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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Don't Fire Up that Fireplace Too Soon!

Just because the calendar says it is Fall, doesn't mean that homeowners should light up their wood stove or fireplace. Each year, many people light a fire without considering the consequences of doing so.

And this year due to the pandemic many people are staying at home and look for some form of entertainment. A nice crackling fire would set the mood just right - but don't do so until a few things have been addressed. 

- Did you open the damper?  This is the first thing people forget to do when lighting a fire. The house will fill up with smoke quickly. Open the damper fully before starting a fire in a fireplace, and if you forget, open it and do NOT turn on the attic fan or the problem will get much worse. Open a door instead.

- Did you have the chimney inspected and swept after the last wood burning season?  If not, don't start a fire yet. Call a professional chimney sweep to service the chimney first. And next year, do this in the spring. 

- Do you have a cover on the flue to keep birds and animals out?  If not, birds and squirrels may have built flammable nests in the chimney. A chimney sweeping will usually take care of it, then have a proper stainless steel cover installed. Don't buy a cheap cover that will rust - get stainless steel.

- Are you prepared with dry seasoned cordwood?  This should be purchased or cut and split at least six months in advance of the season so it is properly dried out to 20% or less moisture content. Buy a moisture meter online or from your chimney sweep. Wet wood takes longer to burn and creates more creosote and Carbon Monoxide so don't use it. 

- Do you have the right type of wood? Use almost any type of hardwood (Oak is a favorite) or softwood, but don't ever use soft pine which burns too hot and too fast and is a fire hazard. Also, keep the use of Hedge down to one piece of wood to two pieces of another type. Hedge also sparks and burns very hot and can be a chimney fire hazard.   

 - Don't start a fire unless it is 40 degrees F or less. Yes, you read that correctly. There needs to be enough of a temperature differential between the outdoors and indoors for the chimney to function correctly and draft smoke and flue gasses out of the house. If you simply must have a fire in warmer weather put some candles in the fireplace. 

- Warm the flue up with a very tiny fire before lighting a big fire. This gets draft going. For wood-burning stoves and inserts a Draw Collar can prevent smoking backup at start up and cool down. Ask your chimney sweep about this product. 

- Constant annoying smoking or smoke smell? This could be a sign that the house is under negative pressure, which is extremely common. There are several possible solutions based on your particular house layout. This should be discussed with a professional chimney sweep or venting specialist. One solution which often works well is a Whole House Ventilator. 


Marge Padgitt is the owner and President of HearthMasters, Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. She is an author, publisher, and educator.


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