In many parts of the country, it’s time to start up the wood burning fireplace or wood stove for a little extra heat. Before you succumb to your primal urges and set even a single log ablaze, be certain you’ve taken the steps required to make the fires you start this season as successful—and safe—as possible.
Hire a Chimney Sweep
Book a pro to give your chimney and hearth its annual physical. A certified chimney sweep will inspect your masonry, flue liner, chimney cap, and venting system to make sure everything’s clean, clear, and up to code. You can locate a sweep through many ways.
Test Your Gear
Shine a flashlight on the damper and try it out a few times to make sure it opens and closes tightly. Most wood burning fireplaces have a metal grate to cradle firewood up off the bottom so air can circulate around the logs; if the grate is cracked or sagging, replace it. Sparks can fly into living areas through ripped screens or mesh that doesn’t close all the way; prevent injury and damage by lubricating or replacing worn-out mesh.
Use the Right Wood
Next to an annual sweeping, burning dry, split hardwood is the best thing you can do for your fireplace. It starts easily, burns for a long time, and leaves less creosote in the flue. Try to buy or cut wood in the late winter, before it’s full of spring sap, and let it dry outside for six months.
Warm the Flue
Smoke won’t rise if the flue is filled with cold air. To avoid downdrafts that can push out smoke and toxic fumes, warm up the air in the flue first. After you’ve opened the damper—and before you’ve lit the logs—encourage fireplace smoke to travel up and out the chimney by lighting a rolled-up sheet of newspaper and holding it in a gloved hand at the opening to the flue, so warm air can ascend.
Know What Not to Burn
A wood burning fireplace is for burning wood. Avoid tossing in pizza boxes, a Christmas tree (including any of its branches or needles) or driftwood which flare up fast and could cause a fire in a dirty chimney. Never burn painted or treated lumber and newspaper printed in color, because the preservatives and inks create noxious fumes.