How to Use a Fireplace: Everything You Need to Know

How to Use a Fireplace: Everything You Need to Know

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If you’re considering installing a fireplace, learning how to use a fireplace properly is crucial if you want to heat your home optimally. From how to operate wood, gas, and electric fireplaces to maintenance, safety, and other fireplace tips, our guide includes everything you need to know about how to use a fireplace.

How to Use a Wood-Burning Fireplace

a standard wood burning fireplace with open front and burning firewood

Using a wood fireplace is a simple task if you follow a few guidelines. The first step in learning how to use a wood fireplace properly is selecting the best firewood.

Seasoned hardwoods, such as Ash and Oak, are most preferable. Avoid softwoods, greenwood, and otherwise wet or moist wood. Likewise, chipboard and treated wood are also not suitable for burning in a wood fireplace.

Step 1 to Using a Wood Fireplace: Start a fire.

There are many different methods for starting a fire in a wood fireplace. The easiest way is to place two or three larger logs on the fire grate and lay big kindling on top of them. On top of the big kindling, lay medium kindling, and then small kindling and paper or bark. Simply light the paper and your fire will take life all on its own.

Step 2 to Using a Wood Fireplace: Allow the fire to burn for a while.

embers-fire closeup of burning wood in fireplace

After half an hour or so start adding new logs as needed. Avoid letting the fire burn down too low as you’ll have to repeat the steps to starting a fire repeatedly (which is an absolutely unnecessary hassle).

Step 3 to Using a Wood Fireplace: Keep an eye on your fireplace.

Once the fire inside it is steadily burning, check in on the fireplace every now and then. If you notice too much smoke entering the room from the fireplace, you have an air pressure issue. To avoid a smoky house, crack a window or two to compensate for the air drawn up the chimney.

With a Damper or Flue

man building a fire in a wood burning stove with flue damper

Fireplaces that are equipped with a damper require the damper to be opened before any fire is started. Do not attempt to build or maintain a fire in a fireplace with a broken damper. Without the damper opening, the majority of harmful smoke and toxic fumes will fill your home.

If your fireplace is located on an exterior wall of your home, the cold walls may create a pocket of cold air in your chimney. When you try to start a fire, even with the damper open, this cold air will push against the new warm air trying to rise.

The result is smoke billowing out into your house as if the damper were still closed. In this case, light a rolled-up newspaper and hold it up into the chimney while it burns (like a torch) to replace the cold air with warm air before starting your fire.

With a Screen

wood burning fireplace screen

Wood fireplaces often include a screen. The main function of this screen is to prevent ash, debris, and sparks from flying out of the fireplace and into your home.

The screen also keeps children and pets from getting close enough to the fire to get burned. Screens are an excellent safety protocol for preventing home fires (the kind that burns homes down, not heats them).

How to Use a Gas Fireplace

gas fireplace in use with socked feet

A cleaner and more convenient source of fuel for residential heating is gas. It may not be as romantic or smell as nostalgic, but it will definitely keep you just as warm and with much less work.

Gas fireplaces work by convection and radiating heat. They emit zero smoke into your home. Likewise, all byproducts such as waste gases are directed outside of the home via a pipe through the wall.

Vent-free gas fireplaces are amongst the newest types of gas fireplaces on the market today. In these models, the byproducts of the fireplace (water vapor and carbon dioxide) are released into the home along with the heat. They are a subject of debate as they may deplete oxygen levels in the home as well as build up moisture levels.

Step 1 to Using a Gas Fireplace: Turn it on.

Gas fireplaces are generally equipped with an easy to use ignition button. When you push the button, a spark is emitted and the gas ignited.

Step 2 to Using a Gas Fireplace: Adjust the temperature.

Depending on the make and model of the gas fireplace, a thermostat (typically a dial) is located somewhere near the ignition button. Simply turn this dial to your preferred level of heating.

Step 3 to Using a Gas Fireplace: Stay alert.

Even though gas fireplaces are among the easiest to operate, and require very little cleaning or maintenance, it is still necessary to stay alert while heating your home. If you smell gas, turn the fireplace off immediately and call a specialist to check it (and repair it).

With Glass Doors

girl sitting in chair in front of gas fireplace with glass doors

Gas fireplaces often come with glass doors for your viewing pleasure. These doors mostly have no operational value, rather they are decorative. Gas fireplaces with glass doors are slightly more expensive. They also provide an extra layer of protection against accidental burns.

How to Use an Electric Fireplace

gas fireplace beauty shot wikimedia commons
Credit: Jana C

In addition to gas, electric fireplaces are another popular alternative to wood fireplaces. When it comes to heating your home, an electric fireplace, on average, produces heat for more than 400 square feet.

Electric fireplaces may not heat as much of your home, as quickly, as traditional wood fireplaces, but they are far easier to use, just as efficient in the long run, and also have much more to offer in the way of safety than wood or gas fireplaces. Here are a few easy steps detailing how to use an electric fireplace.

Step 1 to Using an Electric Fireplace: Select the ideal location.

The best place for an electric fireplace is against an exterior wall, away from windows.

