Fireplace fire building 101.
Building a fire in a wood fireplace correctly will improve its efficiency, saving you money on wood. It will also reduce air pollution, saving your health and home. Both of these factors are especially important if you are burning fires indoors, whether in a fireplace or woodstove. Here we will discuss a few different methods for starting and maintaining indoor fires.
Chimney cleaning is paramount!
If you have a fireplace or woodstove, and never had a chimney cleaning, or if it has been a while, it is paramount to have your chimney cleaned and inspected prior to use. This essential home care task will keep your home and family safe during the wood burning season. Once you’re certain that your chimney is clean and safe to use, you will need to open the damper. A damper is a small device located inside the chimney flue which regulates air flow for the fireplace. Manipulating the air flow will allow you to, at least somewhat, control the speed and temperature at which your fireplace fire burns. When lighting a fire, the damper should be completely open. Once the fire is lit, some people like to adjust the damper in order to control the heat and temperature. A fireplace damper should never be completely closed while a fire is burning, as it will allow smoke and fumes into your home.
Next, many find it easier to get a fire lit if they first prime their chimney flue. When the damper is opened, the cold air that rushes in can blow smoke back into your home, in addition to making it difficult to light the fire at all. To warm the flue up (or prime it) and reverse the air flow, you can light a roll of paper or bit of kindling and hold it up near the damper opening. When the flue is warmed, you will feel the airflow reverse.
It’s wise to have a bit of ash in the bottom of your fireplace hearth or woodstove, as they provide some extra insulation and promote a hotter flame. Don’t ever let your ash bed get to be more than 2” though, or it can begin to interfere with the process, rather than aid it.
What we have discussed so far is fairly universal for all fireplace fire building methods. Now we will look at 2 different methods for arranging your wood and building the fire itself.
Traditional Fire Building technique
This method is the most basic and most straightforward method.
Begin by placing dry kindling in a pile. Dry kindling can be small sticks or black and white newspaper, though it is important to specify that you not use colored or glossy newspaper, as these can produce toxic fumes when burned. On top of your kindling you should place pieces of tinder, such as smaller softwood logs, and then on the very top, place your firewood logs. Ensure some space between your firewood logs for adequate airflow but keep in mind that the tighter you pack the logs, the slower, and hotter, the burn. Next, using a match or long lighter, light your kindling. Do not use accelerates like lighter fluid, as they pose a major risk of explosion. The kindling should catch the tinder, which in turn, should catch the logs!
Upside Down Fire Building Technique
This method is a little different than the traditional method, in that it flips it upside down! Proponents of this fire building method swear by it being a more efficient, slower burning and less smoky alternative to the traditional fire. To build an upside down fire, simply place your larger firewood logs on the bottom, keeping them close together, next place your tinder logs on top and a layer of kindling sticks over that. Lastly, top off your pile with crumpled black and white newspaper and light from the top. The fire will slowly burn down to the larger logs, creating less smoke and a longer lasting, low maintenance blaze. This method does take longer to “get going” than the traditional method and may look wimpy for the first 15 minutes or so, but once it does begin to blaze, it will generally last twice as long. Additionally, experiment with the amount of firewood you use for this method. Since it burns more efficiently, it can often be burned with less wood fuel than you would typically use.