I have a fireplace, what do I do?

I’m sure some of you are staring at the screen in amazement, but help me without (obvious) judgment, please :D.

I moved into my house 1 year ago- it was a foreclosure that was in amazing condition and even had a fireplace. The problem? I dunno how to use a fire place. This might be shocking to some of you, but I’m from California and while we always had fireplaces, we never used them as a primary heat source and we always had those fake logs in there.

Since fake logs are apparently ungodly expensive, I need to know how to actually use a fireplace. Before that, though, I need to know how to check at make sure I’m not going to Carbon Monoxide myself to death, set my house ablaze, etc.

The fireplace does have a gas thinggy, with a gas key (my descriptions are helpful, I know) and I have all of the poker. . . thinggies and scoopy thinggies you use for a fireplace. There’s also a rack in the fireplace to hold logs.

What do I do? Help a n00b, please.

I’m no expert on fireplaces, but I can help you find more resources about using them for beginners on the Internet. Never start a fire without first inspecting your chimney, as you could have structural damage. Here is a checklist.http://www.chimneysweepers.com/examining-your-chimney.html. This one is more in depth with pictures. http://www.inspect-ny.com/chimneys/Chimney_Flue_Inspection.htm

This is what HGTV has to say about fireplace maintenance:

If indeed you have a gas fireplace read this http://www.firelogs.com/FAQ.htm.
If you were hoping someone here could give it to you short and sweet, maybe someone else can but you can never do to much reading.

You should just take in the whole Google search: use gas fireplace. There’s videos, other forums, how to’s like ehow and expert Q&A pages.

a fireplace is a decorative item, not a practical source of heat. Your house actually loses more heat up the chimney than you create by burning logs.

But a crackling fire sure is nice!
It creates a wonderful happy atmosphere in the room. And you get a nice warm tingly feeling in your toes if you kick off your shoes and sit close by. It warms up the 3 or 4 feet immediately next to the fire, while the rest of the house actually cools off and your electric bill increases since the furnace has to work harder…
But it’s worth it sometimes, just for fun.

(I haven’t had a fireplace for 30 years, so somebody else will have to give you the practical instructions…but ahh, what memories! …)

We had a fireplace when I was in my teens. There was a perforated gas pipe in it, and dad would put wood on the grate and light the gas. It was much handier than ‘building a fire’.

Do have the chimney checked. When you start a fire, make sure the flue is open.

I have two fireplaces; one in the living room, and one in my bedroom. The bedroom one is a mess. Someone had allowed ivy to grow on the chimney and, while my friend (who sold me the house) killed it and sawed through the ‘trunks’, it’s still covered. The river rocks surrounding the brick core are starting to fall off. The inside is boarded up. When I can afford it I want to demolish it and just have a regular wall there.

The living room fireplace had a cast-iron stove in it. My friend was going to get it working (the chimney needed a new liner), but it was only a little more expensive to have a propane furnace installed on a wall. (This place is a bit ‘rustic’, so the fireplace and now-disconnected baseboard heaters were the heat sources.) A couple of years ago I had the chimney liner replaced, a new ‘cap’ put on top, and a new glass-fronted wood stove installed. The stove has a fan in it, so it heats the house well. But it’s a mess to use. You have to build the fire with kindling (no gas here!), and the ashes need to be cleaned out. I bought a small metal ashcan from a farm supply store. These are small metal trash cans/storage bins with a metal cover. Always let the fire cool before cleaning. Since there may still be hot embers, be sure to cover the ashcan and do not put it on the floor. (Mine is on the masonry.)

Wood can be expensive. A very large branch crashed down in a storm a couple of years ago, and that provided almost enough wood for one Winter. Bundles of wood cost $5 here, so it would be expensive to heat the house with it. I need to remember to buy a quarter-cord, which is much cheaper than buying the bundles. You can also get those logs that start with a match for a decent price at places like Home Depot. Sometimes. They come in boxes of nine. Home Depot also has wood ‘cylinders’ that burn for hours, but you need to start them with kindling as if they were natural wood.

if there is a gas pipe in the fireplace it may not safe to use wood in there would be my thought. wood fires are very hot and will melt metal not intended to be long term in the fire.

not having glass doors allows heat to escape from house even when not in use. not having outside combustion air can create drafts in the house. if you have a draft door it needs to be open anytime the fire or coals are giving off heat. having draft doors may be illegal now and are hazardous when used with a now gas fireplace.

also the chimney may need different construction and be in very good condition to use for wood. gas may have less requirements.

as mentioned chimney inspections should be done every 3 years at least for wood use.

a chimney sweep or fireplace store could advise.

