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How to Properly Start a Fire in the Fireplace

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.

Start A Fire With Less Smoke - Milford, CT - The Cozy FlameThe 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.

5. Enjoy!

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!

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Ways Chimney Draft is Compromised

A proper chimney draft can maximize the heating potential of your fireplace, save you money, keep you safe, and reduce the risks for chimney problems.

A proper chimney draft can maximize the heating potential of your fireplace, save you money, keep you safe, and reduce the risks for chimney problems.

Many things can cause your draft to become compromised—chimney blockages, closed and/or clogged dampers, improper or inefficient construction, lower-temperature fires, and structural damage. When thinking about your chimney, ask yourself the following set of questions:

  1. Is air coming into your home via your chimney?
  2. Does your house smell of smoke days after you’ve burned a fire in your fireplace?
  3. Do you have a hard time starting a fire and/or keeping a fire burning once you’ve gotten it started?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, the chances are high that there’s a problem with your chimney system’s draft. Keep reading to learn more about your chimney’s draft and ways in which it can be compromised.

The Basics of Chimney Draft

Your chimney is what’s referred to as a negative pressure system. When it’s full of hot air, it actually pulls air through the firebox; this pulling action is what’s called draft. The simplest way to increase the draft in your chimney is to burn your fire hotter – the hotter the air gets, the lighter it becomes. Because the air becomes lighter, it has more pull, thereby drawing more air through the firebox and up your chimney.

Drafty Chimney Symptoms

There are many symptoms of a drafty chimney. Is your fire reluctant to start, and/or does smoke spill into the room at start-up? Does your firebox back-puff powerfully on windy days? Does smoke spill, to some degree, under all conditions? Does smoke spill at larger damper openings? Is the heat output from your fireplace too low? Are smoke odors persistent even when the fireplace isn’t in use? If you answered yes to one or more of the above-listed questions, you might have a drafty chimney. We suggest having your chimney inspected.

Draft Issues and your Health

It is extremely important to deal with drafting problems as soon as you notice them, as ignoring it can have adverse affects on your health. These problems can cause combustion products to back up and enter your home leaving behind an unpleasant and unsafe living environment for you and your family. Fixing your drafting problem will enable the harmful gases and smoke from your fires to properly exit your home via your chimney. Even though you may be able to alleviate most of the excess smoke in your home on your own, the health affects associated with a back draft compel you to consult with one of our chimney professionals to ensure that your home is safe for you and everyone in it.

Drafty Chimney Remedies

Our CSIA- and NFI-certified chimney sweeps can determine which, if any, of the afore-mentioned issues are impacting your home. There are numerous possible remedies depending on which problem (or combination of problems) is the culprit. Oftentimes, sweeping the chimney can take care of the issue, as even the slightest buildup inside your chimney can restrict airflow. Sealing leaks in the chimney is another possible remedy, depending on what is found during your inspection. Another quick fix would be installing or replacing your chimney cap; back-puffing problems during windy conditions point directly to this.

Inside Versus Outside Air Temperature

One factor that affects the amount of draft is the difference between the temperature inside and outside the house: the greater the difference, the stronger the draft. In other words, the draft will be stronger on a winter day when it’s cold outside and warm inside than on a day when the temperatures inside and out are essentially the same, such as in late spring.

Chimney Blockages

Chimneys can become blocked in numerous ways. Excessive creosote deposits inside your chimney are extremely dangerous and are the result of restricted air supply, burning unseasoned firewood, and cooler than normal temperatures inside your chimney. Leaves and other debris can find their way inside your chimney as well and can significantly impact its drafting abilities. Animals have also been known to call chimneys home, and their moving in can cause significant blockages throughout your chimney system.

Chimney Construction Issues

The makeup of your chimney can have a tremendous impact on its overall drafting effectiveness. If your chimney is too short, for example, the draft won’t be as strong as it would be if the chimney height were increased. It’s a relatively simple job to increase the height of your chimney; be sure your chimney at least meets the NFPA’s minimum guidelines (consult with a professional if you are confused by the “2’ x 10’” guideline outlined in NFPA 211).

One of our parent company’s CSIA-certified chimney sweeps is at the ready to inspect your chimney and recommend any corrective action to ensure that it is capable of the proper draft and flow. Once they get to the root cause(s) of your drafting problem, they’ll suggest work to be completed to help prevent the likelihood of similar problems from happening down the road. A little peace of mind can go a very long way. Schedule your appointment today!

The Science of Combustion

Have you ever wondered what is going on inside your chimney? Chemistry and physics both play a part of a well-functioning chimney.

You need heat, fuel and oxygen in order for your chimney to work correctly. You also need them in balance to one another.

You need heat, fuel and oxygen in order for your chimney to work correctly. You also need them in balance to one another.


Help! My Fireplace is Smoky!

If the chimney starts to produce a large amount of smoke when there is a fire burning, there is a good chance that there is a problem. In some cases, it may be an issue that is very easy to fix and in others it may be a more complicated situation. Whatever the reason ends up being, it is important never to ignore excessive amounts of smoke. It could be an indicator that there is a dangerous situation on the horizon. It is definitely time for an inspection.

It could be nothing. Or, it could be a sign of something very serious that could endanger your health, your home and your family.

It could be nothing. Or, it could be a sign of something very serious that could endanger your health, your home and your family.

The first thing that all homeowners with chimneys should keep in mind is that some smoke is perfectly normal during a fire. There will always be smoke, to some degree, when there is a fire burning. However, if the smoke is particularly dark or heavy, it may be a sign of a problem. Anytime someone is not sure whether or not the smoke is normal, it is best to be on the safe side and assume that there might be an unseen issue.

If it seems like the amount of smoke is dangerous, the first step is to check and make sure that the damper is open. The damper is a piece inside of the flue that opens up to let smoke out during a fire and closes to protect the chimney when it is not in use. It must be opened manually before each use of the fireplace. It is very common to forget this important step and, in many cases, simply opening up the damper solves the problem.

Another reason that a chimney and fireplace may produce too much smoke is if there is an excessive buildup of creosote. Creosote is the substance that is left in the chimney after treated materials have been burned to make a fire. There are many dangers to creosote, including a variety of health problems. One of the most dangerous effects of the substance, however, is that it is extremely flammable and can cause a great amount of smoke to come from the chimney during a fire.

In the most severe cases, a smoking chimney is a sign that a chimney fire has ignited. Chimney fires are extremely dangerous because they can quickly spread throughout the home and even onto the roof. There are many ways for a chimney to start, from embers left behind in the fireplace to a clogged chimney that cannot dispel combustible gasses. It is important to know the signs of a chimney fire so that they can be identified as quickly as possible.

If the chimney starts to produce too much smoke, it is best to treat it like a serious situation until the cause has been determined. Call a professional chimney inspector to take a good look and determine what might be causing the issue. Until this is done, it is important not to use the chimney or the fireplace for any reason. It may be that the chimney simply needs a good cleaning to get it back in working order.

Anytime there is a fire in the fireplace, some smoke is going to come from the chimney. However, if the smoke has a bad smell, is terribly heavy, or just seems to be coming in too large quantities, there may be a problem. It is important to suspend use of the chimney and fireplace until someone can determine and fix the cause of the problem. It may be an easy fix but it could also be the sign of a serious problem.

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