There are few things better than grabbing a book and a cup of hot chocolate and cozying up to a beautiful fire gleaming from the hearth. It is the quintessential wintertime setting, and Total Home Supply is always thrilled to offer an ever-growing selection of high-quality indoor fireplaces and accessories for purchase on our website.
Last year, we wrote a simple guide to gas versus electric fireplaces, and while we still maintain that either choice would be a terrific addition to your home, we understand that many people who live in older houses or buildings may already have a built-in, wood-burning fireplace. The trouble is, do you know how to properly (and safely) use it?
There’s a lot to know before you set to work building that perfect indoor fire, from safely laying the logs to hearth preparation to what kind of wood to use indoors (because your indoor fireplace is not your backyard firepit). Here, we have provided a simple guide to everything you need to know to get that gorgeous fire going, just in time for the first (official) day of winter.
Cleaning/Preparing the Fireplace
Making sure your fireplace is clean is important, even if you have never used your fireplace before. Going forward, checking for cleanliness becomes even more important as creosote from the logs starts to build up in the chimney.
Inspect your fireplace with a mirror and high-powered flashlight to check for dust, cobwebs, or discolored brick. Red or pink brick indicates no creosote build-up, as opposed to a black and furry substance all on the inside.
Creosote build-up can cause smoke from the fire to be pushed back into the room instead of up through the chimney, and so you will need to make sure your chimney is creosote-free before anything else. You can clean the chimney yourself with store-bought creosote remover, but we recommend calling a chimney sweep to give the fireplace one good, annual cleaning.
Also important to remember when preparing your fireplace for use, is to open the glass doors (if your fireplace has them) about thirty minutes before you intend to light your fire. Cold air builds up in the space inside your fireplace when the doors are closed, and if this space isn’t given time to warm up a bit you’ll be left with a downward draft that will push smoke back into your room. Allowing the space inside your fireplace to warm to room temperature pushes the draft up, so the smoke goes where it should – up and out the chimney.
Choosing the Wood
Speaking of taking steps to prevent smoke build-up throughout the room, choosing the correct wood for your indoor fireplace is crucial.
Soft woods like maple, elm, or sycamore may work to give you a big, bold outdoor fire, but are not well-suited for indoor use because they create less-contained flames and more smoke. For indoor fireplaces, choose hardwoods like oak, hickory, ash, or locust. Hardwoods burn slower and create smaller flames, but that’s exactly what makes them better and safer for indoor use.
(Pro Tip: Never use woods like pine for an indoor fire, as the sap can create a sticky build-up in the chimney and congest the flue over time).
We should note, however, that the time for gathering your own firewood has passed. On average, logs need to be split, stored, and dried for 6-9 months before they can be burned. Store-bought logs are just as good, however – just remember which types of wood to stay away from and you’ll be fine!
Building the Fire
Now, we’re at the good part.
First, reach into the chimney and open the damper. This does the very important job of preventing smoke from pouring back into the room.
Next, place two logs (split side facing down) on top of the grate so that they’re parallel, not touching each other – space between the logs is very important to ensure proper air circulation. Place two more logs diagonally on top of those logs, split side facing down and, again, with space between them. Place shredded newspaper under the grate to act as kindling.
With a long match (many stores sell specialty fireplace matches, but an oven match will work as well), light the kindling and keep a close eye on the flames as they work their way on to the logs.
As the fire spreads and burns more of the log, you may notice the flames start to get smaller. When this happens, carefully use the fireplace poker to shift the position of the logs, so the fire can reach new parts of the wood. If you find the flames are still getting smaller as a result of this, simply (but carefully!) throw a new log on top.
Extinguishing the Fire
If you quit adding new logs, the fire will eventually extinguish itself, having no fresh wood to catch on to. Pouring sand on the flames will speed up the extinguishing process, though, and it may be a good idea to throw some sand on seemingly extinguished logs anyway, just to make sure.
Once you are absolutely positive all fire and sparks are out and the ash is cool, use your handy-dandy fireplace tools to sweep the ash from the fireplace and grate, and dispose. Never dispose of hot ash, for obvious safety reasons.
Now you can enjoy the last two weeks of 2014 in front of a warm and cozy fire. Happy holidays!