Homeowners Guide

Tips for Firebox Maintenance

The information provided will aid you in giving you what you need to feel confident in operating and keeping your fireplace clean and operating efficiently.

Lighting a Healthy Fire

Before lighting the fire check to be sure the damper is fully open.
The damper, which controls the amount of air that flows through the flue, is located inside the chimney. Make sure the lever is flipped to allow air flow through the flue.

If you have glass doors make sure you open them and air out the fireplace for 15-20 minutes before lighting it. This insures that the fireplace warms up to room temperature causing the air in the chimney to flow up.
Check to make sure the air is flowing upward by lighting a piece of twisted newspaper or a match and holding it high into the flue.

You can use commercial fire starters as well and they eliminate the need for tinder and reduce the amount of kindling required. They are available in small packets or blocks and ignite easily.
Never use liquid fire starters, such as charcoal lighter fluid, gasoline or other similar products. They are extremely dangerous to use inside.

Fire building with a Grate: Crumple up newspaper (approximately 5-6 pages) or other tender (tiny twigs, dry moss, straw, bark etc.) arrange and use as bedding. Stack kindling horizontally and make sure to leave gaps for air flow. Stack layers of kindling criss-crossed creating a grid pattern.

Stack two or three small logs on top of the kindling. Continue to stack logs up to halfway in your fireplace. Be careful not to stack too high because your fire might rage out of control when you light it.
Light the tender at the bottom and keep an eye on it for half an hour to make sure the smoke is drafting up the chimney. Add more firewood when necessary and use bigger logs as the fire burns down and becomes established.

Fire building without a Grate

Place two large logs parallel about 10-15î inches apart. Place one large log cross-wise on top of the bottom logs. Place some crumpled up newspaper (twigs, bark, wood shavings or other tender) between them and then cover the tinder with kindling.
Use plenty of kindling this is the most important part of starting the fire. Put two more pieces of firewood atop the other logs, lay them at right angles to the first two. Be sure to leave enough space between them to allow good air circulation around them.
Now light the tinder being mindful that the smoke is drafting up the chimney. Check to make sure the logs cannot roll out of the fireplace.

Do not allow the fire to smolder out because this creates creosote buildup in the chimney. Stir down the wood at least half an hour before you shut it down for the day. Use a poker to break up big pieces and spread them out as much as possible. This will help it to burn out quicker. Close the screen or glass doors tightly to reduce the amount of air flowing up the chimney while the damper is open. Close the damper when you are sure the fire and coals are completely out.

Moving Heat Throughout the Home

Your fireplace will generate a lot of valuable heat although, there can be an excessive buildup of heat in the room where the fireplace is located. There are many causes that prevent heat from circulating thoroughly.
The location of the chimney is a prime factor. A centrally located chimney works better than one at one end of the house. Interior chimneys radiate more heat into the home than one that has three sides subjected to outdoor temperatures and stays warmer by not cooling the flue as quickly.

The design of the home is also influential to the effectiveness of heat circulation from your fireplace. Open floor plans allow heat to seek out the cooler areas easier than floor plans with lots of walls, small doorways or other barriers. Homes with multiple stories cause heat to rise to the upper floors making the first floor colder than wanted. Poorly insulated walls and windows also allow large amounts of heat to escape to the outdoors.

Unfortunately, most of those aspects cannot be changed once the home is built. There are things that can be done help improve heat circulation. Placing a floor fan blowing into the room will circulate the cooler air on the floor causing the warmer air around the ceiling circulate to other rooms. The added instillation of a mini-fan up high, in the doorway, blowing out of the room with the fireplace will also improve the overall warmth of your home.

Registers or vents can be installed high in the wall, stairways or in the ceiling allowing the heat to rise from one level to another between two rooms. These vents may come with or without booster fans to assist the natural air flow. The best results will be achieved when encouraging the natural convective cycle within the home.

Fireplace Accessories

Many products are available that will help you improve the safety and efficiency of your fireplace. Listed are some of the common ones.

Professional installation is advised for any type fireplace and heating accessories. If you have a factory-built or prefab fireplace, be sure to only use manufacturer approved or recommended products.

