How To – Wood Burning Fireplace Guide

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    Many older homes and even some new homes have wood burning fireplaces.  For most of the year they are not much more then decoration but for those few months in the winter they can add warmth and pleasure to your home.

    One of the biggest concerns about fireplaces is that you are actually making a conscious decision to light a fire inside your home. Yes this is a little crazy since there are much safer and more cost effective ways to heat your house but for some reason people still enjoy having them.

    If you are one of these people here are a few guides to using your fireplace safely.

    First and most important is that you never leave your fire unattended. If you are going to sleep or out for the day or even just outside to play with the kids in the snow for a while then you need to extinguish the fire. You may think that letting the fire burn as you sleep will keep you warm but your home if insulated well should be able to last a good 8 hrs and only drop 10 to 20 degrees on the very coldest nights.

    There are many different designs of  fireboxes and you should research your specific model and understand the limitations.  Some designs are deeper or more shallow and some have large openings to reflect the heat into the room. If you did not grow up in a home with a fireplace then you should take a trip to your local fireplace and wood burning stove store and have them teach you about the proper use of your model.

    Never overload your fireplaceand use a spark arrester screen in front of the hearth. Overloading can cause your logs to roll into your room when they shift during the burning process. This can and will happen to everyone so be aware of the problem even if you are not over loading your fireplace.  This is one of the main reasons to not leave a fire unattended even a small coal can ignite surrounding items and cause an uncontrollable fire.

    Building large fires can also increase the danger of chimney creosote fires.

    Materials you should not burninclude Christmas tree branches, Pine or soft woods, Large amounts of newspaper or magazines. Do not use chemicals like gasoline or lighter fluid to start your fires.

    Never keep fuels for other items near your fireplace including kerosene for heaters and lamps or lamp oils.  Store flammable liquids like alcohol beverages away from the fire never try to heat up rum or other beverages near your fire.

    Keep all flammable items at least 4 feet away from your fireplace including: Carpets, drapes, couches and chairs newspapers, books.

    Proper ventilation is important to make sure that all harmful gasses exit out the chimney and do not enter the home.  During your inspection and cleanings you should have a full flue draft test to make sure that you have enough flow into the chimney. If not there are fireplace designs that can introduce outside air into the firebox. This would require a retrofit that is performed by a licensed professional.

    Fireplace inspection and cleaning 

    If you are buying an older home you want to have your fireplace inspected for cracks in the mortar, condition of the firebrick, broken flue or missing flue tiles, clogged flues or ones covered in creosote.

    If you find your fireplace chimney is in bad repair you can often have it lined with a stainless steel pipe for about $1,500 or a licensed contractor can use special high temperature, light weight concrete to line the inside of your chimney.

    Chimney heights are regulated by Code and your chimney should extend at least 2 feet above your highest point of your roof.

    Chimneys should have a spark arrester cap which will also prevent squirrels and birds from entering your chimney and building nests. 

    Your hearth should extend at least 16 inches into your room and be 8 inches wider on each side then the firebox opening. It should be made out of fireproof material like stone or brick and be at least 3 inches thick.

    Cleaning of your fireplace should be done on regular intervals.If you use your fireplace often at least once a year is suggested. Scheduling the cleaning in the late spring or summer is probably a good idea because if you wait for the colder heating season you are sure to have a line of people in front of you.

    Always make sure that the ashes have completely cooled before you clean your fireplace.

    Fire Extinguishersshould be placed in close enough proximity to be easily accessible. An ABC General rating is best in most situations and you should check the charge level indicator dial and replace the unit when it passes its expiration date.

    Having a fireplace can give many years of enjoyment and warmth but you need to take the responsibility seriously. Every year many injuries and deaths occur because of fireplace accidents.

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