There’s nothing cozier. more relaxing or more romantic than a fire quietly roaring away in your fireplace. As beautiful and soothing as they are, fireplaces can be dangerous. One must always use caution when and be sensible when lighting a fire. Last year tragedy struck a nearby town when, on Christmas Eve, a fire destroyed an historic home in the midst of a massive renovation, and with it took the lives of three young children and two grandparents. A now childless mother and her partner were the sole survivors. According to the mother, the ashes were never properly disposed of that night as the little girls wanted to have a clear and fireplace for Santa Claus. The events of that night were indeed tragic, but we can all learn from those lessons.
Fireplace safety starts in the chimney, in the area behind the flue where not much can be seen from the naked eye. We strongly suggest you contact a reputable chimney sweep to have a thorough look at your chimney and fireplace. There are chimney sweep scammers out there, so do your homework and make sure the person you hire is a reputable one.The chimney sweep will start by inserting a special brush into the fireplace and up the chimney. This is done to remove any soot and debris on the bricks. After this the flue, damper, smoke chamber, smoke shelf and firebox are all cleaned. The entire process should not take more than an hour. Once that process is completed the chimney sweep will most likely carry out a smoke test by lighting a small fire in the fireplace. This will ensure that everything has been properly cleaned and that your fireplace is safe to use. It is advisable to keep records of all reports.
Never use flammable liquids to start a fire in your fireplace. It’s best to use starter logs and newspaper. Make sure you have a strong, secure grate upon which to place your logs. Be sure to use only seasoned hardwood as wood that has not been seasoned, or kiln dried, sizzles and fails to start a large, hot fire. Instead it creates excess smokes and promotes creosote build-up. Creosote is the tar-like substance produced from the burning of wood in your fireplace and chimney and produces soot and tarry smoke. The tarry remnants are extremely flammable.
Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace. Never leave your burning fireplace unattended. It is important to extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house, and imperative that you allow ashes to cool fully before you dispose them, and best to leave them in your fireplace until the following morning if you’ve enjoyed a fire the night before. The smoke from burning wood contains carbon monoxide, in order to prevent this toxic gas from entering your home leave the flue open overnight.
Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. You may want to consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
If your fireplace has an adjustable damper, open it all the way. Begin by crumpling single sheets of newspaper or other tinder into grapefruit-size balls, or twist them into batons, and place one or two underneath the grate or in between the andirons on the floor of the firebox. Next, lay some kindling; Martha Stewart suggests 6 – 12 pieces in a crisscross pattern, over the newspaper. Leave spaces between the sticks for air circulation. Next, place a couple of thin, split logs on top of the tinder and kindling.
Keep in mind that air good circulation is essential to a successful fire. Light the tinder with a long match or fireplace lighter. Once the fire has started and the small logs are burning, add two more small and then a larger one. As the warm air rises up the chimney and into the room, cool air is sucked up into the spaces between the logs, fanning the flames. It’s important not to over-feed the fire, which can smother the fire or cause it to blaze out of control.
According to Stewart “Tinder is the first thing to catch fire, so it should consist of a highly flammable material such as brown bags, twisted newspaper, applewood chips, dried hemlock and birch twigs, birch bark, and the feathery tips of dried pine branches. She advises us not to use use paper with colored inks, since it can leave a flammable residue in the chimney, yet most newspapers today are printed in color. Tinder ignites the kindling.” She adds that “dry corncobs, pinecones that are well-dried and free of sap, and fatwood (highly flammable, resin-laden sticks from coniferous trees) are also good fire starters.”
Firewood needs to be seasoned, or kiln-dried before it is to be used. Freshly cut wood is still full of water and will burn unevenly. It also produces excessive smoke and ash. An indication that your wood is fully dried and ready to use are the tiny radial cracks along the cross-sections of a split log.
The best woods to use are hardwood logs from broad-leafed deciduous trees. Hickory, oak, maple, ash, beech, and birch are great choices and birch is exceptional as it leaves no ash. If you’re looking for a fragrant wood, you might want to try cherry, pear, or pecan. Stay away from softwood logs from needle- and cone-bearing trees. They should only be used for tinder and kindling, since they burn very quickly.
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Even when a fireplace damper is closed, the sealing is often not very effective. Adding glass doors to the front of your fireplace can efficiently keep the cold air that comes down your chimney from entering your living area. Since one must wait for the fire to be completely out and the ashes to be cold before closing the damper, the glass doors are really a must. If the damper is closed too soon a smoldering fire still produces combustion gases which contain carbon monoxide. And, while it may seem obvious, it is important to reinstate the fact that closing the damper should never be done until the fire is completely out.
Before one is ready to use one’s fireplace, it is essential to have the proper fireplace equipment.
We wish you all many warm and cozy fireside evenings this winter. Please be safe!
Let’s get started with some styling inspiration from Urban Outfitters, a brand that offers an interesting array of wall-mounted shelving options. Many of them celebrate the best of geo style. Below we see a trio of shelving solutions, including the Bryn Mountain Display Shelf, pictured at the top right of the photo. Note how each of these shelves holds “like items,“ such as rocks, jewelry and other natural wonders. The styling of this Geo Triangle Shelf proves there’s power in empty space. You may be tempted to fill every square inch of your decorative shelving, but remember that sometimes less is more.
Vega Architecture’s design for the Busch Home in Lakewood, CO is a wonderful example of how a sunken living room can still maintain a sleek, modern look. By keeping the depth of the pit fairly shallow and using furniture with clean, wooden lines, the space still feels light and airy. A pop of warm, lighter colored carpeting also creates a nice texture change when paired with the harder but more durable tile used on the higher level. When Amber Flooring installed their engineered prefinished square edge Stilnovo-Afrormosia planks throughout the Los Gatos home, they didn’t forget the living area’s conversation pit. Now the space is lined with the warm material, making it the perfect spot to curl up around the fireplace.