Chimney Caps

There are many types of chimney caps. The most common are galvanized steel, stainless steel, and copper. Galvanized steel caps are cheaper than stainless steel and copper caps but the latter are more durable than galvanized steel. A good quality chimney cap is the best investment because the danger of rust staining the chimney is minimized and they usually carry an extended warranty.

There are many good reasons to have a chimney cap. Mainly, it keeps out the rain, snow and sleet. Moisture that seeps into your firebricks and mortar joints weaken the bricks. If you have a metal firebox, damper and smoke shelf, they are at risk to this deterioration when water mixes with creosote and forms mild acids.

Chimney caps can eliminate downdrafts that can cause smoke to enter the home. They also prevent sparks from exiting the chimney which reduces the danger of igniting the roof, nearby trees, brush and other flammable material.
Additionally, they keep out animals, leaves, twigs and other debris which can create blockage or chimney fires.

Chimney Screens

A spark screen prevents sparks and embers from jumping out of the fireplace protecting your home from potential danger. The screen may be freestanding or one included with a glass fireplace door.

Fireplace Glass Doors

A glass door improves the look of your fireplace appearance. More importantly, it reduces heat loss from your home, both during and after the fire. If you don't have a blower, you will want to leave the doors open to get the greatest possible amount of heat out of the fireplace. Most glass doors have a mesh screen built in that prevents sparks and embers from popping out of the fireplace.

Fireplace Grates

Purchasing the proper size grate for your fireplace is important to achieve the best results for building a fire. A grate should be approximately two-thirds the width and half the depth of your fireplace.

Fireplace Blowers

Blowers can improve the efficiency of your fireplace. If your fireplace has a blower system, operating the fireplace with the doors closed will prevent room air from escaping up the chimney while pushing the warm air out into the room. Only use the fireplace with the doors closed if the door manufacturer recommends it.

Fireplace Dampers

Without a damper a great deal of heat will be lost up the chimney when the fireplace is not in use. A damper can also be used to control the flow of smoke and heat up the chimney. By careful experimentation you can find the minimum damper opening for various fire conditions. Always have the damper in the fully open position when starting your fire. Once the fire is established you can gradually decrease the damper opening. Varying fire conditions will require different damper settings. As the fire dies down and more smoke is generated a larger damper opening is required.
Most dampers are found in the throat of the fireplace while some are attached to the top of the chimney. Top mounted dampers are operated by a control attached and connected to the chimney by a cable or chain. Chimney top dampers are an economical alternative replacement of throat damper and they also when in the closed position, keep rain and animals out of your chimney.

Gas Logs

The convenience and cleanliness of gas fireplace logs have converted many over from wood burning. There are two types of gas logs vented and unvented and are fueled by either natural or propane gas. Vented gas log sets produce a very realistic and attractive fire and are often mistaken for a real wood fire. The heat output from a vented log set is comparable to the heat output from a similar sized wood fire. They also generate soot and carbon which is deposited in the chimney and require chimney cleaning just like a real wood fireplace does.

Unvented log sets provide more heat output than a vented log set. Although unvented log sets are not as attractive as vented logs, they burn hotter and cleaner. They can be approved for installation in a masonry wood burning or factory-built fireplaces with the damper closed. Makers of unvented logs also provide a separate firebox cabinet approved for installation without a chimney. However, using them as primary source of heat nonstop use in the home will cause air quality problems.

Stainless Steel and Aluminum Chimney Liners

Liners are available in round, rectangle or oval shapes and can be made of either flexible or rigid construction. If you are considering having a liner installed, the installer should be able to recommend the most appropriate material based on the intended use of the liner. Consultation with an experienced installer is necessary to provide the best type of liner for your specific needs.

Chimney Mortar Crown

A mortar crown is the concrete or mortar pad at the top of the chimney whose purpose is to shed water and prevent it from entering the chimney chase. An appropriate mortar crown will overhang the edges of the chimney by an inch or more. If your mortar crown is cracked or damaged, Tiny Tom Chimney Sweep can repair it for you.