Caring For Your Fireplace

Posted by Van Purser on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010 at 3:33pm.

I know winter is near when my wife starts bugging me about fire wood. Fireplaces and wood stoves are great fun and provide a warm, cozy, romantic environment for our homes, but we need to review some do’s and don’t for the safe operation of a fireplace.

Building a Real Wood Fire

  • Assemble a simple set of tools for maintaining the fire. You will need some type of poker to move logs as needed when the fire is hot.
  • Always use a grate in the fireplace. The grate raises the wood off the base of the firebox to allow for air circulation, which aids complete combustion. Place the grate to the rear of the firebox.
  • Use dry or seasoned hardwood. Hardwoods will burn hotter and prevent excessive smoke and soot from building up in the chimney flue. Dry or seasoned wood will have been cut and stored out of the weather for about 12 months before use.
  • Never burn treated wood, Christmas trees, plastic, or trash in the fireplace. Never use a flammable liquid to start a fire.
  • Remove ashes as they build up below the grate. There must be room for air circulation below the grate.

More on Building a Real Wood Fire

  • Open the damper. Take a look up the flue with a flashlight to make sure the damper is open.
  • If your home is air tight, you may need to open a window to allow for combustion air to reach the flame. You will learn about this as you use the fireplace. If there is a poor draft, or if smoke builds inside your home, try opening a window.
  • Start loading the fireplace with small pieces of scrap wood (kindling) on the grate. Using small pieces of dry wood is the key to starting a fire. These will light quickly, spreading the fire easily to the logs.
  • Add a few small logs to the grate atop the kindling. Arrange the logs so there is space for air and fire circulation between them.
  • Place wadded newspaper below the grate.
  • You may need to help start the draft with a torch made from rolled newspaper. Light the paper and hold it up near the damper until there is a strong draft. The flame will warm the air in the flue and start a draft or draw up the chimney.
  • Once there is a draft up the chimney, light the crumpled paper below the grate.
  • Keep the screen closed while you are burning a fire.
  • Add and move logs if needed. Don’t build a huge fire.
  • Monitor the fire as it burns. Allow it to burn out before you leave the room. If your fireplace has glass doors, close them when you leave the fire.
  • Don’t close the damper until the next day, and make sure the grate and remnants of logs are totally cold. A wood fire can smolder for a long time, and if you close the damper when the fire is still burning, you will trap smoke and dangerous products of combustion inside your home.

Maintaining Your Fireplace

  • Keep the damper open overnight after burning a wood fire.
  • Routinely have the fireplace and flue cleaned by a professional.
  • Watch for soot and creosote buildup.
  • Consider glass doors; they are a great addition to your fireplace. The doors contain the fire and help prevent excessive room air from entering the fireplace.
  • Never light a gas fireplace if you smell gas. This is a potential serious safety concern.
  • If you see cracks, crumbling, or movement of a masonry surface inside the firebox or flue, have the condition checked by a licensed professional.
  • A professional should check for excessive rusting on a metal framed fireplace.
    If you are not sure how to use your gas or wood burning fireplace….get help from a licensed professional.

This is the season for using your fireplace…enjoy it safely. Next month we will look at the guidelines for fireplace cleaning. Happy Thanksgiving

For fast professional Chimney Sweep service call The Chimney Sweep at 770-981-8836. We have worked with them for over 20 years. You may also visit them on the web at

Steve Sheffield is a full time home inspector with certifications through ASHI, American Society of Home Inspectors, and the IRC, International Residential Building Code. He has completed over 1500 inspections since starting Hometown Inspection Services, LLC eight years ago. Prior to starting Hometown Inspection he was in the lumber / construction supply business for over 30 years. He can be reached at: or 770-789-1463.

Van Purser and his wife Jeanne are a licensed Real Estate Brokers in Georgia.  Since1984 they successfully purchased and renovated over 400 homes.  Their expertise is in representing Buyers or Sellers as an advocate; which means always ensuring their best interest.  Additionally, they represented hundreds of clients over the years as an Associate Broker with Metro Brokers, RE/Max and now with his own firm.  He and his wife, Jeanne, have been married since 1977.   Van or Jeanne can be reached at 770-623-3313, or by email at or

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