How to safely start a fireplace fire

It’s winter, and it’s cold, and there is nothing quite like a cozy fireplace-fire to enjoy with your friends, family and roommates. But lighting a fire in the fireplace is not something you want to regret, so we have outlined the safe way to go about starting a fire in your fireplace to bring the most comfort in your home.

CLEAN & CLEAR THE CHIMNEY

An annual chimney sweep is a good way to ensure there aren’t any unforeseen blockages or fire-hazards prior to lighting fireplace fires. Haven’t used the fireplace? Fair enough, but random animals and critters may have been using it without your permission. Ensuring there are not nests or critters hanging out above the damper is always a wise idea. If you haven’t used the fireplace to burn recently, or ever, Nashville’s summer humidity and polar winters can (and do) cause natural deterioration to mortar joints and flue systems. Get a once over of the chimney and gain a little peace of mind about the fireplace fire you are looking forward to light.

OPEN THE DAMPER & CLEAR THE COMBUSTIBLES

Ensure the damper is open, and remember to do this prior to lighting a fire. But if you have already forgotten (trust us, you are not the only one who has),  filling the room with smoke in the middle of a winter storm is not ideal. After opening the windows to let the smoke out, a fire will be necessary to warm the place back up…so you can still be a hero! Just open the damper this time.

A rogue spark isn’t terribly uncommon from a wood-burning fireplace, and it could very well land right on that newspaper that is sitting next to the firebox. Not ideal. Newspapers, books, furniture, and any drapes or curtains that are in spark-shot should be pulled back, moved aside or simply picked up.

MAKE READY THE FLUE

It is generally going to be the case that the air in the flue will be cooler than the air in your home, and after opening the damper you may quickly realize that the chimney flue will need some help to get the draft going in the right direction. Remember: hot air rises! Grab a newspaper, and light it, holding it just above the damper, let it burn for a few minutes. Dissipate the cool air in the flue and initiate the draft upwards, and now things should be headed in the right direction.

THE ASH BED

The gentlemen over at the artofmanliness.com list this tip for fire-starting:

“Having a 1-2 inch ash bed in your fireplace hearth will help insulate the fireplace and create hotter fires, and hot fires can help reduce creosote build-up.”

No ashes?

“One quick fix is to take the ashes from your outdoor grill and place them in your fireplace to build the ash bed. While a small ash bed is good, too much ash is a bad thing.”

BUILD FOR A TOP-DOWN BURN

Don’t make it harder than it sounds, try something new! The technique has actually been around for centuries. We’ll give the short of it, but if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the process, head on over to the folks at the Chimney Safety Institute of America:

  • Place larger pieces of wood at the bottom – front to back, not across the firebox (this aids in air-flow and breathability of the fire)
  • Create almost a pyramid effect, the higher you go the smaller pieces of wood (do not stack the wood higher than half the height of the firebox — this isn’t a bonfire)
  • The top should consist of shavings of wood, kindling, maybe a crumpled up piece of newspaper or two.

There is the benefit of burning top-down: a decrease in excessive smoke, because the fire simply burning from the top, not gasping for air down at the bottom, surrounded by a bunch of larger pieces of wood, smoking all of the while. The smaller wood and kindling ignite and burn, continuously igniting the wood below it. No worrying about having your “log-cabin” style stack imploding on itself as the wood weakens, extinguishing your fire.

USE DRY ORGANIC STARTERS

Do not utilize gasoline, charcoal lighter fluids or kerosene to ignite your fireplace fires. The dry organic starters, such as kindling, newspapers or alike are the way to get a healthy fireplace fire started. Fires that are not contained, are not friendly fires, and the fires that are super-heated and burning up in your un-swept flue system are not ideal for keeping you off of the front page of the newspaper.

KEEP THE FIRE HOT

The smoldering coals of a fire are all good and right for the back patio, no chimney flue system involved. However, for the fireplace fires, keep it hot. Burning wood naturally creates a byproduct commonly known as creosote. The cooler a fire burns the more likely you are to begin to experience the build up of the creosote which is a highly flammable substance. Once reignited in the flue, it can be the cause of dangerous chimney fires.

DO NOT LEAVE UNATTENDED

We don’t feel the need to go into too much explanation on this one, but bear in mind that when you use the fireplace, you are lighting a fire inside of your home. It should not be unattended or without supervision. Ever.

CHECK THE DETECTOR

Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are designed with your safety in mind. Ensure the batteries are good and all detectors are ready for the winter months. As you seal up the home, make sure the flue systems for the fireplace, furnace, and water-heater too, are in proper functioning order. Dangerous gases and smoke that are not properly vented can cause serious health or safety hazards for your family.

To ensure your fireplace and chimney are in the best and most safe conditions, give us a call to schedule an appointment today: (615) 823-8268