Most homeowners have their own tips and tricks that they have developed over the years to start a fire in their fireplaces. However, when done correctly the process is more complicated than simply throwing wood and a match into the fire.
The following steps will help you properly start a fire using the top down method. While this may be different than the way you are used to building a fire, it is shown to create fires that last longer, burn better, require less stoking, and produce less smoke. While the setup of a top down fire may take a few more minutes, you should save time tending the fire and increase your overall enjoyment.
1. Gather the materials
As with any fire, you’ll need wood, kindling, and a way to start the fire such as matches or a lighter. When selecting firewood, it is extremely important to only use seasoned firewood that has been cured for a minimum of six months. Freshly cut wood has a moisture content of as high as 45%; if this “green” wood is burned, it will create a low-quality fire that has a low temperature and a large amount of smoke. Seasoned wood, on the other hand, burns hotter, ignites more quickly, and produces significantly less smoke.
2. Open the damper (and a window)
The damper should always be open when the fireplace is in use. This includes before attempting to start a fire and while waiting for the remaining coals and embers to extinguish. Leaving the damper closed at any time during fireplace use could allow smoke and gasses such as carbon monoxide to back up into your home.
Likewise, cracking a window near the fireplace may help your fire burn better. Fires need oxygen to burn, and if your home is sealed the fire may burn sluggishly. Opening a window even a few inches gives the fire fresh oxygen to burn without significantly affecting the air temperature in your home.
3. Stack the logs
The way the logs are stacked is the biggest difference between top down and traditionally built fires. To build a top down fire, largest logs should be placed in the bottom of the firebox with the ends to the front and back. Stacking the logs like this allows better air flow through the fire. Building off of the large logs, add logs that are gradually smaller until the firebox is about half full, topping the firewood with kindling.
4. Ignite the kindling
To get the fire started, light the kindling placed on top of the front to back stacked firewood. As the kindling burns down, it can easily ignite the smaller logs underneath it. Some homeowners using the top down method snake newspaper throughout the stack of logs as another way to help the firewood ignite.
A top down fire requires less stoking as there are no large, unburnt logs falling down on smaller logs. This allows you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the roaring fire with your friends and family!