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Starting A Cold Fireplace

After a long summer of disuse, many homeowners are unsure of how to start the first fireplace of the season in their fireplace. Learning how to start a cold fireplace can allow you to better enjoy your first fire – as well as the rest of the burning season. The following tips will help you better start your cold fireplace this fall.


1. Have the chimney swept

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that chimneys should be swept at least once per year. Having a chimney swept removes creosote, a flammable buildup created by burning wood that can lead to chimney fires; likewise, it also ensures that there is no debris or other flammable material in the chimney. By having the chimney swept before you begin to use your fireplace for the season you can ensure it is clean and safe to use all winter long.

2. Check your smoke detectors

Having a fireplace means it is necessary to have certain safety equipment – namely, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These need to be placed on every level of the home as well as outside of sleeping areas. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors should be tested every month to prevent the batteries in them from dying. Likewise, detectors should be replaced at least once every 10 years to ensure they meet current safety standards.

3. Fully open the damper

Opening the damper before you start a fire allows the chimney to begin drawing air in. This drafting process is what prevents ash, soot, and smoke from blowing back into the room when the fire is lit. Dampers should be fully opened during the entire burning process, from lighting kindling to waiting for the ashes to extinguish.

4. Warm the flue

A traditional throat damper seals off the firebox from flue, but leaves the rest of the chimney open to outside air. Because of this, the temperature in the chimney may be significantly colder than the temperature inside your home. Too much cold air in the flue can sink when a fire is lit; this can cause smoke, ash, and soot to blow back into your home. However, this can be prevented by warming the flue. To warm the flue, simply hold a bundle of lit kindling or newspaper under the open damper for several minutes before lighting the fire; this small amount of heat can help warm the air temperature in the flue and prevent a major blowback of cold air.

5. Choose the right firewood

The kind of firewood you use can have a major impact on how well your fireplace functions. Homeowners should do their best to only burn seasoned hardwoods in indoor fireplaces; well-seasoned wood has a significantly lower moisture content then fresh cut or green wood. This lower moisture content allows it to ignite quickly and burn more efficiently with minimal creosote creation. Likewise, hardwoods like oak or maple are preferred because they burn hotter and create less smoke than softwoods such as fir or pine.

Draft Issues With Chimney Caps

Although not unheard of, it is rare to find a modern home with an uncapped chimney. In addition to protecting your fireplace system from moisture, animals, and debris, chimney caps can also help improve fireplace drafting.

The presence of a chimney cap does not eliminate draft issues, however. There are a number of draft issues that can occur even with a chimney cap. Below are some of the most common chimney cap draft issues.


Draft-increasing chimney cap

While all chimney caps are designed to improve drafting, homes in areas with extreme winds may still experience downdrafts even if they have a chimney cap. If you notice downdrafts or smoke blowing back into your home on especially windy days, you may have this problem. When this happens, a special draft-increasing chimney cap may be needed.

Draft increasing chimney caps work by creating stronger updrafts. Designed to force wind around the top rather than down it, these chimney caps increase the air velocity and decrease static pressure around the chimney structure. Doing this forces the smoke upwards and out of the chimney while preventing the wind from drafting back down no matter what direction the wind is blowing.

Clogged chimney cap

Chimney caps are designed with mesh sides that help keep animals and debris out of the chimney structure. However, these same wire sides can become clogged on both the outside and the inside. Clogged chimney caps can create serious draft problems – as well as fire hazards – if the buildup of debris is not removed.

Inside the chimney, chimney caps commonly become clogged by excessive creosote buildup. This is often seen in homes that have not had their chimneys swept or inspected in several years. Creosote buildup is especially dangerous as it is a flammable substance; when accidentally ignited by a spark or ember, creosote is the leading cause of chimney fire.

In addition to creosote, chimney caps can also be clogged by debris such as leaves, twigs, roofing materials, and even stray Frisbees. Likewise, animals attempting to access the chimney or nesting under the chimney cap can cause blockages. When any portion of the chimney cap mesh is covered, the chimney may not be able to draft properly.

Improperly installed chimney cap

Another common cause of draft issues with chimney caps comes from improper installation. If a chimney cap was not properly installed, it can shift or become easily damaged over time. This can affect airflow and drafting. Likewise, a chimney cap that does not fit properly or is not sized correctly can also cause draft issues. If the chimney cap is too big or too small, the fireplace will not be able to draw in the right amount of air to force smoke and other byproducts of combustion up and out of the chimney. Likewise, improperly installed or fitted chimney caps can cause structural damage to the rest of the chimney structure.

Even if your fireplace system has a chimney cap, you may still experiencing drafting issues. If your fireplace is not drafting correctly, contact Pristine Sweeps today!