Never had a fireplace before, What should I know?

The title explains it. I just moved into my first “house.” It has a fireplace and a tub for two. The ultimate romance place for me and MrsSSGSchwartz, but I don’t want to burn the house down while lighting her fire, so anything I should know, check, do before I light the first fire or dampen her spark?

SSG Schwartz

Get your chimney cleaned before lighting a fire. Seriously. You could have a massive build-up of creosote, which could cause a rather nasty chimney fire.

Also, don’t use newspapers to light your fire; put half of firelog under your real logs. That’ll get your fire going nice, and you want have to worry about the burning papers floating up your chimney (leads to build-up).

Get good fireplace tools. If you get cheap ones, you’ll regret it.

Thanks, I will check into a chimney sweep first. (Chim Chim a ree) :slight_smile: I have firestarters left from the last tenant, and would not use newspapers. I have no tools, so I guess a trip to Home Depot will be made tomorrow.

SSG Schwartz

There’s some sort of baffle to keep the draft out when the chimney is not in use. i forget what they are called, but make sure they are open before starting the fire! Otherwise you will have a house fun of smoke, not so romantic…

Chimney damper.

That’s the flue damper. And yes, you definitely want to have that open before lighting a fire.

Your sweep should be able to give you a quick run-down of how to light and maintain a good fire. Different shapes of fireplaces have different characteristics that will affect how you should stoke a fire.

Duraflame logs are OK for once in a while, but they don’t burn very hot, so you might want to avoid them (they smell like pencil sharpener shaving anyway!) and stick with wood, which burns hotter. Hotter fires generally work out to mean less deposits in the chimney.

Unfortunately, fireplaces are still measured under pre-Revolutionary War standards, and those advertised “for two” rarely hold more than a normal sized adult and a small child. Adjust your guest lists accordingly.

Okay, I’ll add a question.

My fireplace’s flue is open when I want a fire, but what is that vent on the fireplace floor? There is a metal “door” on the floor, under the holder that holds the wood.

What is that for?

Well usually the lower vent is to allow air to get to the fire and the “door” on the floor may be the door to an ash box. In mine I lift up the “door” and scrape all the ashes into the box. You may want to look outside your house at the back of your chimney there may be an ashbox that you can empty. Mine is a wood burning stove and the ashbox is removed from underneath.

Also don’t be tempted to use your left over grill charcoal in the fireplace in the event of a winter power outage. Charcoal produces a lot of gases and the draft of a fireplace is not sufficent to pull them up the chimney and out of where you are breathing.

IIRC, the trap door on the floor of the fireplace leads to an underground world full of booby traps and pirate treasure.

Soft wood, new wood, and any sort of pine will build up soot and creosote much faster than old hard wood.

Consider this when comparing prices.

If you live anywhere near the Carolinas you can probably get “fatwood” which is better than newspapers for starting fires. It is just very easy to start kindling. Very easy. A match will ignite a piece, and three pieces will start a big fire.


I wish! When I went into the basement to clean out the pit below the fireplace, I mostly found aluminum foil (chewing gum wrappers? Jiffy-Pop™ foil tops?), charred clumps of newspapers, and bottle caps. (The previous owners were apparently not too clear on legitimate things to throw in the fire.)

If you don’t already have a chimney cap (spark trapper/ wildlife baffler/rain roof) get one. Your chimney sweep can sell you one, and good luck will rub off, etc. Critters, from birds to raccoons, want to nest in your chimney, and it won’t be a good chimney when they do.

It’s easy to forget to close the flue the day after a fire. Plow and Hearth even sells cutesy brass doodads to remind you the flue is closed. Heating $ go up the chimney when the flue is open.

If your house has air conditioning, sometimes smoky-smelling air will come in, even with a closed flue. I know of no cure.

If you have seen Mary Poppins, some fireplace activities will bring Dick Van Dyke to mind. I know of no cure.

Fire has an effect on people. They quiet down and watch the fire. They also want to tinker with the fire. Because of that, a fireproof hearth rug is a good idea.

A bellows is a good fireplace accessory.

Candle stubs help to start a fire, but some will disagree with that .

The Draft/flue can be your friend in hot weather. If your house is too hot, open your flue, it provides an escape for warm air(it rises up the chimney). Air conditioned air is cool and wont rise up the chimney signifigantly, unless a strong wind is creating a very strong positive draft/draw up the chimney.

In winter time, or when you are paying to heat your house, close that flue, for the same reason (Unless you are having a fire, ofcourse)…

Regards, and congrats on the new house.


I guess that depends on the fireplace, but in my house the top of the firebox is only 3+ feet off the floor. Wouldn’t all the warmer air already be higher in the room than could be drawn up the open flue?

Also Plow & Hearth (I think) sells a thing that is sort of analagous to a auto sunshade that fits up against your flue from the inside to reduce airflow through it while the fireplace is not in use.


Those are a good idea, but if at all possible, install it yourself. I had the chimney sweep do it and it cost $300.00 and even he looked guilty at charging me that. The cap itself is about $60.00 at Home Depot (I found out afterwards) and it’s held on by four screws. It’s about a five minute operation.

Get dry wood, seasoned for at least a year, otherwise you will fight trying to keep every fire going.

If this is an old-style (i.e. not a high-efficiency insert) you will not save any heating costs by burning wood. Sure, the room will be warmer, and that’s good, but overall your heating bill will be about the same.

When the chimney sweep guys are there, get them to install a bird screen on the cap, if you don’t already have one, or else you will get birds trying to nest in there in the spring. They will actually get trapped in the chimney; it happened to me twice. (I see upon edit this was mentioned above. But you need a screen for the cap. Not just the cap.)

Firelogs can be good when you want some ambiance without the struggle of building and maintaining a fire.

Get an ash can, or other metal container in which to shovel your ashes.


Also, if your house by any chance has a whole-house attic fan, make absolutely certain that the fireplace damper is closed before turning on the fan.

Don’t ask me how I know this…

Don’t ever, ever forget to open the flue.

Make sure you have a CO detector nearby (but not too nearby, in a hallway outside the room or somewhere like that. In your bedroom’s a good idea too)

I want my fireplace back.