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Usage and Safety

Enjoy Your Fireplace in Comfort and Safety

One of the nice things about a fireplace is how little work really is involved compared to the pleasure it gives. Once you've got the fire going, it pretty much takes care of itself-except for occasionally turning the wood or adding a log, you just sit back and enjoy. But getting a fire to burn properly in a fireplace can be something of an art form. Here are some tips to help you along.

What to Burn

Let's start with your "fuel." The type of wood you use is quite important. The best type of wood to burn is a nice, dry, seasoned hardwood such as beech, maple, ash, or oak. By "seasoned" I mean that it has been dried for a minimum of one year for the best results. The drier the wood, the hotter the fire, and it will burn evenly and cleanly. Young wood, on the other hand, is 50% moisture; in other words, it is water, which tends not to burn too well. Burning soft or sappy woods like pine will give you a fire that is not very hot, comparatively speaking. Plus, you risk having a creosote buildup in your chimney. Find a reliable, quality firewood supplier in your area.

How to Start a Fire and Keep It Going

Having trouble starting your fire? Many products can help make this easier. Dry kindling, starter gel, and fatwood are safe to use and sufficiently combustible to get you off to a good start. Always use a long wooden match to ignite the fire. NEVER throw any kind of liquid accelerant into a fireplace, especially if a flame is present. You can easily burn yourself or end up burning down your home.

Does smoke blow back into the room when you try to light the fire? Many times this can be solved by "creating a draft," which in essence means to open slightly a window or door near the fireplace or woodstove and light a small amount of paper inside the chimney to create a warm updraft. Doing so "primes" the chimney and begins a chain reaction of constantly flowing colder air from outside being warmed in the fireplace and then sending it up the chimney, along with the smoke. This may be especially necessary in newer, tightly built homes, where the only draft is down the chimney.

Once the flame has taken hold, avoid placing your face up to it and blowing on it. You'll end up with a face full of ash; besides, your breath is mostly carbon dioxide, which tends to smother a fire rather than feed it. Instead, use a bellows to blow oxygen-rich air into the fire. Also, using a high-quality fireplace grate and decorative andirons will help keep the wood off the fireplace floor and increase oxygen flow.

Safety First!

Speaking of oxygen, remember that fire needs oxygen to burn. People also need it to breathe! If your house is too tightly built, a roaring fire can quickly deplete the oxygen supply, and possibly result in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup, one of the leading causes of poisoning in America. For your peace of mind, install a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a fireplace; it will be worth every penny.

If there are babies who can crawl or young children running around a room with a fireplace or woodstove, that is a recipe for disaster. Protect your kids from injury by installing a child-guard screen or hearth safety grate around the woodstove or fireplace. With these important accessories, you can still derive the benefit and enjoyment of owning a fireplace while at the same time preventing kids from suffering serious burns.