Fall is officially here and that means we’re soon returning to fireplace weather in Ottawa. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you know it’s a bit more complicated than flipping a switch on a gas or electric fireplace.
But for many, wood-burning is the only way to go – so those extra few steps are well worth the effort. A bright, crackling fire is one of life’s most comforting experiences so why not do it up right. Here are 5 helpful tips to building the perfect wood-burning fire.
Use good wood | It may sound like we’re stating the obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people think almost any type of wood is good wood for fire-making. In actuality, the best wood for burning is seasoned wood that has dried between spring and fall – ideally in an outdoor area that gets plenty of sun and wind. And for hardwoods like oak and maple, you may require even more time for the drying process.Size matters too. Shorter pieces are easier to maneuver and make maintenance easier as well. Logs can be split to a variety of sizes, but most commercial firewood is not split small enough for the purposes of uncomplicated fire management – so you may have to whip out the axe to pare it down to a manageable size.
Understand the role of kindling | Contrary to popular belief, the main purpose of kindling isn’t to assist in igniting the fire – but instead to swiftly heat up the firebox and chimney to help create the perfect environment for a stable fire – without having to open and close the loading door, or constantly poke and stoke.Soft woods like cedar, pine, poplar and spruce are best type of kindling because they are easier to finely split up and they light more readily. In order to avoid collapse of your kindling fire (which can ultimately smother the fire), there are 2 structures that work well: (1) placing two split logs parallel to one another with space to stuff newspaper and fine kindling, and then placing larger kindling crosswise on top, or (2) a tip-down fire that involves a layer of standard firewood, followed by a few pieces of heavy kindling, and last but not least – some fine kindling.Both of these approaches should provide stable, long-lasting fires that require little tending to.
Stay on top of ashes | Ashes are the residue produced by wood-burning fires and it’s imperative to remain on top of them, ensuring they don’t accumulate. Ashes often contain hard-to-see live embers that not only produce heat but also carbon monoxide. With this, it’s vital to regularly remove ash – ideally before each new fire is kindled.Before you dispose of ashes, you may want to consider their secondary uses, including fertilizer for lawn and garden, acid neutralizer for compost, or even traction for icy driveways.
Make efficiency a priority | In the past, wood-burning fireplaces were often considered energy zappers, converting as little as 15% of the wood’s energy into useful heat, but luckily advances have been made on this front. Originally designed to reduce air pollution, EPA-certified stoves, inserts and fireplaces have proven to be 1/3 more efficient than conventional wood-burning fireplaces.This is made possible because the EPA heaters burn smoke before it has a chance to exit the firebox. Less smoke in the flue means reduced maintenance costs, as well as less hazardous conditions in the chimney that can lead to chimney fire.Aim for a burn cycle of 8 hours or less – this is considered peak efficiency. You can achieve this by avoiding adding logs intermittently. Believe it or not, when you keep temperatures too low because you’re worried about safety, it actually leads to poor efficiency.Also, it’s important to know that efforts to reduce heat loss to the chimney are counter-productive and will lead to wasteful and dangerous smoldering. Approximately 1/5 of the heat produced from the burning wood should make its way to the chimney, in order to produce a strong and steady draft.
Don’t underestimate the importance of safety inspections | Safety inspections of wood-burning fireplaces are often required by insurance companies, but even if it’s not required, it is highly recommended. Better safe than sorry, right? In Canada, WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) is the not-for-profit training organization that oversees certification inspectors for wood-burning appliances. If you visit the WETT website, you can search for a certified technician in your area. They will come to your home and examine fireboxes, smoke chambers, dampers, chimneys, hearths and vent pipes, among other things. Each inspection varies depending whether it’s a fireplace, wood stove or pellet stove. If they uncover something that concerns them, they will conduct an even deeper inspection to ensure you and your loved ones will be safe when enjoying the warmth and beauty of your next fire.
Time to get cozy!
So as the leaves and temperature continue to fall, we hope these tips will help you build the coziest, most efficient wood-burning fire you’ve ever experienced. And if you’re in the market for the best in efficient fireplaces don’t hesitate to visit Hubert’s and we’ll happily show you all of your EPA-certified options!