It is time — there’s nothing quite like a cozy fireplace-fire to enjoy with your friends, family, roommates, yes — all of those people and more!

But lighting a fire in the fireplace is not something you want to regret.

So, here we go:


A Chimney sweep is always a good way to ensure there aren’t any unforeseen blockages or fire-hazards prior to lighting any fires in the fireplace. Haven’t used the fireplace? Fair enough, but random animals and critters may have been using it without your permission. Ensuring there are not nests or critters hanging out above the damper is always a champion idea. If you haven’t used the fireplace to burn recently, or ever (for shame), Indiana’s humidity and polar winters can, and do, cause natural deterioration to mortar joints and flue systems. Get a once over of the chimney and gain a little peace of mind about the fireplace chimney’s readiness to bring the heat!


Ensure the damper is open — remember to do this prior to lighting a fire, but if you have already forgotten, you are not the only one who has — filling the room with smoke in the middle of a winter storm is epic, and not ideal. After opening the windows to let the smoke out, a fire will be necessary to warm the place back up — you can still be a hero! Open the damper this time.

A rogue spark isn’t terribly uncommon from a wood-burning fireplace, and where is it going to land? Exactly, on that newspaper that is sitting right next to the firebox — not ideal. Newspapers, books, furniture, and any drapes or curtains that are in spark-shot should be pulled back, moved aside or simply picked up. Unless it’s a hideous couch, leave it for the sparks — they’ll know what to do with it (we are absolutely not responsible for that sort of business).


It is generally going to be the case that the air in the flue will be cooler than the air in your home, and after opening the damper you may quickly realize that the chimney flue will need some help to get the draft going in the right direction — remember: hot air rises! Grab a newspaper, and light it, holding it just above the damper, let it burn for a few minutes. Dissipate the cool air in the flue and initiate the draft upwards — now things should be headed in the right direction!


The gentlemen over at the list this tip for fire-starting: “having a 1-2 inch ash bed in your fireplace hearth [firebox] will help insulate the fireplace and create hotter fires [hot fires can help reduce creosote build-up].” No ashes? “One quick fix is to take the ashes from your outdoor grill and place them in your fireplace to build the ash bed. While a small ash bed is good, too much ash is a bad thing”


Don’t make it harder than it sounds, try something new! The technique has actually been around for centuries. We’ll give the short of it, but if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the process head on over to the folks at the Chimney Safety Institute of America:

  • Place larger pieces of wood at the bottom – front to back, not across the firebox (this aids in air-flow and breathability of the fire)
  • Create almost a pyramid effect, the higher you go the smaller pieces of wood (do not stack the wood higher than half the height of the firebox — this isn’t a bonfire)
  • The top should consist of shavings of wood, kindling, maybe a crumpled up piece of newspaper or two

Why should you do this? Listen, no one is should-ing on you with this one, but here is the benefit of burning top-down: A decrease in excessive smoke, because the fire simply burning from the top, not gasping for air down at the bottom, surrounded by a bunch of larger pieces of wood, smoking all of the while. The smaller wood and kindling ignite and burn, continuously igniting the wood below it. No worrying about having your “log-cabin” style stack imploding on itself as the wood weakens, extinguishing your fire.


In a recent news report, a homeowner attempted to light a fireplace fire with a match and some gasoline (and no recent chimney sweeps or inspections were said to have been performed). The short of it, they created a large fire that super-heated quickly and ignited the highly flammable creosote up in their flue-system. They caused a chimney fire and we said, “We told you so.” No, we absolutely did not, but there is a good reason to use dry, organic, fire-starters, and to have the chimney swept and inspected prior to use. Do not utilize gasoline, charcoal lighter fluids or kerosene to ignite your fireplace fires. The dry organic starters, such as kindling, newspapers or alike are the way to get a healthy fire started in the fireplace. Fires that are not contained, are not friendly fires, and the fires that are super-heated and burning up in your un-swept flue system are not ideal for keeping you off of the front page of the newspaper.


The smoldering coals of a fire are all good and right for the back patio, no chimney flue system involved. However, for the fireplace fires, keep it hot. Burning wood naturally creates a byproduct commonly known as creosote. The cooler a fire burns the more likely you are to begin to experience the build up of the creosote – a highly flammable substance. Once reignited in the flue, it can be the cause of dangerous chimney fires.


We don’t feel this needs to be drug out, but bear in mind that when you use the fireplace, you are lighting a fire inside of your home. It should not be unattended or without supervision, ever.


Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are designed with your safety in mind. Ensure the batteries are good and all detectors are ready for the winter months. As you seal up the home, make sure the flue systems for the fireplace, furnace, and water-heater too, are in proper functioning order. Dangerous gases and smoke that are not properly vented can cause serious heath or safety hazards for your family.