Fireplaces - Warming with Wood

Non-wood fireplaces often make the claim that their flames are "realistic". Of course, what they mean is that the flames and the "logs" look as much like a wood fire as they possibly can. The effects achieved can indeed be startlingly close to "the real thing." But for many homeowners, there can be no substitute. The crackling of the wood, the embers that glow now here, now there, the rising and falling of the flames, the smell-all these things combine to make warming your home with wood an experience like no other.

Here are some simple tips to help you get the most out of your wood burning fireplace.

Size is Important

Get the right size fireplace for your needs. A large fireplace in a small room is overkill. It will provide more heat than you actually need. And if you try to compensate by using less fuel, the result will not be as efficient. A large fireplace is optimized for large fires. At the same time, don't get something too small. You'll overtax the unit and not get the heating that you desire.

Location, Location, Location

Put the fireplace where you live. You may have more room in the basement, but heating the basement to warm the rest of the house is not the most efficient design. You'll end up spending a lot more than you want to on fuel. A fireplace in the family room can efficiently provide heat where everyone gathers while not wasting fuel to heat unused areas.

Use the Right Wood

Hardwood is the best. Oak, ash, beech, and maple will provide for a clean, warm burn. It should be seasoned (dried) by you or someone else for about a year before use. This will enable the wood to burn clean and hot since you're not having to burn off a lot of water inside first. Soft woods like poplar, spruce, pine, and redwood doesn't burn as hot or as completely. You also risk creosote buildup in the chimney. Stained, painted, or pressure treated wood is a bad idea. You don't know what fumes you might be releasing, the burn is unpredictable, and you could even damage your fireplace.

Fire Needs Air

It seems obvious, but you need to arrange the wood and control the damper with air flow in mind. Don't pile the wood up too high. It needs air above to complete the flow. Stack the wood along the bottom toward the back, with paper and kindling in front where the air enters. Start with the damper all the way open. Later, when the fire is going well, you can control it's size by partially closing the damper.

Start Small

Especially on a cold day, your chimney and stove need time to warm up. Heating the stove too quickly can put unnecessary stress on it. Starting a fire too quickly with a cold chimney can send smoke out into your room before a proper draft is created. Try lighting the end of a rolled up newspaper and holding it up the chimney for a bit on especially cold days.

Remember to Clean

Remove ashes regularly. They can impede the air flow. You may want to get a fireplace with a removable ash drawer to make this process easier.

Safety Always

Fireplaces get hot. Make sure everyone knows not to get too close. Get a protective screen if you have small children or pets who just don't understand. Have the fireplace swept and inspected annually by a professional. This will prevent chimney fires and the professional can check for potential leaks that could allow carbon monoxide to vent into your home.