand bricks for sale here in SW Washington starting last winter. The local hardware stores were carrying them.
  7. bcnu

    bcnu New Member

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    I'll have plenty of wood for the next few years but am thinking about a small supply of bio bricks. I'll do some reading but am wondering if the bricks are roughly equal to a hardwood like oak. If so I might consider trying them during the cold months here in Portland area.
  8. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    Took some photos after I got done stacking them..

    Here is a pic of the bear brick packaging next to a can of coke to show size...

    [​IMG]

    And here is a picture showing 2 tons of bear bricks along the side of my garage wall; With little square bricks - they stack quite nicely into a very compact space.

    [​IMG]

    The stack is 24 inches deep - 8 feet long and about 4 and half feet tall... This is 2 tons - the equivalent of 2 cords of fir in a pretty tight space! :)

    jeff
  9. johnnywarm

    johnnywarm Minister of Fire

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    Jeff Thank you for the pics.How many cords of wood do they(2 tons) Equal????

    John
  10. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Excellent review Jeff. Let us know how ya like them in the long run. If you do have the ability, is there any way that you can compare the consumption rate of bricks verses cord wood?
  11. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    They say 1 ton is equal to 1 cord of wood - penciling it out - it works out to about 16 Million BTUs per ton. Which is about the same as a cord of douglas fir.

    It is hard to compare though - because it is more dense than oak with much less moisture content, so burn times are greatly extended.

    jeff
  12. johnnywarm

    johnnywarm Minister of Fire

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    Thanks Jeff.I think bio-bricks here are like 290 per ton. Its still high priced if you can cut your own wood.
  13. bcnu

    bcnu New Member

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    Just got a flyer in the mail from our local fram store and they advertise these bricks for 33 cents. At two pounds each that's 1000 to a ton times 33 so Think I'll pass at $330 a ton. Some guy on Craigslist just listed oak slats 1x3 in 3 and four foot lengths for free. Think I'll look into that right away - I can spend some time sawing them to length and the price is right.
  14. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    I would pass at $330 per ton too, but that's not what they cost here in Portland. And free is definitely a price you can't beat.

    That sounds like the flyer from coastal farm supply - they sell them for 33 cents if you only buy a box or two. IF you buy a ton the price drops per brick and the pallet price is $253.

    I get a couple of cords of wood, fir and alder, off of a friends property and am supplementing my supply with the bear bricks. I can get much longer burn times with the bear bricks - even over oak. So the stove will be loaded up with these when I go to bed. And in the colder months, I might load up the stove with them before going to work. There is a plot showing burn times for bio-bricks (same thing as bear bricks) - my experience lines up with this plot.

    jeff
  15. bcnu

    bcnu New Member

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    Thank Jeff - and yes that was from Coastal. $253 sounds better but still more than free(if cutting your own is ever free)I do like the sound of extended burn times with the bricks and will probably pick up a couple dozen - even at 33 cents each, just to give them a try.
  16. woodsie8

    woodsie8 Member

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    Saw these at Coastal, last week. All my seasoned wood, is not seasoned so may go get a ton, to hold us over and give the wood a little while longer to season. Wood here up on the mountain is running about $200 seasoned but like I said, seasoned is still pretty wet. Maybe if a ton of bricks could last us a month or two, that would be enough time to get us some more seasoning time
  17. woodsie8

    woodsie8 Member

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    how many do you use when you load it fully for a night burn? So you push the bricks right up against each other and stack them almost to the tubes? I could see using 24 bricks at a time. Is that what you mean? I did see that you leave room on the side walls to all air around the sides.
  18. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    My Jotul insert is relatively small - I wouldn't put more than 11 or 12 in mine at a time. I would start slowly and figure out how your controls on the stove work with this fuel - 7 or 8 bricks at first. It is much more dense with less moisture content and burns completely differently.

