Tips for Using Your Fireplace

On a cold night there is nothing better than sitting in front of a good fire and enjoying the flickering flames coming from the roaring fire. But if that fire wasn’t set up correctly, you can end up with a smoke-filled room.

Here are some tips and guidelines on the proper use of your fireplace, how to minimize safety issues and smoking issues and, as a result, have a pleasant fireplace experience.

Open your damper. The damper is the metal plate located directly above the firebox (where the fire is lit) that opens and closes to control the amount of air that flows through the chimney. If you are not sure if it is open or closed, shine a torch in the chimney to make sure the metal plate of the damper is fully open.

Clear the area around the fireplace opening. Remove any combustible materials, including kindling, newspapers, and knick-knacks, away from the front and sides of the fireplace.

Position your fire grate as far back in the fireplace as possible. This reduces the possibility of a smoking problem and the heated back wall reflects more heat back into the room.

Ingredients for your fire…

  • Tinder. If you have a kindling lighter, definitely use it. Otherwise, use lighters, thick wood or crumpled up newspaper, and small branches.
  • Light. Large twigs, twigs, and small wood chips about ¼” to 1″ thick.
  • Gas. Use well-seasoned hard and/or softwood that is cut, dried, and stacked outside the home for up to one year.

starting the fire:

  1. Heat the fireplace. Light one end of a rolled up newspaper and hold it in the damper area for about 10 to 15 seconds to warm the air in the flue and help establish a good flue draft.
  2. Place 2 small pieces of wood on the fire grate with some tinder between the logs.
  3. Cover the tinder with a generous amount of kindling.
  4. Place 1 or 2 more small pieces of kindling on top of the chips and 2 more at right angles with an air gap in between for air circulation.
  5. Light the tinder and enjoy your fire!

It’s best to initially use softwood to start your fire, then when you have a good fire you can start adding a piece or two of hardwood, such as oak or almond. Hardwood is denser and more difficult to rip, but it will burn longer than softwood.

More tips

Have your fireplace inspected before using it. If you are unsure of the condition of your chimney, it is always best to have the chimney and chimney inspected and if necessary swept by a CSIA certified chimney sweep before use to ensure there are no blockages in the chimney or a flammable buildup of creosote that could develop into a dangerous chimney fire.

Always make sure to use wood that has been seasoned for at least one year. This removes the moisture content from the wood, which can cause more smoke and increase creosote buildup in the chimney more quickly. Also, always keep your wood well covered to protect it from rain.

When you have a fire, always keep the glass doors open.. A fire requires an enormous amount of make-up air as one of its key elements. In many cases, glass doors have exploded due to the combination of heat and vacuum created in the firebox.

Always have the firewall closed.When you are not adding wood or stoking the fire, keep the screen closed or in place so that sparks and embers do not fly and reach the combustibles.

Do not use your heater at the same time as the fireplace. Your furnace requires make-up air to push air through the house and will draw air in through the chimney to get it, bringing any smoke or gases that would normally be vented with it back into the house. This is especially a problem in a more airtight home with new windows and doors.

Never leave a fire unattended. Don’t take anything for granted. A fire can always become a hazard or fill a room with smoke under the right conditions.

What not to burn in a fireplace

  • Gift Wrap
  • Cardboard Christmas trees or greenery.
  • Treated or painted wood (toxic fumes are poisonous!)
  • Wainscoting, hardboard, particle board, or plywood
  • Advertising slicks, glossy magazines, newspaper ads or color printing
  • Plastics, garbage, milk cartons
  • NEVER use a flammable liquid such as gasoline, kerosene, or lighter fluid to start a fire!

Final note:

Your chimney is not an incinerator! Invest in a paper shredder to get rid of excess spam or sensitive documents instead of burning them in the fireplace. Flying paper can clog a chimney cap and draw smoke back into the room. If you don’t have a chimney cap, flying paper can blow out of the chimney and possibly set your roof or nearby trees and shrubs on fire.

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