Light My Fire
It’s almost the time of year when we get to use perhaps the least used piece of equipment in our homes. Some of us don’t have one, and some of us do. I’m talking about the Florida fireplace. With cooler weather coming for us, I thought I would give some tips about burning in the fireplace.
Be sure to have someone come by and clean your chimney before it’s time to use it. A chimney sweep will insure that your chimney is not only clean, but also in top burning shape. If they find anything out of order, they will tell you so you can have it repaired before you want to use it.
Types of Wood
While similar in appearance, not all wood burns equal. Typically our softwoods like pine and cedar burn very hot, but very quickly because of the volatile oils in their saps while our hardwoods like oak and maple burn longer. To get your fire going, start with fibers from inside palm boots or get some of what I call “lighter knot.” Lighter knot is older dried wood from the heart of pine trees and contains a high concentration of the volatile sap. The wood tends to be very tough and can be difficult to split, so sometimes using a hatchet is preferred. I’ve also heard lighter knot called “fat lighter” and “pine lighter.” It’s called lighter because it burns bright enough to be a light or torch you can use at night. After your fire has started, add your hardwood to get it burning and keep adding as needed.
A few words of caution — try not to add large pieces of cedar to your burning fire. Cedar is known to pop and crackle. It’s the gasses and oils building up and releasing. If you’re going to burn cedar, be sure to have a screen over your fire. Learn from others’ mistakes; you don’t want to have cedar pop and burn holes in your carpet.
Be sure to use dry seasoned wood when possible. It’s night and day when it comes to seasoned wood vs. wood that’s just been put up. Seasoned wood is usually stacked to allow for air to flow around the wood, making it as dry as possible. It also tends to have a yellowish tint to the wood instead of the white/cream color when it’s first cut. Make sure not to burn wet wood. Wood that has recently been cut, or wood that was dry but just had some rain on it, can be dangerous. The moisture in the wood will vaporize inside the wood making it essentially a steam bomb. Again, learn from others mistakes and don’t have exploding steam/wood bombs in your fireplace.
At the end of the season, try to burn a very hot fire if possible. Use large pieces of lighter knot if available. The high heat and updraft will do a good job cleaning your chimney of the soot you accumulated through the season. Then make sure to close any dampener or flue you may have. You may also look into getting a fireplace plug. An insert that seals the fireplace so that your A/C doesn’t just blow up and out the chimney. Last but not least, close up the top of your chimney to prevent birds from building a nest in there.
For more information please check out this site courtesy of Cornell University Extension: http://ccetompkins.org/energy/renewable-energy/biomass/heating-with-wood/best-burn-practices