The Ultimate Guide to a Stress-Free Wood Burning Season

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The weather is getting colder, the leaves are starting to fall, and the first glimmer of snowflakes are beginning to cascade towards the ground. It is wood burning season and you are excited to finally cozy up in front of the warmth of a fire and relax. The only thing that you need to do is schedule an appointment to have your fireplace swept and inspected, and you’re ready to go!

So you pick up your phone, call your favorite chimney sweep and ask for the first available slot, only to hear the dreaded words, “we can be there in three weeks.” Three weeks? Suddenly enjoying a fire doesn’t sound so relaxing after all… 

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there before! Fortunately, we have compiled the following guide full of tips and tricks to help you relax this season. We hope you enjoy!

Schedule a Sweep As Early As Possible

The wood burning season varies year to year, but as a safe starting point, it usually begins in August and tapers off towards the end of January. During this peak season, the wait for a sweep could take weeks and you could end up not enjoying your fireplace until well after Thanksgiving.

As a precaution, try to schedule a sweep as early as possible, or avoid the Fall rush altogether by beginning the habit of having your chimney swept at the very end of the wood burning season.

It sounds silly, but think of it this way: You wouldn’t wait to clean the dishes from last year’s Thanksgiving until the day before this year’s, right? So why wait to have your chimney swept until right before you want to use it?

Added bonus: Most chimney companies offer a free inspection when you hire them to perform a sweep. If they find an issue early enough, you can have the repairs done before you want to burn. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends having a chimney inspection annually to ensure the safety of your system.

TIP: If you like a good deal, most chimney sweep companies offer specials after wood burning season ends in order to keep the momentum going. Get into the habit of sweeping your chimney post-season and you could end up saving a decent amount of money!

Stock Up on “Seasoned” Wood
Seasoned wood ready for burning

Cords of wood going through the seasoning process.

What is seasoned wood? According to the CSIA, seasoned wood is “wood that has a moisture content between 20-25%.” The low moisture content of the wood is what makes seasoned wood the perfect fuel:

It burns:

  • Cleaner
  • Brighter
  • Much hotter than wood with a higher moisture content

All of this means you won’t have to get your chimney swept unexpectedly during peak season.

So where can you find seasoned wood?

Usually a quick Google search will turn up some local sellers. If not, ask a friend who burns where they get their wood from.

If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, prep anywhere between 6-12 months in advance by chopping your own wood and stacking it in to piles of 4’ high by 4’ wide by 8’ long. Each 4’ by 4’ by 8’ pile is also known as a “cord” of wood. Leave the wood out in the sun and wind, only covering the piles with tarps if it is raining. By the time wood burning season starts, you should have perfectly seasoned wood.

Added Bonus: By stacking to these measurements, you will be able to determine if it is time to have your chimney swept. The CSIA recommends having your chimney swept after you have gone through at least one cord of wood, or if you notice a 1/8 of an inch of creosote build-up.

Tip: Do not burn “green” wood. Green wood is wood that is freshly cut and has a high moisture content (>25%). Why is this a problem?

  • The more moisture that the wood contains, the dirtier it burns and the more smoke it creates
  • Higher moisture content means that you will receive less heat from the wood and you will have to put in more work in order to maintain the fire
  • Creosote deposits will build up much faster, potentially resulting in:
    • calling a chimney sweep mid-season
    • a chimney fire due to creosotes high flammability

For the same reasons, do not burn trash or wrapping paper in your fireplace and DO NOT let the fire go past the damper opening.

Learn How to Properly Build a Fire in Your Fireplace

This one sounds simple in theory, but trust me, once you learn how to build a fire the proper way, you’ll regret the time you spent trying to figure it out on your own. While there are a hundred different ways to build a fire, starting a safe and efficient fire takes practice and a little bit of knowledge. In the end, learning about how your fireplace works will save you countless service calls to your local chimney sweep and save you money.

Below I have compiled a list of videos that take you step-by-step through the fire building process.

  1. “How to Build a Fire in a Fireplace: Fireplace Safety Tips” –by expertvillage.
  2. “How to Build a Fire in a Fireplace: Tools & Materials for Building a Fire in a Fireplace” –by expertvillage.
  3. “How to Build a Fire in a Fireplace: How to Stack Wood in a Fireplace” –by expertvillage.
  4. “Build a Fire, How to Make a Fire Quick and Easy Pro Instruction” by HowToVideo
Additional Tips the Videos May Not Cover
Make Sure the Damper is Open Before the Fire is Started

This is always my first step before placing a single log into my fireplace and has become a bit of a habit. Trust me, the last thing that you want to do is start a fire and realize that you never opened the damper.

We’ve received many calls over the years from distressed customers who have had smoke pour back into their homes and cause hundreds of dollars’ worth of damage to their property. This brings me to my next piece of advice.

Have a Fire Extinguisher in an Easily Accessible Place

If you forgot to open the damper and find the room is filling up with smoke, the fire has gotten out of hand, or a piece of wood rolls out of the fireplace, having a fire extinguisher on hand will save you from potentially devastating damage and danger.

You can purchase a fire extinguisher from almost any store, such as Meijer or your local Walmart. I bought a two pack from Home Depot for $29.88 plus tax.

Prep Your Flue: Establish a Draft

Once you have opened the damper, take a piece of kindling or rolled up newspaper and light it. By holding the lit end of the paper or kindling near the damper opening, you are reversing the airflow: Instead of cold up coming down your chimney, the hot air will start to rise and warm up your flue tiles, preventing them from being damaged by thermal shock.

Build the Fire Towards the Rear of the Firebox, Not Towards the Front

Building the fire towards the rear of the firebox ensures that the smoke will travel upwards and through the damper instead of out of the front of the firebox. Building the fire too close to the front of the firebox could lead to smoke damage to the front of your fireplace and staining of the mantle.

And There You Have It!

A few simple steps to ensure that this wood burning season is as stress-free as possible. If you would like to learn more about your wood burning fireplace, please visit http://csia.org where you can find an incredibly detailed wealth of knowledge.

If you would like to schedule an inspection or sweep and live in our service area, please contact us. All of our Lead Technicians are CSIA certified chimney sweeps and are ready to help you with all of your chimney needs.

 

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