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Getting your fireplace ready

Getting your fireplace ready

Getting your fireplace ready

With tips for  building a perfect fire

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.

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.

Burn 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.

Getting Ready

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!

Tutorial on proper fireplace starting


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.

Important Reminders

  • 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!

    Additional Resources


    Home Winterization Checklist

    Home Winterization Checklist

    Home Winterization Checklist

    Here are a few quick chores to get your home winterized before the snow sticks!

    Winter in Minnesota brings subzero temperatures and harsh conditions that can affect your home, your comfort and your energy bill. Take these steps to properly prepare for the upcoming season and ensure the best possible starting point to take on the challenge of the winter wonderland.

    Prevent Freezing

    Drain and store your hoses

    Freezing water inside your hoses can damage the hose and cause the water that goes into your home to freeze, resulting in burst pipes. Lift up one end of the hose and work your way to the other end to allow the water to flow downward and out the hose.

    Drain your hose bibbs

    Freezing pipes can cause serious damage to the home. Drain your hose bibbs by shutting off the water to the faucet and opening the hose bibb.

    Turn off your sprinkler system and have it blown out

    Set up your appointment with your local irrigation company to winterize your lawn system to prevent costly repairs in the spring

    Clean out the gutters and put on downspout extensions

    Clean flowing gutters will help stop the build up of ice that can damage your gutters and roofing materials. Adding downspout extensions will direct water away from the foundation. Use an extension that is rigid metal and extends at least 5-6 feet away.

    Clean and seal cracks in driveways and sidewalks

    When water works down into the cracks and then freezes it breaks the surface from the inside out. Clean and seal the cracks prior to the freeze.

    Improve Home Heating Efficiency

    Check the Attic

    Going in the attic in the dead of summer is no fun and dangerous. Use the milder temperatures to check your attic insulation levels, make sure that all the exhaust connections are secure and repair any air leaks that may bleed hot air into the attic during the winter.

    Seal air leaks around windows, doors and any wall penetrations

    Save up to 20% on your heating bill by making sure that warm air is not escaping through cracks and openings. Use a tube of color matched caulk to seal around doors, windows and any wall penetrations in the home. 

    Check the weather seals

    Weather seals have a limited life span and become brittle and fail. Check and replace these seals to ensure maximum effectiveness. 

    Reverse the ceiling fan spin

    Reversing the ceiling fan direction is quick, easy and helps to bring the warm air back down to you to help make you more comfortable. Just flip the little switch on the side of the fan or on the remote


    Ready the Heating Elements

    Change your furnace filter

    Filters should be changed every 3 months but the fall is the most important time to make sure the furnace is getting adequate flow and you are breathing the cleanest air possible.

    Clean the fresh air intake

    The furnace and water heater require fresh outside air to work properly and not backdraft harmful gases into the house. Use an old toothbrush to clean the outside of the fresh air intake of the home. 

     Turn on your humidifier

    Humidifiers help to keep the warm air comfortable in the winter. Turn on the humidifier to your desired setting and open the damper on the furnace to activate it for the season. 

     Program your thermostat

    If you have a programmable thermostat now is a good time to make sure it is set to make you the most comfortable throughout the day and night

     Have furnace serviced

    Regular maintenance helps to make your expensive appliances run the best and longest. Have an HVAC technician come and tune your furnace every year to ensure its best function.

     Have wood burning chimney cleaned

    Wood burning fireplace chimneys should be cleaned every 50-70 burns to prevent housefires. Fires in the home are only beautiful if they are properly contained

    Safety Measures 

    Check the age and the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

    Smoke and CO detectors expire after 7-10 years and become ineffective at warning you of danger. Check out our recent post all about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors  for more information!

     Make fire escape plan

    Getting out of the house quickly is the best way to keep the family safe during a fire event. Make sure that everyone knows how to escape safely and if you are the second floor, have a expandable ladder on hand in every room. 

    You’ve got this!

    Winter is coming – cold temperatures with freezing conditions bring unique challenges to those of us who live in the Bold North. Take the appropriate steps to winterize your home while the weather is still somewhat warm, and you’ll be able to enjoy a safe and comfortable winter season. 

    Home Safety: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    Home Safety: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    Home Safety: Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    Get your family ready for a safe and cozy winter

    The month of October is when we start to hunker down and prepare for the next Minnesota Winter. It is also fire safety month, because winter is when we see most home fires in Minnesota. As a part of fire safety, it’s important to make sure both your smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are current, have fresh batteries, and are placed correctly throughout your home. These topics aren’t exactly something that comes up often in casual conversation, so don’t fret if you’re feeling a bit lost – that’s we’ve got it covered! 


