Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Know Your Fireplace!

We used our fireplace for the first time last night.  I've never lived in a place with a usable fireplace except the house where I grew up.  Our new house has a fireplace, which we were both looking forward to using.

Our fireplace is exactly that, a place for fire.  We do not have natural gas service or propane at the house, so there are no gas logs or a gas starter.  I did find out that we have an ash dump.  It goes to the basement where there's a covered up door that we could, in theory, open and remove ash.  I'm not sure I want to do that and get ash all over the finished basement.  I will stick with the shovel and bucket.

Be sure to know the parts of your fireplace.  The mantle is the shelf above the fireplace.  Do not build a fire on the mantle.  This is where you put your Aim n' Flame or matches (but probably shouldn't).  The hearth is the brick that extends out in to the room from the fireplace.  It has a stupid name.  The firebox is the unnecessary name given to the area where you actually build the fire.  The damper is the name of the door that opens up in to the flue that no one can remember the name of.  It's how you "open the chimney."  The flue is how smoke gets out.  Honestly I don't know why we have both the words chimney and flue, but whatever.  Smoke shelf and smoke chamber are unnecessary terms that you can ignore...that's all part of the flue.  Anything that's inside the chimney that's above the damper is the flue.

Now, before building a fire make sure you have a fireplace grate.  They're great.  Get a good quality one, not some piece of junk at Home Depot for $9.  Google around for various techniques on stacking wood and starting it.  But don't start it yet.  You should prime your chimney first.

What, now?  The air in the chimney is cold, unless you are in Florida, in which case why do you have a fireplace anyway?  Cold air will prevent smoke from getting out so it'll enter the room where the fireplace is.  And no one wants that.  So grab some paper (junk mail, whatever) and make a large comically sized ice cream cone looking thing with the paper.  Smash the end tightly together so you can hold it with the paper above your hand haphazardly fanning out.  Open the damper all the way.  Light the paper while holding it and then hold it up in the firebox near the damper.  You can watch the smoke fall and then as the air warms up, it'll start to go up in to the chimney.  Let the paper burn until you can't hold it anymore and you're done.

Now light your fire.  I cheated and used a small firestarter log, but you could get creative with stacking the wood so it lights up differently.  Whatever works for you.  Make sure you have a screen in front of the firebox to keep hot embers from jumping out of the fire as well as to keep little ones from trying to touch the fire.

After you've had your fun, close the damper.  Wait for the ashes to cool down, then remove them with the small fireplace shovel.  Place them in a galvanized bucket.  Do not use plastic.  Even with cool ashes.  Don't be stupid.

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