Step 2 to Using an Electric Fireplace: Plug the fireplace in.

Any normal household electrical outlet works with most electric heaters.

Step 3 to Using an Electric Fireplace: Turn it on.

Push the start/power on button. Some electric fireplaces may be equipped with a switch or dial rather than a button.

Fireplace Tools and Accessories

If you’re using a wood fireplace, there are several necessary basic tools and accessories. These are our favorite options.

Ash Can. This bucket, usually made of metal, is for collecting ashes from the fireplace/firebox.

    Minuteman International Fireplace Ash Can

Buy at Amazon
    Black powder coated with solid brass handles Double bottom for insulation from hot ashes May also be used as a coal hod or pellet bucket

Andiron. Alternatives to traditional log brackets, andirons hold logs in position.

    INNO STAGE Wrought Iron Fireplace Log Grate

Buy at Amazon
    Durable Fireplace log holder grate is made from solid 7 steel bars with 1/2-inch standard steel. V-shape rack holds fire starter and kindling close to logs for easy lighting. Wide bars make it easier to hold wood, securely.

Broom & shovel. This broom is a miniature version of your regular household broom or dustpan brush. Its primary function is sweeping up ashes from the fireplace.

    Aboniris Coal Shovel and Hearth Brush Set

Buy at Amazon
    Cleaning up the ashes from logs or coals could not be easier than with this brush and shovel set. The broad bristles help sweep up ash and coal dust efficiently and the broad, flat head of the shovel makes for easy removal of fireplace embers.

Grate. Lifts firewood and logs up from the bottom of the fireplace, allowing better air circulation.

    Model M-5 High Efficiency Smoke-Free Fireplace Grate

Buy at Amazon
    Eliminates fireplace smoke problems and increases fireplace heat output. Outlasts typical flat grates several times over!

Fender/Gate. Fenders, sometimes called gates, prevent firewood and coals from blowing out of the fireplace.

    RH Peterson Co. Real Fyre Cast Iron Fender

Buy at Amazon
    Cast iron fender to accommodate gas log set Premium construction for long-lasting durability

Screen. Also known as a fire screen, screens are another preventative accessory that keeps soot and sparks in the fireplace rather than out.

    Pleasant Hearth Classic Fireplace Screen

Buy at Amazon
    The traditional design of the Pleasant Hearth Classic Fireplace screen has a black powder coated finish that adds both beauty and durability. The simplicity of this screen will bring out the accents in your fireplace, drawing your attention directly to the fire and upward toward your mantel. Easily adjust the screen with convenient handles on side panels.

Poker. Fire pokers are used for “poking” and positioning hot firewood and burning logs.

    Rocky Mountain Goods Long Fireplace Poker

Buy at Amazon
    The Rocky Mountain Goods Fireplace Poker is the perfect fire poker for the fireplace our outside for the fire pit. The decorative look is more than show as this heavy duty steel allows you to comfortably move logs or pick up fire grates with ease. A rust resistant black finish gives this a premium look but also allows the fir poker to be used outside. Rocky Mountain Goods Fireplace Poker comes with a lifetime warranty.

Tongs. These metal tools resemble cooking tongs and are for lifting and moving hot coals and firewood.

    Epica Fireplace Tongs

Buy at Amazon
    The smooth open and close action and strong grabbing force makes it easy to get a strong grip on pieces of wood, even if it’s heavy or an unusual shape. The design of the tip also grips small logs perfectly.

Fireplace Safety and Maintenance

Thousands of house fires break out each year due to poor fireplace safety and maintenance. Following basic fireplace safety and maintenance protocol helps protect your home from catching fire accidentally.

Here some of the most significant fireplace safety and maintenance tips to follow:

  • Have a chimney cleaning done each year. If you skip cleaning, at least have it inspected by a professional.
  • Place smoke detectors in each room on each floor of your house.
  • Test and replace both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors regularly.
  • Avoid placing furniture or other objects within three feet of your fireplace.
  • Keep a working fire extinguisher somewhere near the fireplace at all times.
  • Install a gate or screen on your fireplace to reduce the likelihood of a fire breaking out in your home.

Tips For Using a Fireplace

Here are a few extra fireplace tips to consider:

Don’t remove all of your ashes. Keeping an inch or two of ashes in your firebox provides better heat reflection and creates a warm bed for coals to radiate quicker and hotter.

Considering installing and using andirons. Unlike a fire grate, an Andiron drops burned firewood directly onto the firebox, allowing the fire to burn more efficiently in general.

Before bed each night, check on your fireplace. If it has gates or doors, make sure they are closed before you go to sleep.

Keep an eye on your fire and damper or flue. When your fire is dying down, slowly close the damper bit by bit to avoid a draft and cold air coming down the chimney.

how to use a fireplace cat tax

A Final Word About Using a Fireplace

Learning how to use a fireplace may be more intimidating than it is hard. Hopefully our article helps you get the hang of it! Do you know about a fireplace safety tip that wasn’t mentioned in our article? If so, let us know about it in the comments section below. Good luck learning how to use your fireplace!

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