    Smoke Detectors

    Most folks are passing familiar with smoke detectors. In fact, it’s safe to assume most people have tripped them with some well-done toast or a molten wad of pizza cheese lodged at the back of the oven.

    But did you know that there are two different technologies available for smoke detectors? 

    The first technology is the ionization-type alarm, which is far more responsive to flaming fires. According to the National Fire Safety Association (NFSA), this type of alarm has “a small amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates, which ionizes the air and causes current to flow between the plates. When smoke enters the chamber, it disrupts the flow of ions, thus reducing the flow of current and activating the alarm.”

    The second technology is the photoelectric-type. These are better at detecting the slow smoulder fires. The NFSA explains: “Photoelectric-type alarms aim a light source into a sensing chamber at an angle away from the sensor. Smoke enters the chamber, reflecting light onto the light sensor; triggering the alarm.”

    Which kind of smoke detector should you have in your home? The answer is: both, since some fires start with a flash and keep going, and others build from a slow smoulder. The good news is there are smoke detectors out there that have combination ionization and photoelectric technology! 

    Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    Carbon Monoxide is an invisible killer. It’s an odorless gas that displaces oxygen in the air as well as in the bloodstream.  Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, mental confusion, vomiting, loss of consciousness. Ultimately, too much exposure will lead to death.

    Since carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, gas powered furnaces are the primary culprit for carbon monoxide exposure in the home. CO detectors work by utilizing an electrochemical sensor. Electrodes in a chemical solution sense changes in electrical currents when they come into contact with carbon monoxide. This change triggers the alarm.

    Combination Detectors

    There are now a great many combination CO and Smoke Detectors on the market, so if you  have spaces where both are needed – such as the  hallway of a sleeping area – you can take care of both needs in one unit. 

    Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector
    Combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector


    Smoke Detectors

    Smoke detectors should be placed on every level of the home, including the basement. Working from bottom to top and in-between, smoke detectors should be placed:

    • In the basement on the ceiling at the bottom of the stairs leading to the next level.
    • In the living room (or den or family room) or near the stairway to the upper level, or in both locations.
    • Inside each bedroom
    • Outside each sleeping area 
    • At least 10 feet (3 meters) from a cooking appliance to minimize false alarms when cooking.


    Smoke alarms should be mounted high on walls or on ceilings, since smoke rises. Wall-mounted alarms should be installed not more than 12 inches away from the ceiling (to the top of the alarm).

    On pitched ceilings, install the alarm within 3 feet of the peak, but at least four inches down from the peak.

    Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    Since Carbon Monoxide is slightly lighter than air, and often found with warm, rising air, CO detectors should be mounted on the wall about five feet above the ground. It is also acceptable to ceiling-mount CO detectors. Detectors should be placed:

    • On each floor
    • Within 10 feet of sleeping areas
    • Away from appliances and fireplaces with open flames.

    Checking your detectors

    Expired Detector Joke


    Changing out batteries in smoke and CO detectors is a lot like flossing – we all know we should do it regularly, but… do we, really? It should be done at least once a  year and immediately when the low battery warning sounds.

    The worst-case scenario was almost realized when a family woke to their CO detector sounding the low battery alarm. The exhausted parents removed the battery and went back to sleep. Days later, one-by-one members of the family started to feel dizzy and experience headaches. The call to emergency services went out just in the nick of time.

    It can be hard to remember to do something that you don’t think about for months at a time, so here are some helpful tips to keep on top of this chore:

    • Put it on your calendar. Digital, print, whatever works for you.
    • There are a variety of secular and sacred holidays in the autumn – pick a holiday that is always the day you swap out batteries.
    • Place a note on top of the winter jackets when you put them away in the  spring reminding you to change your detector batteries when you pull the jackets back out in the fall.

    Expiration Date

    Did you know that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can expire? They do! Every detector comes with a date of manufacture stamped on the back. Yes, I’m sorry – there’s math involved. Just subtract ten years from the date you check the detector, and if the date of manufacture is older than that, it’s time to replace. Make checking this date part of your yearly routine.

    Check out the video below for creative uses for expired detectors!

    Expiration Date on a Smoke Detector
    Check the date of manufacture!