Diosa, how old is the house? I assume you had it inspected before you bought it and the house inspector at least checked the exterior of the chimney?

Ditto what everyone has said about getting it checked out. Our fireplace, in our 1937 house, has a gas starter like you describe, but it’s never worked, so we just start fires the old fashioned way.

For a fireplace to draw (i.e., send smoke up the chimney rather than into the room) properly, the air outside needs to be cool-ish. It also helps to build the fire as far back in the firebox as you can. If you start a fire and you’re sure the flue is open but you have smoke coming into the room, try opening a door or window until the fire starts drawing.

If you’re burning wood, make sure you have “seasoned” wood – stuff that was cut last year. “Green” wood doesn’t burn well and smokes a lot. Only burn hardwood. Pine and other soft woods contribute to the buildup of creosote in your chimney, which can cause a chimney fire. Hickory and apple and cherry smell wonderful when they are burning.

Here’s how I build a fire. I start with a “back log” – a fairly big log at the back of the grate. I like to use commercial fire starters – wax and wood chips, basically. Put it on the grate in front of the back log. Light the starter. Put a log in front of the starter, and then add another log sorta crosswise on top. As the logs are consumed, you can use the poker to push the logs together. When you add a log, try to get it over the glowiing hot coals that will develop under the grate.

If your fireplace doesn’t have glass doors, I highly recommend getting some installed. (They’re not very expensive.) That way, you can shut the doors when you go to bed and leave the flue open. The fire will die on its own and the glass doors will keep all the heat in your house going up the chimney overnight.

Have fun! Fireplaces are cozy! (We lost several big trees last year when the remnants of Ike came through, and now we can have as many fires as we want this winter.)

This only pertains to a wood burning fireplace, the only one I have experienced.
We have had a wood burning fireplace in our home for 30 years. It does not really heat the entire house just the family room where the fireplace is located, the room can reach 80 degrees if you keep the glass doors open. One thing to aware of is just how much wood you will go through, if you burn it every day you will need many cords, if you only used it for parties or occasional weekend use you can make do with a single cord for the season. They also are dirty be prepared for lots of soot, ashes that have to be swept up and disposed of. Wood that is too green can smoke up the room very fast and the wood can pop and spit embers even through the chain curtains onto the floor. They are however very relaxing and romantic at least to me.

This is a picture of our burning fireplace from last year when the temp was 2 below zero F.

One thing you should do before using it is check your local ordinances, there are regulations in some areas about fireplaces and stoves. My parents had to install a pellet stove in the SF Bay area to use their fireplace.

when discussing wood volumes

cord = 4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft.

face cord = 16 in. x 4 ft. x 8 ft.

often fireplace wood for decorative use is sold as face cords.

I like woodstoves like this:

They are (I’m assuming) more efficient than a fireplace, but you still get to watch the purdy flames

gas fireplaces are cleaner and easier - but I guess if I want to a fire I want to go for it all the way.


Mine is like this.

The fireplace we had in California had a “gas thing” --which, as I was a little kid, is the term I used, but these were gas jets and did not have to be used. That is to say, you could use the gas jets alone, and they looked like gas jets. Or you could put wood into the fireplace, turn on and light the gas jets (as I recall from when I was a little kid, we did have to light them), and let the wood catch on fire, then you could turn the gas jets off; or you could ignore the gas entirely and do it all naturally.

We always had a fire on Christmas Eve, even if it was 80 degrees. It just made it seem more Christmassy. I did wonder about Santa Claus, since that’s how he was supposed to get there.

