Everyone loves the crackle and pop of an open log fire. So hypnotic. So cosy. So winter. Open fires evoke adventure and a more simple, outdoor life; the whole idea of chopping and stacking wood seems fetishised like never before. Like cabin porn and beards, open fires, axes and pretty wood stacks have firmly been in the preserve of the hipster for a while now.
While Norwegian Wood, Lars Mytting's book about chopping, stacking and drying wood the Scandinavian way, has been on the global bestseller lists for months. Mytting talks poetically about log fires, including observations on how you can tell a lot about a man from the way he stacks his wood. The sales of the book stretch far beyond its intended native market, and must also far exceed people who own fireplaces.
Though in Norway they do take a love of log fires to the next level and even have slow tv shows, which just show an open fire cracking for eight hours.
But lately Norwegians have been forced to reassess their love of log fires following research linking them to pollution and poor air quality, recently published by the Guardian. It cites the Norwegian Institute for Air Research data which showed: “Particulate matter from log burning in cities is more dangerous than pollution from traffic." And evidence from Statistics Norway which shows that "61 per cent of particulate matter" in Norway comes from "its 1.7 million log fires, compared to 39 per cent from private vehicles, buses and lorries."
Recently smoggy days in the beautiful city of Bergen, had caused a traffic ban to be introduced so drivers could only come in on alternate days, but the research suggests cutting the residents' log fire habit could be a better plan.
It's an issue residents of the ski resort Chamonix know all too well, as we discussed in this recent feature on the role open fires play in the valley's pollution problem. Like Chamonix, Bergen suffers from temperature inversion in winter, which can trap harmful polluting air in the city.
The Guardian piece also quotes Christina Guerreiro from NILU, who says that: “1,700 Norwegians die prematurely every year from being exposed to log fire particulate matter." Log fires are thought to be harmful as they release tiny, small particles deep into our lungs, while also affecting the heart and blood vessels.
With open fires only 20 per cent of the logs energy ends up in the room, plus logs often don't burn thoroughly, where as wood burners are thought to be far more efficient resulting in 80 per cent less particle matter.
We're sorry to break it to you but you might be safer watching your next log fire from behind the glass of a woodburner or just on your tv or laptop screen.