Light my fire

Q. When we were growing up, our dad burned a lot of fires during the winter to keep us warm. He took care of everything, and other than watching the fire we didn’t pay too much attention to it. After I left home, I lived in apartments and condos with no fireplace, but recently we bought our first home and it has a fireplace. I have heard different things on using and cleaning the fireplace. What should I do and not do?

A. Congratulations, a fireplace is a favourite amenity that most buyers consider a plus when searching for a home. There is no other type of heat source that offers the same cozy ambiance. I’m guessing your dad had tremendous pleasure building and maintaining his fires. 

A fireplace is a cheerful place to gather around with family and friends, or to pull out a favourite book and get comfortable in a chair. 

I’m a huge fan of wood burning appliances, especially today’s fireplace inserts that are incredibly efficient and produce enough heat to warm the entire home. Some top-of-the-line wood burning appliances produce such a small amount of emissions, they qualify as smokeless heat sources. And wood is a sustainable energy source, unlike fossil fuels, so fireplaces are considered zero carbon footprint.

Before the nitty gritty

To get started with your fireplace, you need to consider your home insurance underwriter first, as they will likely want a report regarding the condition of the fireplace (a W.E.T.T. report). Prior to having your fireplace and chimney W.E.T.T. inspected, the system will need to be cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. Once your W.E.T.T. technician gives you the green light, and your home insurance is a go, you’re well on your way to radiant heat heaven.

Before you light your first fire, make sure the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home are in good working order. They are your first line of defence to detect excessive smoke build up or the presence of carbon monoxide. 

The nitty gritty

Make sure the damper is in the wide open position. A fireplace flue damper enables you to control how much air flows up your home's chimney when the fireplace is in use. It should be closed after the fireplace is not in use, to prevent heat from escaping from the home and to stop cold air from coming in. An open damper is like an open window, allowing large amounts of heat from the home to escape.

To light the fire, you can watch a YouTube how-to video. Basically you need an ignition source (a barbecue lighter works best), some scrunched-up and twisted newspaper, and kindling. The newspaper goes down first, with kindling on top. Take your lighter and first ignite the paper at the rear of the fireplace. In short order, you will have established an updraft, at which point you can gradually add pieces of dried seasoned fire to build your fire.

After the nitty gritty

Putting out a fireplace fire is like stopping a fully laden ocean freighter, it takes time. It is best to plan ahead, and let it burn out on its own.

Remember, never leave your fire unattended. Should you leave and something drastic happens, you may come back to find the Fire Department and a lot of irate neighbours.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more comfortable place to live, and increase its value.

Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency, this column is here to guide you with useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through www.subject2homeinspections.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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