Getting your fireplace ready
Tips and how-tos for a safe burning season
Snow is falling outside the window in soft, drifting flakes that glitter in the amber glow of the street light. You reflect on how magical this first real snowfall is, and are thankful you can stay in for the evening. Turning back to the living room, you settle into your favorite chair with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book, ready to enjoy the fire you just stoked in the fireplace.
But the fire is sputtering out. And there’s a haze in the room. This is not the blissful first snow experience you were hoping for!
Fireplace operation can be a tricky business if you have never used one before. With this primer in hand, you will be able to maintain your fireplace and feel confident in its operation.
The Right Fuel
Improper combustion or burning the wrong materials can lead to creosote formation in your chimney that will lead to a chimney fire. Creosote is a sticky tar-like substance that forms when burning resinous woods such as pine or birch, or from burning garbage. Because of this, buying firewood at the gas station is typically a poor choice, it is often birch and pine meant for outdoor campfires. Contact a reputable firewood seller and purchase dried, split hardwood, which they typically deliver to your home.
First and foremost, you should have your chimney and flue cleaned and inspected on a yearly basis. Chimney fire risk increases with creosote build up and any cracks in the flue. A level 2 chimney evaluation is relatively inexpensive and can provide peace of mind. Your CSIA certified (Chimney Safety Institute of America) chimney contractor will clean your flue and inspect every inch with a rotating camera.
In addition to ensuring your chimney is clean and operable, you need to do a couple safety checks in your home as well. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors should have current batteries and be operable. All flammable objects should be at least 3’ away from the front of the fireplace. It is also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in your home, and you should have a chimney fire suppressant stick on-hand, just in case.
Light it up!
Build your fire from the bottom up. Larger pieces of wood form a good base for the fire. Use smaller pieces as you build a stable stack that won’t fall over. Top the pile with a good supply of kindling (smaller pieces of wood that will ignite faster). Your firewood should be centered in the firebox and should NOT completely fill it.
Make sure that your damper is open prior to lighting your fire!
After burning, you can leave 1” to 2” of ash in the base of the firebox. This will help to insulate coals in subsequent fires, making for a better burn. Always use a metal can or bucket for ash removal – never dispose of ashes in the garbage since they could reignite! Spread ashes over your garden or compost them, and be sure to clean out your fireplace completely at the end of the season.
- Close your damper between usages, after the fire has gone completely out.
- Use quality hardwood in your fireplace, it will burn better and cleaner. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected every year before fireplace season.
- Call your chimney contractor if you notice strange smells coming from your fireplace
- ALWAYS call 911 if you see flames coming out of your chimney outside.
Enjoy that warm cuppa and a good book whenever it snows!