As outdoor temperatures fall, our focus turns toward staying warm and cozy inside the house. What better way to do this than to get a roaring fire going in the fireplace? While prefabricated logs make it easy to create a blaze, they also smell unpleasant and contribute to additional creosote buildup within the chimney. For the most appealing fire, go natural by following the steps below.
Step 1: Prior to starting the first fire this season, clean out the chimney to remove leaves, bird’s nests, cobwebs, and other debris. Hiring a professional chimney sweep is the fastest, easiest, and safest way to do this. Be sure that this professional leaves an ash bed of one to two inches to create some insulation. If no ash is available, borrow some from an outdoor wood firepit or allow it to build up after the initial fire of the season.
Step 2: The fireplace damper keeps out cold air and provides a route for smoke to escape when burning logs. Therefore, you must open the damper before starting a fire. Otherwise, the smoke will travel into the house.
Step 3: If the chimney is built onto the exterior of the house, it can become cold when outdoor temperatures drop. When the damper is opened, this cold air will flow into the home. To prevent this, prime the damper by rolling up some newspaper, lighting it with a match, and holding it near the damper. Once the draft begins flowing upward rather than downward, the chimney is warm enough to proceed.
Step 4: Traditionally, a fireplace log pile consists of a bottom layer of kindling lit on fire and topped by logs that gradually increase in size and weight. A better approach is to use the heavy logs as the bottom layer, a second layer of smaller logs positioned in the opposite direction, and a top layer of kindling consisting of twigs, sawdust, or paper. Push the large logs together so there is no space between them. Once the kindling is lit, the embers will fall down onto the logs, setting them on fire. It usually takes approximately 20 minutes to create substantial flames but after that, the fire will not require your attention for several hours.
*Photo Courtesy of John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons License