Lighting a Fire in Your New Fireplace
As the weather chills, snow falls and socializing moves indoors, what could be more inviting than a warm cup of cocoa in front of a bright crackling fire? If your new home has a wood fireplace, here are some basics on fireplace care.
Hire a chimney sweep
Not just characters in Mary Poppins tales, chimney sweeps are professionals trained to protect your fireplace and your home from damage, debris and hazards. Certified chimney sweeps inspect your fireplace for damage to the brickwork and mortar, cracks in the tile flue liners, blockages such as bird, raccoon or squirrel nests, a build of leaves, soot, creosote and other potential causes of house fires and smoke damage.
Properly lit fires
Once you know your fireplace is safe to use, learn how to light a fire. While you may find several "sure-fire" ways to do the job, make sure to follow all safety procedures when doing so.
- Hire a chimney sweep before you light the first fire.
- If your certified chimney sweep suggests repairs to your fireplace or chimney, do not ignore their advice.
- Have your chimney inspected at least once a year.
- Make sure smoke alarms are working correctly and have fresh batteries. You should have a smoke detector on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside the sleeping area. All alarms should be connected so that when one alarm is triggered, they all sound.
- Test your carbon monoxide detector. If you do not have one, get one installed.
- Install a chimney cap to keep birds and small debris out of the chimney and fireplace.
- Keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use. Not only does this keep debris from falling into your fireplace, it keeps the heat from escaping through the flue. However, here in San Diego, it is now required that all fireplaces with a gas starter have a clamp on the damper to allow it to stay partially open. This is a small device that can be purchased at any hardware store. By keeping damper slightly open, any gas from starter is able to escape up the chimney and not fill up the room.
Stay safe and warm
Enjoy your new fireplace, but stay safe as well. You might want to consider one of the newer gas log inserts that are incredibly realistic- or consider a glass insert. These are beautiful options and in San Diego where a roaring fire is maybe too hot, you may get more use out it. They are also cleaner and less work- no ashes, no dirt, and no worries about bugs! If you need recommendations on where to find these products, let me know.
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- Open the damper.
- Prime the flue. If your chimney is on the outside of the house, you'll need to warm it up before lighting the fire to avoid smoke descending into the room. If your fireplace has a gas pipe, turn on and light the gas for a few minutes until the flue warms and you feel the air drafting into and up the chimney before you add wood to the fire. If you do not have a gas starter, here are instructions for safely priming your flue.
- Experts suggest building an "upside down" fire for a cleaner, longer lasting fire. To set up your upside down fire, stack larger fuel logs on the fire grate. Place smaller logs on top of these, and then place kindling and twigs on top of the stack. Lastly, top of your fire with balls of scrunched up newspaper or other tender. Light the fire from the top. As the paper burns, the smoke will exit the chimney while the paper lights the twigs and kindling. As the kindling forms coals, it will like the smaller logs and they in turn will light the larger logs.
- Allow an ash bed to form under the grate. An inch or two of ash insulates your fireplace and keeps the fire burning hotter. However, don't allow too much ash to build up, since that will dampen your fire and make it harder to light the next time.
- Wood storage and termites- San Diego is a haven for termites and so is a wood pile! Be sure to store any fire logs away from the house or garage- or you may be inviting these little guys into your house along with your firewood!