Wood Fireplace: 9 Tips for Safety and Efficiency
Ready for the colder months?
You will be if you follow these simple guidelines to keep your wood fireplace burning brightly — and safely.
1. Only Burn Dry, Cured Wood
That is, logs that have been split, stacked, and dried for eight to 12 months. Cover your log pile on top, but leave the sides open for airflow.
Hardwoods such as hickory, white oak, beech, sugar maple, and white ash burn longest, though dry firewood is more important than the species. Less dense woods like spruce or white pine burn well if sufficiently dry, but you’ll need to add more wood to your fire more often, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
2. Burn Firewood and Only Firewood!
Crates, lumber, construction scraps, painted wood, or other treated wood releases chemicals into your home, compromising air quality. Log starters are fine for getting your wood fireplace going, but they burn very hot; generally, only use one at a time.
3. Close the Damper When Not Using Your Wood Fireplace
This will prevent warm indoor air — and the dollars you’re spending to heat it — from rushing up the chimney.
4. Keep Bifold Glass Doors Open When Burning a Fire
This will allow heat to get into the room. On a factory-built, prefab wood fireplace with a circulating fan, keep doors closed to prevent unnecessary heat loss.
5. Have a Chimney Cap Installed
It will prevent objects, rain, and snow from falling into your chimney, and reduce downdrafts. Caps have side vents so smoke escapes. A chimney sweep usually provides and can install a stainless steel cap, which is better than a galvanized metal one because it won’t rust. Caps cost $50 to $200.
6. Replace a Poorly Sealing Damper to Prevent Heat Loss.
A top-mounted damper that also functions as a rain cap provides a tighter closure than a traditional damper for your wood fireplace.
7. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Smoke Detectors
Place them near your wood fireplace as well as in bedroom areas.
8. Get Your Chimney Cleaned Twice a Year
If you burn more than three cords of wood annually, this is a must-do. A cord is 4 feet high by 4 feet wide by 8 feet long, or the amount that would fill two full-size pickup trucks.
9. To Burn a Fire Safely, Build It Slowly, Adding More Wood as It Heats.
Keep the damper of your wood fireplace completely open to increase draw in the early stages. Burn the fire hot, at least occasionally—with the damper all the way open to help prevent smoke from lingering in the fireplace and creosote from developing.
Wendy Paris is a New York-based freelance writer who has written for This Old House magazine, as well as for The New York Times and Salon.com.