They don’t do the gas jet thing here in Colorado–either it’s a 100 percent fake fire with ceramic logs, or it’s 100 percent wood. Somebody once told me theses fireplaces used to exist in Colo. but were found to be very dangerous. I have no idea if that’s true for Calif. as well. The old house I bought here in the '70s had a gas pipe, and the gas people came and capped it for me before I used the fireplace.

In any case, you need to find someone to make sure your flue isn’t block by something like a squirrel nest, so you need a chimney sweep. Once you’ve hired an expert, you will know more about the fireplace.

If it’s an actual woodburning fireplace, here are a couple of tips: The wood you buy in a bundle is usually “fat” wood and will catch fire fairly easily. The bulk of the wood you burn should be harder wood–it will be harder to catch on fire, but will make a hotter fire (not that you need that in SoCal, particularly, but it will also stay pretty longer). What you do is put the fat wood down in one direction, then put the hardwood down on top of it in a different direction. The fat wood will catch first and get going, and then, as it burns, will ignite the hardwood.

So what we do is buy a cord of harder wood (this is kind of a lot, we used abouat half of it last year so we have a lot for this year, but it’s the most economical way to buy it and people here will deliver it), and use the packages you can get at the grocery story as fatwood to get the fire started.

I generally light my fires with one match and they burn beautifully for hours.

You can throw the ashes on your compost pit.

We have used our upstairs wood fireplace the last month. We have barely touched the heat and we live in Michigan. I am too lazy to use the downstairs fireplace, besides I would use twice as much wood. But a good log of hard wood will burn all night.

Sounds like something Mae West would have said.

I don’t have much more to offer than has already been mentioned, but I do want to tell the OP not to feel bad. When I managed apartments, we gave every tenant a sheet of instructions on how to use the fireplace. Before we started doing that, we had an awful lot of people too embarrassed to ask. They flooded their apartments with smoke, burned holes in the carpet, got melted plastics into all the cracks of the bricks… and so on. Many people simply do not grow up with fireplace operation as part of their childhood education.

Install a cast iron buckstove.

Great for heating, uses less wood, [del]lowers risk of accidental fire[/del] charming in the Holiday season.

Burn Wise: Burn Wise | US EPA

As has been mentioned a few times. An open fireplace has appalling efficiency. It you can afford it install a proper controlled combustion fireplace. If you can’t afford it now, plan to later.

I have two fireplaces. One upstairs in the more open living are (about 1000 sq feet) is a 40MJ/h fully enclosed, ceramic glass fronted, fake gas log heater. It is great. You point at it and say “heat” and it delivers huge amounts of totally clean and highly efficient heat into the house. It looks good, and although not a real log fire, the flames are not bad at all. The other fire is downstairs in a less formal living area, where I also have my home office. This area connects to the upstairs by an open stairwell, and the heat from this fire can heat the upstairs area as well. It is a slow combustion wood heater with a huge ceramic glass window. It can produce almost insane amounts of energy. Fully stoked up and running flat out you can barely get near it. But it can eat trees at this rate. It can also be throttled back to a very pleasant slow burn. Efficiency is also very good. Close to that of the gas heater.

Modern gas heaters will have a balanced flue. That means that they will draw air from the outside, often running the incoming air around the outside of the flue, so that it is preheated. This means that no air from inside the house goes up the chimney. So no losses at all. An open fire drags 85% of the heat straight up the chimney.

The wood fire is not a lot of effort, but it does require some. As pointed out above, chimneys need maintenance, there is ash to clean out and dispose of (and keeping the ash level just right significantly aids the efficiency of the fire.) There is always some element of care needed when it is burning. Although it is fully enclosed, there are times when it can spit an ember out. I actually nearly had a bad accident when an ember was perfectly shot out of the air holes and directly onto a synthetic fur rug. Since it is a real wood fire, it has a glow and feel about it that the gas fire can’t match.

If you have gas laid to the fireplace you should probably consider a modern, balanced flue, fake log, gas heater. However it won’t be all that cheap. But you will need to check that there is enough capacity in the gas line to run the fire.

