When the weather turns in Florida and the temperature finally drops below 50 degrees for a week or two, you will want to use your fireplace. While you might not depend on your fireplace for heating and you can’t look outside at the snow while snuggled in front of it, using your fireplace gives you the opportunity to pretend that it’s winter. You won’t be using your fireplace too much while living in Florida, but you should know how to safely use it when you finally do.
1. Clean Your Chimney
You may assume that because you don’t use your chimney that often that you don’t have to worry about cleaning it. This is not the case. Gas fireplaces typically burn clean, but it’s not uncommon for birds to build nests in the flue or other debris from a storm to create a blockage. When burning wood, you have to worry about creosote build-up. Creosote is a natural byproduct of burning wood that takes different forms during multiple stages of build-up. Even the most sporadic use of your fireplace requires that you have your chimney professionally cleaned once per year; in fact, The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code requires that chimneys, fireplaces, and vents are inspected yearly. Creosote and other substances in your flue might cause an obstruction that will lead to toxic gases, including carbon monoxide, entering your home. Additionally, these hazards might result in chimney fires that will ignite your entire roof or home on fire.
2. Prepare Your Fireplace
Each time you light a fire in your fireplace, you need to prepare it by doing a few things:
- If you have a wood-burning fireplace, make sure to gather old wood that has dried for at least six months. Young wood and moisture create more smoke, causing more build-up in the chimney, and it burns unevenly.
- Always sweep and clean out ashes from previous fires. Thick layers of ashes cut off air to new wood and create more smoke.
- A fireplace damper prevents heat loss when you aren’t using your fireplace, but it needs to be open when starting a fire and while a fire is burning to prevent smoke from overtaking your room and home. Make sure that you open your damper completely before attempting to start a fire.
- Remove flammable items from the area around your fireplace including things like furniture, drapes, newspapers, magazines, books, etc.
3. Prime Your Flue
When you first open your damper, you might feel cold air coming down your chimney and into your house. If you light a fire before warming up your chimney, you will end up with a backup of smoke in your house. Prime your flue by tightly rolling up a sheet of newspaper and holding it near the open damper. Once you see smoke going up the flue, it indicates that the draft is reversing. You might need to use two rolls of newspaper for this to happen. If priming isn’t working for you, you should leave the damper open for about 30 minutes, and the heat in your room should reverse the air flow. Once you notice the draft is reversed, it’s safe to start your fire.
4. Building a Fire that Lasts
Once you have your fire burning, you don’t want to have to keep restarting it. To build a fire that lasts, start with some crunched up newspaper below the grates. Crisscross narrow, small pieces of kindling or finely split wood on top of the grates, and place one or two dry logs on top. When building a lasting fire, you are looking for a sweet spot. Small pieces of wood burn faster and produce less smoke, in contrast to large logs that take a long time to burn and produce more smoke. So, build a lasting fire, but don’t smoke yourself out by using too large of logs or overloading your fireplace. Also, never use any flammable liquids to start a fire and keep a window partially open while the fire is burning to let any smoke or gasses escape.
5. Don’t Leave Your Fireplace Unattended
If you are going to bed or leaving your home, you need to make sure that the fire in your fireplace is completely out. Sparks and embers can lead to a fire, perhaps taking your whole house or resulting in injury or fatality. If you need to leave a room and you have small children, do not leave them unattended by a fireplace. Stanford Children’s Health reports that flame injuries are most common for children under five and fires in fireplaces are one of the risk factors. Glass doors on gas fireplaces also pose a danger for young children. You can also protect your children by talking about the danger of fires early on, installing safety screens, and putting fireplace tools, including matches and lighters out of their reach.
6. Invest in Safety Devices
Fireplaces can cause smoke and carbon dioxide to spread throughout your home. Protect yourself, visitors, and family members by installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You should test them each month and change the batteries at least once every year to make sure they are working correctly. Also, keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case a spark causes a fire.
7. Getting the Most Efficiency Out of Your Fireplace
Maybe you are considering putting in a fireplace if you don’t already have one in your home. Either way, you should know a little bit about your fireplace’s efficiency. Generally speaking, gas fireplaces are the most efficient and the newest models mimic the beauty and scent of a wood-burning fireplace. Wood-burning fireplaces, on the other hand, don’t really efficiently heat a house, especially if they are located on an outside wall. You can increase the efficiency of your wood-burning fireplace by installing an insert. Inserts are usually made of heavy steel and cast iron, with the front allowing a view of the fire. When the insert is closed, it serves as a combustion chamber, trapping heat and radiating it into your home.