    Always pack the bricks tightly together to avoid an overfire. You need to limit the amount of surface area exposed to combustion. The bricks do expand a little during combustion - you can use this to your advantage - if you stack the bricks on their side with the "bear" to the right or left. Then the air gap between them will close as the bricks expand. On my small insert - I create a wall of them in the back of the stove with the bear label to the side - laying flat down. I don't get them too close to the secondary air supply at the roof of the firebox. I had an overfire once where, on my stove, the fire would start drawing off the secondary air for primary combustion - not good!

    jeff
  19. Knifethrower

    Knifethrower New Member

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    Hi Jeff,

    Just an FYI- Western Pet Supply on Beaverton Hillsdale Highway sells a falt of 12 bricks for 4.29 each. A little spendy, but I am sure if a pallet was ordered, they would probably drop the price.

    I do have a question for you- you are primarily using them for a tove, but I wonder if its at a beneficial to use them in a fireplace? Aside from the storage and environmental waste factor with wood (emissions, etc...), is it going to garner any more heat than basic run of the mill wood sold at Chateau Depot? We are deliberating over a half of a cord of wood and a half pallet of bricks.

    Any advice?

    Thanks,

    Jen
  20. shellyC

    shellyC New Member

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    I'm about to start burning Biobricks this heating season in a Morso 1125 wood stove, and confess to being a bit confused about stacking them inside the firebox. I understand the instructions re starting the bricks in a tee-pee configuration to get them going but I'm not clear about the "wall" of bricks one constructs next as described in some of the threads I've read. Is the "wall" meant to go around all four sides of the initial mass? Should the bricks be flat or stood on edge? What about staggering the courses as indicated on some of the thread in order to minimize air gaps between the bricks? And what should be the total # of bricks to build this so-called wall? Sorry to be so thick about all this considering I played with toy blocks as a child and don't recall having trouble building walls, but the instructions I've come across about building a Biobrick fire have left me scratching my head. Any help would be appreciated, a picture even moreso (pardon the pun).
    Sheldon
  21. bcnu

    bcnu New Member

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    Hey ShellyC, enjoyed your pun. Unfortunately, I'm usually a brick short myself so can't help with the bio wall. Good luck. Would like to hear(no pun intended) from those who have tried these bricks in their stove.
  22. shellyC

    shellyC New Member

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    Been playing around with starting a BioBrick fire, and devised a method that I think is more effective than the recommended teepee configuration which didn't work out that well for me. I start off by laying four bricks, flat face down, in a U pattern: two bricks length-wise with two projecting forward at each end. This leaves a small area in the center of the "U" to pack a little paper, some kindling, or starter sticks. After the kindling starts up, I lay two bricks horizontally on top of the U so that the edges of each are exposed to the flames, leaving a little opening between the two bricks for the fire to go up the "chimney" I've created. This works well to ignite the edges of the top bricks as well as the walls of the bricks on the bottom tier. Hopefully this explanation is clear enough to make sense, and that it works for you if the teepee method frustrates you as much as it did me. Happy New Year.
  23. Oregon Fire

    Oregon Fire New Member

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    It's been a while since I posted this review. I thought I would stop back and give another update after burning through 2 tons last year. I just picked up another 2 tons because the bear bricks are on sale locally at Coastal Farm Supply for $199 ton through labor day. I just picked up another 2 tons at this great price. And I just finished stacking them in the garage. I have another 2 cords of fir/alder mix outside. So I am pretty well set for the season.

    I really like them - they make me lazy in the winter. It is often blowing and raining here in the winter - so for the cordwood, I grab the wheel barrow and stock up a "rack" next to the house and stock my fireplace racks. It is so much easier to step out into the garage and grab a "flat" of bricks (12) - lots less time. Less mess too, but there is sawdust from the bricks - but it is easily vacuumed up.

    At $199 a ton, I am tempted to grab another ton and find some space in the garage to put them. But I think I am good for now...

    Oh another advantage - the form factor - I can load 7-8 "flats" (12 brick package) on a hand truck and move them around easily...

    jeff
  24. Ratman

    Ratman Feeling the Heat

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    Great research / post Jeff.

    Shouldn't this be in the womans I mean pellet section.
    Your killing me.
    :)
  25. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa Minister of Fire

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    The pics wouldn't show until I grabbed and pasted the URLs to another window by using "Quote".

    I think your math is a bit off. The flats look to be 16" x 24" each so the bulk of your stack is 16 inches deep by 12 feet long with the exception of the 5 flats above the foundation wall.
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