You should also do the sums on the cost of fuel. This varies dramaticaly depending upon where you live, so you will need to do it locally. For instance, where I live I can’t get piped gas, and have to buy propane. This is about three times the price of piped gas. :frowning: Buying good quality firewood is actually cheaper for me. I also have an number of large trees on my property that have died and I have been cutting up for firewood for the last few years. The chainsaw paid for itself in less than two years. This is why I keep the wood fire. In truth, if the economics were different - most importantly I could get piped gas here - I would replace it with another fully enclosed fake log gas fire. But currently running costs are free versus about $100 per week if I run the upstairs fire flat out. No contest. YMWV

There is something deeply appealing and comforting about a fire. They cam make the transition from a house into a home faster than just about anything else. You won’t look back if you do get it properly sorted out.

A fireplace kept my immediate family alive during the 2000-2001 ice storm that devestated much of the South. My mom’s house has a ginormous living room–originally designed to be a living room and a garage, but Dad said, “forget the garage”–with a normal fireplace. Eight of us slept there on couches and cots for three days, while the power was out and the ice just kept falling. We cooked on it, brewed coffee, and heated water for washing.

I’ll agree that they aren’t a practical source of heat for everyday living (at least, not the rinky-dink American fireplaces), but they serve well in emergencies (provided that you have wood on-hand.)
You may want to consider a grate on the very top of your chimney. Birds, especially the chimney swift, will nest inside, otherwise. There is some debate on the merits of having the birds live inside your chimney, though. Some feel that their abandoned nests are a fire hazard. Others feel that the cleaning action of the birds’ wings help to reduce the risk of fire. Personally, I find that the constant chirping of the birds–not to mention the god-awful croaking of their young–more than a little annoying.

Occassionally, the birds will get into the house, flying around and giving the cat and the dog a source of nourishing entertainment. Oh, and a snake got into the house once, too. There’s a little trapdoor in the bottom of the fireplace, which leads to a small metal door on the outside of the chimney… it’s for getting rid of ash, though it is too small to be of any real use. The snake slithered his way in through there.

Curiously enough, my mom had a half-grown kitten, once, who learned that trick. She’d put the cat out, and five minutes later, it’d be back inside. Took her forever to figure out that the cat was coming in through the trapdoor.
Often, when a pine dies while the sap is up, the wood takes on excellent fire-starting properties. It’s called “fatty pine” or “pitch wood” or “lighter pine”–get some. Use only a little at a time. Your tinder (I use old newspaper) will readily ignite this wood, which will ignite your kindling (small twigs and sticks), which will, in turn, set your logs on fire.
Be careful using Yellow Osage–it burns hot. A small stick will be sufficient.

Do not use Willow or Mimosa wood–yes, the purple flames are pretty, but the wood pops like a firecracker. It’s dangerous.

As has been mentioned, most softwoods are out, too–their smoke causes excessive creosote, plus, they don’t burn long. I think that the western states have forms of pine or fir that will burn just fine, though. The locals in your area should know.
Have that gas valve and key inspected. Also, don’t overtighten when closing. They’re normally made of brass, and many years of use can wear them down, causing incomplete closing of the valve. My mom’s was 40 years old when she had to have it disconnected. It was mortered directly into the fireplace, so repair would have cost more than it was worth, since we almost never used it.
Use a large round log (unsplit) for your backlog. Mix split wood with small round logs in front. This keeps the wood from “block stacking” (like stacking toy blocks on top of each other), which will suffocate your fire. Your heat source is the bed of glowing coals at the base of the fire, so you want flames coming up around and between the logs–you’re burning the bottoms and the edges of the wood. Round logs burn longer than split ones, at least initially.

There is some danger of the backlog rolling forward, possibly knocking over your screen and falling onto the floor. Make sure that the log is well-seated before building your fire. Check it periodically, as burning firewood tends to shift constantly.
A white Christmas is a wonderful thing, especially when you’re sitting in front of a crackling fire, sipping cocoa, and watching the happy faces of the young’uns. It is tempting to throw the wrapping paper into the fire–hey, it’s just paper, right? Don’t–you’ll catch the whole damn neighborhood on fire.