Fires and your fireplace: 10 helpful tips

August 27, 2015

An open fire takes time and effort to get going and requires a fair amount of upkeep, but the crackling pleasure of dancing flames is well worth it. Keep these 10 helpful tips in mind to help make your fireplace safe and efficient.

  1. Patience is the key to building a fire. The trick is to build very slowly from small sticks of kindling to larger pieces of wood. Make sure you criss-cross the kindling, leaving air gaps for air to circulate and feed the fire.
  2. Fires burn longer when the coals are separated from the ashes. Cut a piece of metal mesh (available from most hardware stores) and fit it over your fireplace's grate. The openings in the mesh will let the fine ashes fall through, and at the same time hold the glowing coals closer to the flames.
  3. Often the only air supply for an open fire is the warm air from the house. Warm air rises and can interfere with the natural convection that keeps your fire burning well, so leave a window open just a crack – about 2.5 centimetres (1 inch). To strengthen the updraft and reduce smoking, choose a window on the windy side of your house.
  4. A 1.5 centimetre (3/4 inch) bed of ash left in the fireplace after cleaning is an excellent insulator that will prevent heat from being absorbed into the hearth. Instead, the heat will be reflected upwards, giving you a better-burning fire.
  5. To warm up a cold chimney and prevent wintry drafts from chilling the room before a fire is lit, light one end of a piece of newspaper and hold it high in the damper opening. The warm gases will quickly counteract cold air flowing down.
  6. Carbon monoxide can be a problem in a room with a fireplace. The danger signs are headaches and drowsiness. Make sure the room with your fireplace has adequate ventilation to avoid the potentially serious consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning. The best way to keep the room ventilated is to make sure that any wall vents are free from dust and obstructions and to leave a door or window ajar.
  7. To save money on firewood, visit construction sites. There are always offcuts that are ideal for burning to be found there. Be sure to ask if any wood you can take has been treated, though, since the treating chemicals could be toxic.
  8. Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with visible cracks or splits, is relatively lightweight, and makes a 'clunk' sound when you bang two pieces together. Always have firewood cut to length and split six months before you use it so the wind and sun can properly dry it out.
  9. Don't burn painted, stained or pressure-treated lumber in a fireplace or stove. It will emit harmful chemicals into the air.
  10. Clean your chimney in spring, or at least every other spring depending on how often and for how long you use the fireplace in winter. This task calls for steadiness, time and some special equipment. Consider hiring a professional chimney sweep to ensure a thorough job.

Follow these 10 helpful tips, and you'll be on your way to keeping your fireplace safe and efficient.

Fires and your fireplace: 10 helpful tips
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