Although our days have been remarkably sunny and mild this October, the evenings are getting chilly and the requirements for heat increases. But before you strike a match to the kindling in your fireplace or stove, you’ll need to do a few things to ensure the fire performs well all winter and perhaps more importantly, that it is safe.
Sweep the Chimney
A clean chimney will ensure the fire burns more steadily, thereby giving an improved performance but it’s an essential annual requirement as a build up of soot (or perhaps a build up of twigs deposited by birds) can go on fire.
Check the Chimney Cap
Ask the chimney sweep to check the cap too, it will prevent any birds or small animals getting into the chimney or depositing any debris. It also prevents rain getting in and damaging mortar joints or creating mould. You don’t want smoke blowing back into the living room if the wind is blowing in a particular direction so a chimney cap should prevent this happening too.
Ask your chimney sweep to check for missing mortar or any cracks in the chimney too. You should also check your fireplace thoroughly and use proper fire cement for making any repairs. Occasionally, a little bit of cement along a seal or an edge can fall away and will need replacing.
Do you have a complete set of fire tools? A companion set usually includes a shovel, tongs, poker and brush. Apart from helping to keep the hearth swept and convenient for positioning logs or coal, you never know when you may them quickly if something falls out on the hearth and needs to be lifted back into the fire quickly. Cleaning out the ashes regularly and thoroughly means that the fire burns more efficiently too.
Don’t forget the fireguard too and get into the habit of positioning it in front of the fire whenever you leave the room, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. If there are young children in the house, have a baby fire guard in place at all times. It should be fixed in place so it can’t be pulled away. It shouldn’t be possible to climb it or move it. Ideally, it should be positioned around the outside of the hearth so toddlers are also protected from the sharp edges should they happen to fall.
They say that wood can warm you twice: once when cutting / chopping it and once when burning it. Seasoned hardwoods such as oak, birch or ash burn best especially if on a bed of hot coals. Bliss.
Stove or Fireplace
If you haven’t got a stove or fireplace installed yet, and you’re wondering which would be best, our post on Wood Stove or Open Fire will help you decide. Both have advantages and disadvantages over the other. I think the main advantages of stoves are they distribute the heat fairly evenly over the whole room and provide a more efficient source of heat. Open fires provide more of a ‘pull your chair up to the fire” comforting feeling though. The main disadvantages of fires are a considerable percentage of the heat goes up the chimney and they do create more dust.
You need to have a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide alarm. Do check that the batteries are working, or even better, replace the batteries at this time of year each year. Carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless and tasteless and can kill within minutes as people in the room can drift off to sleep and never wake up again. Therefore, an alarm is essential.
Just in case, do have a fire extinguisher and fire blanket in your home. Make sure everyone knows where they are and get the extinguisher serviced annually.
Lighting the Fire
And last but not least, using small twigs as kindling to light the fire will make it easier to get it started. I usually scrunch a few newspaper pages up very tightly and add a few “cipin” to start it off, shaping them like a wigwam over the scrunched papers. Once they catch hold and are burning, you can add a couple of larger sticks in a wigwam effect. Always remember to keep matches out of reach of young children.
Wishing you many happy evenings of toasting your toes and curling up in front of the fire or stove.