You know that imaginary world you live in? The one where you always have the perfect Christmas. Your family’s annual portrait shows everyone facing the camera with every hair in place and a beautiful display of teeth? Or that scene with you sitting alone in front of a picturesque fire with hot chocolate and a really good book? We all need dreams. That’s how we keep going, because someday we are going to have our perfect scenarios even if we have to use bribery and blackmail.
Fireplace Safety Tips
But that fireplace one? It comes with some work. Don’t even attempt this one without some fireplace safety checks, or before you’ve distracted your husband with a big sporting event and your children have been asleep for at least an hour. You only have about a 2 hour window to live this one out, so plan it well! I’m here to help! Let’s go over what you need to know so your fireplace fantasy doesn’t go up in smoke.
Using A Fine Tooth Comb
The first thing you need to do is inspect your fireplace. Check that your chimney has a cap. Make sure it is undamaged. If it doesn’t have one, consider purchasing a stainless steel cap. The cap prevent most rain and snow from entering your fireplace and helps to reduce down drafts.
Check your damper. Make sure that it functions properly and that it seals correctly. Look for cracks in the firebox, or loose bricks and mortar. If you have any of these problems, seek out a professional fireplace specialist. Most chimney sweep companies can fix these problems. Which leads me to my next tip.
Chim Chim Cheree
I can’t promise that your chimney sweep guys and gals with show up and perform a musical in your living room, but you need them none the less, (and it never hurts to ask!??!). If you burn at least a cord of wood every season, you should have your fireplace professionally swept once a year. Twice if you burn 3 cords or more. Why? I’m glad you asked!
Burning wood releases Creosote, it is a combination of soot, tar and some other nasties that coat the inside of your chimney. This coating is a potential massive fire waiting for the right circumstances. Most chimneys aren’t built to handle fire, just heat and smoke, so a fire starting here can get out of control quickly. Your fireplace fantasy will have a melt down if your chimney catches on fire, so consider this numero uno on your to do list.
According to my fireplace guy, it is not which wood you choose to burn so much as that it is seasoned, preferably for a year. Green wood is wetter, it doesn’t burn as well, it takes a lot to light it, it releases a lot more creosote and it doesn’t burn as hot.
But in case you want to know, he suggests that you buy hardwoods such as; oak, ash, pecan and maple. Hardwoods burn longer and have better coals. They also produce little smoke but are harder to light.
Softwoods such as; cedar, pine & fir are cheaper and light easily, but they burn hot and fast. They produce a fine ash with very little coals. Softwoods are perfect for kindling to start your fire, but if you choose to use them as firewood, keep in mind that you will probably have to use twice the logs to keep it going as hardwood logs.
Just an FYI- We cut off the branches of last year’s Christmas tree to use as kindling for the next year. Bark that has fallen off your seasoned wood is also awesome kindling!
Come On Baby, Light My Fire
There is a magical method to starting a fire. Don’t believe the myth that only men can do this, my husband couldn’t start a fire unless he had an endless supply of lighter fluid. And then he still lacks the match to striking pad coordination. I’ve watched him go through an entire matchbook without even a tiny spark. But my caveman can stack a mean fire!
Once again, according to my fireplace guy the proper way to start a fire using a grate; OPEN THE DAMPER!! Then stack kindling in a grid pattern leaving space for air, 2 levels deep. This is a stable platform for your firewood. Place 2 -3 pieces of your smaller firewood logs on top of the kindling. If your kindling is a seasoned dry wood it should catch well enough. Then add larger logs once it’s going really well. Here’s another great method from the Firepit & Grilling Guru.
If it doesn’t catch, you may want to use a firestarter under the kindling. If you are going to use a firestarter place it under the kindling, not under the grate. He highly suggests you don’t use paper of any kind as a firestarter, but he also knows my dirty little secret as he cleans my fireplace. I use newspaper sometimes. And, there are some great ideas for making your own firestarters on Pinterest!
Don’t Let Smoke Get In Your Eyes
I highly suggest that you check your smoke alarms before you begin lighting fires, and if you don’t have one look into buying a carbon monoxide alarm as well. Better safe than dead.
And since there’s nothing worse than settling into a good book in front of a smoke festival, here’s some smoke tips. OPEN THE DAMPER! But, if you did and your fire starts with black smoke, it’s not getting enough air, use your tongs and lift one of the center logs to see if that does it, if not you may need to restack. If you have an abundance of gray smoke, your wood may be too green, or it may be getting too much oxygen, you’ll have to restack.
Last Minute Advice
My only fireplace is in my small family room, so when I light a fire I soon find myself stripping. I’m willing to wear T-shirts in February to fulfill my dream of reading a book undisturbed with a glass of wine. Usually everyone else is in their beds, my husband too as our TV is in the same room with the fireplace and I won’t allow him to yell at some soccer player during my fireplace fantasy. They are all snuggled down under down duvets so I don’t feel one bit guilty turning the heat down so I don’t faint. It’s my “10 pm, and I deserve me time”…. and Lord help the person who interrupts while I’m falling in love with Mr. Darcy!
I hope you enjoy a safe and warm fireplace season!