If you’ve never had a wood fireplace before, lighting it for the first time can be stressful.
What do you need to do to make your fireplace safe? What’s the trick to building a good fire? Should you have your fireplace cleaned or inspected before you use it? These are all good questions.
To help you out, we’ve created a checklist to follow before you use your fireplace for the first time to make sure your fireplace is safe and that you build the best fire.
Be sure to have a functional fire extinguisher, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector by the fireplace before you use it. Fireplaces continue to be one of the leading causes of household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. A stray spark can easily ignite a piece of furniture while you are in another room. An obstruction in the chimney that you are unaware of could stop carbon monoxide from escaping up the chimney and force it back into your home. Taking the time to get a new fire extinguisher or put new batteries in your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector can prevent incidents like these, saving your home or your life.
The fireplace screen and toolset aren’t just decorative. The fireplace screen prevents sparks and hot embers from flying out of the hearth onto the carpet, furniture and furry friends. If your fireplace has a metal fire curtain or glass fireplace doors, a fireplace screen is not necessary since these also prevent sparks from escaping. You may still want to get a fireplace screen if you have pets or small children to prevent them from burning themselves on the hot glass doors of the fireplace.
The fireplace tools are essential for its use and maintenance. You’ll learn more about them in Step 5. If your fireplace did not come with these accessories, stop by Inglenook Energy Center, or your local hearth and home store, to pick them up before lighting a fire in your hearth.
The flue is the passage inside of the chimney that smoke and carbon monoxide travel up on the way out. Within in the flue is the damper. It is a vent that you can open or close to either let air out or keep air in. Always make sure to open the damper before you light a fire so that smoke can escape. When the fireplace isn’t being used, close the damper so that your HVAC system doesn’t have to work overtime to compensate for heated or cooled air being lost up the chimney.
You should also prep the flue by taking a look up the chimney to see if there is anything blocking the top. Animal nests and lawn debris (like leaves and sticks) often collect in chimneys when they aren’t being used. If it looks like the top of the chimney is block, call on a chimney sweep to clean it out.
Never skip this step when you use your fireplace! If the flue is blocked, either because of an obstruction like a bird’s nest or because the damper has been left closed, smoke and carbon monoxide will backup into your home increasing your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The best firewood is seasoned wood or wood that has dried out for at least 6 months. If you use wood that has been cut more recently, it won’t burn well because it will have too much moisture inside. Seasoned wood is easier to ignite, produces more heat, creates less smoke and produces far less creosote (a flammable chemical compound produced by combustion byproducts that builds up in chimneys).
The best way to build a fire in a fireplace is by stacking seasoned hardwood horizontally, in a criss-cross pattern, on top of small sticks or pieces of softwood. All the wood should be stacked up on top of the fireplace grate with crumpled up sheets of black and white newspaper, or another thin, nontoxic paper, under the grate. You could use a fire starter log instead of newspaper. In that case, you would put the fire starter log at the bottom of the stack of wood with the other two layers on top. Once the wood is stacked, use a lighter wand or long-handled lighter to ignite the crumpled paper or starter log.
To keep the fire going, lay extra logs on the fire as needed. Use the poker to move around logs that aren’t burning and keep the embers stoked. Once you are ready to put the fire out, let the wood burn out and use the shovel to scoop up ashes and dump them over any glowing embers. Don’t remove any of the ashes until they have cooled. Even then, use the brush and shovel to move the embers to a fireproof, metal box where they should cool for a few more days before you thrown them out. Embers can burn for a long time. Throwing them out immediately could cause a fire.
If you follow these simple steps for fireplace safety and fireplace use, you’ll become a fireplace expert in no time. For more fireplace tips, check out more of our blogs or stop into our location in Conifer, Colorado to talk to one of our hearth experts!