How to Build the Perfect Fireplace Fire

The leaves are beginning to turn and the days are getting shorter -- before you know it, it’ll be time to build that first fire of the season. If you’re a homeowner with a fireplace in your home, this may be one of the autumn rituals you look forward to most.

Anybody can throw a few logs in the fireplace, toss in a match and get some flames going. But to build long-lasting, low maintenance, heat-producing and safe fires, you’ll need to follow some best practices.

Clean the Chimney

Whether you use your fireplace often or not, you should have your chimney professionally cleaned before your first fire of the season. Chimneys can fill up with birds’ nests and windblown debris from the top, as well as creosote from the bottom. Creosote is the tar-like buildup that accumulates on the inner walls of your chimney as wood burns, and if it’s allowed to build up, it can cause dangerous fires.

Gather Your Supplies

You should have everything at arm’s reach before building your fire:

  • Seasoned hardwood logs in a variety of sizes
  • Small branches and twigs for kindling
  • Uncoated newspaper
  • Fireplace grate
  • Fireplace screen
  • Fireplace toolset including a poker, tongs, shovel, and brush
  • Long fireplace matches

Open the Damper

You don’t want to forget this step -- if you fail to open the damper before lighting your fire, you’ll fill your home with smoke. The damper lever can get sticky after months of being out of use, but your start-of-season chimney cleaning should include a full damper inspection and safety check.

Stack Your Logs

There are a few popular methods of building a fireplace fire, but the simplest is the “upside-down” method. To build this stack, start by lining up your largest logs across the fireplace grate. Add one or more layers of smaller logs, making sure each layer is perpendicular to the layer below and composed of progressively smaller logs. For the top layer, pile on kindling, followed by a few crumpled wads of newspaper.

Light Your Fire

With your stack built, use a long match to light the newspaper and kindling on top, then put the fireplace screen in place. The beauty of the “upside-down” design is that the kindling and smaller logs catch first, allowing embers and ash to fall onto the larger logs below. The pyramid-style construction also acts as a chimney in itself, allowing for good oxygen flow and generating lots of heat. It also requires very little poking and adjusting, so you can spend more time relaxing and enjoying the warmth.

Extinguish for Safety

If you’re in for the night, you may enjoy your fire until it completely burns out on its own. If so, place your hand over the ashes to make sure it’s cool before leaving or going to bed for the night. If you can’t wait that long, use fireplace tools to spread out the wood and carefully scatter the embers. Gently stir up ash to cover any glowing logs and embers. If you’d like to speed up the process even more, sprinkle a light layer of baking soda over the fire.

A roaring fire is nice on a cold autumn night, but it’s no substitute for the control and convenience of a well-maintained home heating system. If you need help keeping your home warm this season, contact your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning for routine or emergency service.