Home is where the Hearth is…
Near the turn of the century fireplaces were a household necessity for keeping warm and cooking. Nowadays fireplaces are for aesthetics. There is a tradition and mystic that surrounds wood burning fireplaces that make them a cherished amenity for traditional homeowners.
If you have ever experienced a wood burning fireplace growing up you are familiar with the hallmark crackle of drywood catching flame. This familiar sound can bring back nostalgia of fond memories, and demarcate new ones. For me, the smell of a wood fire always reminds me of memories of camping and sitting around the campfire. Wood fires are especially a treat during winter holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas or important family gatherings like graduations and weddings.
The most popular location for a wood burning fireplace is in the living room. Owners love the feeling of romance a wood fire beckons like a line from a John Keats poem. Wood fireplaces create atmosphere. A big mantel above the hearth is a focal point in a traditional living room, and adds formality when entertaining.
When I am at a party, you will usually find me close to the fire. I personally enjoy watching the flames pirouette across the surface of a log like sinuous ballet dancers, and it is great for day dreaming!
In 2009 Southern California passed legislation banning building wood burning fireplaces in new construction. Don’t worry if you already have a wood burning fireplace, you are grandfathered in. The ban just prevents new wood burning fireplaces from being built. There were two reasons for the ban: to prevent air pollution and lower the risk of wildfires
Tips for Getting a Wood Fire Going
1) you need to buy some wood!
Where to buy wood? Your local grocery store usually sells small bundles for $10 each if you only have a fire every once in a while. Otherwise you will want to visit a firewood yard where you can load up! They sell wood by the 1/4, 1/2 and full chord and prices can range from $200-$400 and that is a lot of wood!
Make sure that you buy wood that is bigger pieces that will burn for a long time and smaller pieces called ‘kindling’ that will make it easy to get a fire started.
You want to buy dry wood. When a tree is freshly cut the wood has a high moisture content. Over time the wood dries which is called seasoning. It takes six months or a year for firewood to fully season and reach a moisture content of 20% or less which is ideal for burning. If you burn green wood or wet wood it will make a lot of smoke and make your chimney dirty.
2) Fireplace Tools
Buy a set if you don’t own one. This might sound stupid but you don’t want to touch the fire or burning wood or hot charcoals with your hands… A nice set of fireplace tools are a must have so that you can move logs around with the tongs or poker, and clean up the ash in the fireplace afterward with the broom and dust pan.
3) Fireplace Screen
Having an open hearth can be dangerous if someone stumbles or reaches in. Discourage people from getting too close to the fire with a screen.
4) Open the Flue
There is a damper in the chimney that can be closed or opened. The damper is designed to prevent the outside temperature to mix with the controlled indoor climate while the fireplace is not in use. Make sure that the fireplace is open before you try to start a fire or there is going to be a lot of smoke, you can pop your head in the firebox and look up to if you can see into the flue. There should be a draft.
5) Lighting the fire
Crumple up Newspapers and stuff them between the kindling. Place a few big logs at the base so that they will catch on fire after the kindling burns. Light a match and set the newspaper on fire in a few places. If the stack of wood you made has good airflow the fire should start fairly easily.
Taking care of your fireplace
One of the drawbacks of wood burning fireplaces versus gas fireplaces is that they are messy and require routine maintenance. Its a labor of love to enjoy the real thing.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends that wood burning fireplaces should be cleaned once each year. If you use your fireplace frequently I would stick with this guideline. If you use the fireplace rarely, then once every couple of years is sufficient.
Soot, also called Creosote, is tiny unburned solid particles and oils left over from the wood. These particles are flammable and stick to the walls of your chimney. Overtime if your fireplace is not cleaned this soot can build up and may become a fire hazard. Chimney fires are dangerous and totally preventable with occasional fireplace cleanings.
I recommend to hire a Chimney Sweep to clean your chimney
Getting out the Soot Stains
After using your fireplace frequently, you might start getting soot stains around the mantel. Usually this is because you are building fires that are too big, or burning fires without opening the flue, or burning green wood.
To clean the fireplace you can mix baking soda and cleaning vinegar in a bucket of hotwater for a natural cleaning agent and scrub, scrub, scrub.
Otherwise purchase stonecleaner from your local Home Depo or Lowes.