a). Definition and performance criteria
As a source of fuel, firewood has been used in this respect since man discovered fire. It is the primary source of fuel for a majority of people around the world because it is easily accessible and the cheapest fuel source (Ray, 2000). The wood is not usually processed with most firewood easily recognizable in its log form. Firewood can be replenished but the rate of depletion may overwhelm these efforts leading to deforestation and consequently desertification. It is not a reliable source of fuel but its relatively cheap price and ease in obtaining it means that a good percentage of the world population still uses firewood as a fuel source.
Firewood is graded according to the amount of energy it gives off per unit during combustion. This is usually measured in British thermal units per cord or in joules. A cord is a measure of a stack of wood eight feet by four feet by four feet (United States, 2009a). It is dependant on the water content of the wood with dry wood giving more energy compared to wet or unseasoned wood. Different kinds of trees have different values with hardwoods having higher energy capacities compared to softwoods. Even among the hardwoods, some are better ranked compared to others with oak, beech, tamarack, black locust and madrone having higher Btu per cord as compared to birch (Weeks, Weeks & Parker, 2005).
Compared to other hardwoods, birch is preferred as firewood because as a hardwood it is denser than softwoods, which ensures a higher ratio of density to calories per unit weight and volume (Jones, 2010). Birch contains oils in its bark, which make it suitable for burning even when not completely seasoned as the oils provide combustion. This bark can be split into very thin sheets that ignite very easily. Among the different varieties of birch, white and gray birches are of lesser value in terms of Btu values while the yellow and black counterparts are the more preferred varieties (Moore & White, 2002). This should not deter the user as all varieties of birch give better value for money, as the milling costs incurred are much lower.
b). Alternatives and advantages of birch
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of wood such as oak, beech and tamarack that can be used to provide firewood solutions. The kind of material used is dependant on the function of the fire and duration of burning. Birch wood may not be applicable in all firewood solutions. The location also determines which kinds of trees are burned, if any at all (Paziuk, 2007). The use of fossil fuels such as gas and kerosene has risen over the years. Availability of these fuels is the main advantage posed over firewood despite the higher costs incurred. Convenience of storage of gas in urban areas has seen the major shift from firewood even in lighting fireplaces during winter.
Conservation efforts have hampered the use of birch because of the disappearance of hardwood forests after intense lumbering (United States, 2009b). The use of other alternatives to logs means that birch wood is conserved. Pellets are gaining popularity as fuel sources as they tend to be by-products of other things such as rice husks, wheat husks or saw mills. The resultant energy capacity in relation to the size of the finished product is high. There is less wastage of wood and the husks, which are usually waste products, can be utilized in this manner. The energy needed to manufacture pellets is much lower than the energy content of the finished pellets (Jenkins & Earthscan, 2010).
Birch is preferred as a fuel source to most other hardwoods because it is easier to mill. The bark is light and comes off easily, ensuring the wood seasons faster as the bark contains most of the moisture content (Peattie & Landacre, 2007). The yellow and black varieties of birch are better fuel sources compared to the white and gray varieties in terms of energy capacities in calories. Birch grows faster than most other hardwoods therefore the rate of depletion can be better managed. It is cheaper than electricity as a source of heating during colder seasons. It may be more cumbersome but the expense is lower. It is a renewable source of energy: hence, it is more eco-friendly compared to charcoal or fossil fuels (Omasa et al., 2005).
c). Preferred customer
Birch trees as a source of fuel are preferred by homeowners in rural areas with facilities to burn the firewood while preventing outbreaks such as fireplaces. These customers are usually found in areas around where there are birch forests or woodlots to reduce the amount of time taken traveling between the fuel source and home (Lewis &Renn, 2007). The economic level of the customers range from low class to middle class. The richer prefer the convenience of central heating systems that may be beyond the reach of poorer classes. Yellow birch is economical in terms of the costs of milling compared to the amount of wood used (Wilson et al., 2010).
d). Role and importance
The role of birch firewood has diminished because of reduced availability of birch coupled with the increased cost compared with other options. Reforestation campaigns to stop the loss of hardwood forest cover have seen the decrease of birch products in the market (Fournier, 2009). Environmental friendly solutions are increasingly preferred to birch firewood. Other fuel sources such as electricity are taking over the role that firewood played. The regulation of lumbering activities in forests has seen the decline of use of hardwoods for fuel (Burk, 2005). The rise of other fuel sources such as electricity and gas that are cheaper per unit compared to wood and emit less carbon has meant that firewood is used less and birch wood even lesser.
Importance is still placed on birch firewood. Birch trees are the national trees of regions including Sweden, some parts of Canada, the state of New Hampshire and Finland (Hageneder, 2005) among others. Coupled with the religious attachment to birch tree in some cultures, use of birch firewood is considered a form of veneration and adherence to national traditions and pride. The products of birch trees have been used in numerous different ways. Birch bark can be used to form casts for the treatment of broken appendages (North House Folk School, 2007).
e). Marketing message
For all your heating needs, use birch firewood. Easily recognizable by its smell reminiscent of wintergreen, birch will keep you warm this winter and more to come. The celebrated tree has been around for millennia and is the choice firewood for many. Much cheaper compared to all other hardwoods, birch gives you quality for money. Do not settle for softwoods that fizzle and pop, go for a reliable wood that burns long and hard. We have the best variety of yellow birch to ensure your fire does not go out in the middle of winter. Want good firewood? Buy birch!
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