Before you fire up either for the cold-weather season, read this.

By Lauren Wellbank
December 02, 2020
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modern fireplace with home decor wood mantel
Credit: Getty / Cavan Images

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces can instantly add a warm, cozy atmosphere to your home. This is especially true during the colder months of the year, when outdoor temperatures drop and you look to find supplemental ways to heat your home's interior. But if you have a wood stove or fireplace, there are a few things you should know before lighting your first fire of the season.

Use aged wood.

Brandon Martin, the owner of B Cool Heating and Air Conditioning in Shelbyville, Kentucky, urges homeowners to be sure that they're only using wood that has dried out and aged for a bit—never fresh cut wood "green" wood. "A good rule of thumb is to let your wood dry out for at least a year before burning," he says. "You can purchase a moisture meter if you aren't sure [how old it is]. You would want the moisture to be under 20 percent." Otherwise, you run the risk of filling your home with smoke by burning wood that is still too damp internally.

Avoid anything that produces too much smoke.

The best fire is a low-smoke one, according to Marla Mock, the Vice President of Operations for Aire Serv, a Neighborly company. "Essentially, it's important to reduce smoke that could produce creosote, a chemical residue that can build up in your flue or chimney and cause fires down the line," she says. "Choose newspaper as tinder rather than any kind of artificial logs to further reduce the smoke." Also, never use painted or treated wood, which can give off toxic fumes.

Keep your damper clean.

Whether you want to go the DIY route and use a wire brush and some good old-fashioned elbow grease or contact a wood stove specialist who can do it for you, you need to clean your damper (the device that allows smoke to leave your home when you have a fire, or keeps cold air from entering through the chimney when you don't) at least once a year according to Martin. If you don't, you run the risk of a blockage that could push smoke back into your home or even become a fire hazard down the line.

Build a good fire from the start.

For the safest results, Mock says you need to build your fire the right way from the start. To do this, you should open the controls or damper to allow air into your fireplace unit. Next, she suggests adding crumpled newspaper and kindling to the firebox. "Light the kindling and newspaper with a match or lighter," she says, adding that you should top it off with two to three small logs once the kindling is burning. As the fire catches, you should then close the fireplace or stove until you need to add more wood to the fire. "After the initial logs have burned down to coals, keep the fire burning by adding additional, larger logs," she says. "Once the fire is well established, reduce the air flowing into the firebox by closing the air valves one-third of the way."

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