Do's and Don'ts for Using Your Fireplace

Colder winds knock at the door and rattle the rafters while inside a warm fire bColder winds knock at the door and rattle the rafters while inside a warm fire burns with glowing embers shooting sparks up the chimney. A fireplace conjures up images of warmth, wine, and dreaming as leaping flames cast shadows on the wall. It all sounds so romantic, so snug, but are you burning the right wood in your fireplace to keep the chimney clean? What about the possibility of chimney fires? Take a moment to learn what woods to use for your fireplace fantasies and a few safety tips to keep your fireplace evenings enjoyable.

If you've cut and stacked cords of maple, elm or sycamore, you might rethink using them indoors. The soft woods tend to burn somewhat brighter than their hardwood cousins. Build a brilliant bonfire with the softwoods for a neighborhood harvest party or weenie roast. Hardwoods may not offer the fiery flame spectacle, but they do burn hotter and slower, making woods like oak, hickory, ash, hard maple and locust preferable for indoor fireplace use. The perfect fire for outdoor entertainment uses both woods, especially if there's going to be cooking. Avoid using pine due to the sap. Sap congests the flue and can cause serious problems down the road.

Wood needs to be seasoned before it's actually burnt. The drying process takes about nine months from the time it's cut to bringing it indoors. If green wood is split immediately, this lessens the time for drying by five to six months. Before bringing the logs into the house, check for bug infestation. If you keep a stack of logs next to the fireplace ready to be built into a roaring fire, the last thing you want is to have ants running about in the warmth of your home.

Before the burning season begins, call a professional chimney sweep to clean the chimney. Make sure it's examined carefully, and checked for cracks and any build up of creosote. You can check it yourself with a high-powered flashlight and a mirror. If you see red or pink brick, your chimney's in good shape. On the other hand, if black furry stuff seems to be clinging to the walls of the chimney, call a chimney professional to have it cleaned before burning one log.

A list of do's and don'ts will help you begin the fireplace year with a relaxing fire and no worries of unforeseen blazes getting out of hand.

  1. Do keep your chimney clean and in tip-top shape.
  2. Do keep furniture, magazine racks, and burnables at a safe distance from the fireplace.
  3. Do use the glass doors or a fire screen to keep sparks from burning your carpet or worse.
  4. Do open the damper before building a fire and lighting it.
  5. Do use cured hardwoods instead of soft woods.
  6. Do keep your fireplace clean by removing cooled ashes in a metal bucket.
  7. Don't leave children alone in a room with a fire blazing.
  8. Don't go to bed or leave while a fire warms the house.
  9. Don't burn trash in your fireplace.
  10. Don't use igniters such as kerosene or lighter fluid.
  11. Don't build a larger fire than your fireplace can accommodate.

An indoor fireplace creates a warming ambiance to a home, but in all practicality, using a fireplace as a means to heat a home may be a mistake. A fireplace loses more heat than it creates, but on a cold wintry night when the outside world appears frosty white, there is nothing more pleasant than sitting by a slowing dying fire dreaming of spring.