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  • The Art of Starting a Fire in Your Fireplace

    The Art of Starting a Fire in Your Fireplace


    Starting a fire in your fireplace can be tricky when conditions are outside of your control. That’s why building a proper fire takes knowledge, common sense and a little creativity. If you aren’t currently a member of our Lindemann Chimney Service “Wood for Life” Club then contact us for your free firewood.

    The first step is to open the fireplace damper. If your damper handle looks like a fishbone, you have the “poker” style handle. Just grab the handle and push it up, securing it in the notch that places the damper plate open the farthest. If your damper has a “rotary” handle, there will be a knob on the fireplace facing that you turn until the damper opens. Take a peek before continuing to make sure the damper plate is fully open.

    A top-sealing chimney damper has a bracket and a spring handle in the firebox. A cable flows from the handle to the damper lid on top of the chimney. When the handle is secured in the bracket the lid will be in the closed position. To open the damper, pull downward and release the handle. There should be a “clunk” sound as the lid up top opens. Then, the spring handle will move upwards about 6″ to 10″. You should be able to look up and see daylight.

    The handle is being released to open the Energy Top Damper

    Wait a few minutes, then check the direction of air flow at the fireplace opening. Make sure the air is moving up the flue. If it’s coming down the flue you will most likely get smoke in your face and in the room when you light the fire. To check is you can light a match and blow it out and see which direction the smoke is moving. Or put a candle in the opening and see which way the flame moves. Or use incense. All should indicate air movement towards the fireplace flue opening.

    If you can feel cold air coming down the flue and it’s pretty strong you might want to reconsider starting a fire. If the wind is blowing and the strength of the cold wind in your face matches the wind gusts outside, close the damper back up and contact us. You may need a special cap that prevents wind from blowing down the flue.

    If it’s a steady flow of cold air and not extremely strong, you may be able to reverse the flow by preheating the flue. This can usually be done with a hair dryer or rolling up newspapers into a cone shape, lighting it and holding it up near the damper. You should notice a lessening of the cold air downdraft within about 2-5 minutes. Once again do the draft check to make sure the air is moving towards the fireplace and up the flue.

    My favorite fireplace log arrangement is to put two larger bottom logs parallel to each other with about 2″-3″ of airspace between them. Then I criss-cross these bottom logs, setting smaller logs on top of them. These smaller logs should be parallel to each other with an airspace of 1″-2″. If I have room I place even smaller pieces on the next layer, criss-crossing 3 or 4 logs parallel to each other, then use kindling or a wax starter brick on the top. My favorite has become the wax starter brick (not the wax log). It catches fire easily, burns cleaner than kindling and it heats things up quicker with a longer sustained heat source.

    The reason I like to go from larger logs at the bottom to smaller logs and then kindling on top is that I can set the whole fire at once. The wax brick or kindling heats up and starts to burn. Coals fall down onto the smaller logs. In the mean time, these smaller logs are drying out and getting heated up. Then they ignite and the process continues with coals falling down to the logs below which are also drying out, getting heated and ready to ignite. It also provides quick heat at the top of the logs to help warm up the flue and establish draft quickly.

    Never use flammable liquids or other types of flammable materials to start a fire. Gasoline, kerosene, oils and other flammables can cause a structure fire. There are many uncontrollable characteristics about these and other flammable materials that can quickly get out of hand, not only causing injury, but structure fires and/or explosions.

    Building a fire starts with a little science and creativity. From knowing what conditions to look for to properly stacking the wood and kindling. This is all part of the art of building the perfect fire in your fireplace. Then sit back and enjoy the warmth and ambiance of your fireplace with your family and friends.

    Note: Check out our section on troubleshooting by clicking here.

    Posted by Karen Stickels Lamansky, Author of Design Ideas for Fireplaces, Published by Creative Homeowner Press.

    Copyright 2010 Lindemann Chimney Supply

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