How Does a Wood Burning Fireplace Work?


Fuel for the Fire Place

  • It is important to select the proper wood for a fireplace. You will want to avoid pine woods since they create creosote upon burning. Creosote will collect in chimneys and pose a potential fire threat. It can catch fire with the sparks that come from burning wood, and that can lead to a rood fire if not contained quickly. So, choose hardwoods such as oak, red oak or white oak. These hardwoods--when properly cured or aged--will provide a hot and long burning fire suitable for home heating. Avoid green or freshly cut wood since this will be difficult to light and maintain.

Fire Place Basics

  • Wood burning fireplaces contain the wood fire. They direct the smoke up and out through a chimney or duct work. A wood burning fire will require a source of constant air to maintain the desired fire level. This process is referred to as combustion. It helps to think of fire as living and needing oxygen to breathe. Without sufficient oxygen, the fire will die. As the air in and around the fireplace is warmed, it will rise and move through the chimney or duct work to the outside of the home. This can prove to be problematic as the warm air inside a home will also escape. A flue is the pipe inside the chimney where the heat and smoke travel up to the outside world. A little ways up the flue is a closing mechanism called a damper that is used to close off the chimney when it is not is use. This should be open when a fire is started to keep smoke from backing up and going into the house. It is operated with a lever that is up and just inside the flue. Once started, a wood fire will require a degree of attention. Additional wood will need to be added periodically--along with removing partially burnt or charred pieces--to make room for fresh wood.

Solutions to Fireplace Problems

  • A wood fire is capable of generating a large amount of warm air through the wood burning process. This warm air is beneficial for a cool room or house. However, preventing warmed air from leaving the home can seem challenging. Installing folding glass doors across the front of your fireplace will greatly improve the situation and reduce warm air loss. Typically, glass doors will feature adjustable vents across the bottom of the unit. This will help reduce the amount of air drawn into the fireplace and up the chimney. Glass doors also allow the heat from the wood fire to radiate into the room.

    Another problem with wood burning fireplaces is the build-up on the inside of the flue. Pine is one of the biggest culprits for the black mess that is created, but other woods contribute as well. This needs to be cleaned off from time to time to maintain a good working chimney. Leaving it coating the inside of the fireplace could lead to fires up inside the flue. To avoid this, you should hire a chimney sweeper to come and clean the fireplace. Most would recommend every year, but every couple of years is fine if you aren't using the fireplace as your main source of heat for your home.

    If you have trouble with birds in your fireplace building nests, the best course of action is to buy a chimney cap. This is a roof for your chimney. It does not cover the chimney, but it acts more like an open air tent that sits on top to keep birds from flying down into the fire place. It also keeps rain out and avoids the issue of rust forming on the damper.

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