Dancing flames and crackling logs offer a romantic view of open fires. They can sometimes prove to be more economical than other fuel-burning systems, such as gas or electric heating. But in order to produce an efficient fire, the three core principles of a heat source, fuel and air must be present. Remove or severely reduce any of these vital elements, and a fire will fail to burn satisfactorily or is doomed to go out altogether.
Trees cut down for firewood logs naturally contain moisture. They need to be seasoned or air-dried for at least six months to a year to allow this moisture to evaporate. Attempting to burn unseasoned logs means vital heat is lost in the process of evaporating excess moisture in the wood. Only when the wood is sufficiently dry will it burn efficiently. The type of wood determines the rate at which it burns, with softwood logs burning more easily than the much denser hardwood types.
Oxygen and nitrogen are two of the main elements in the air around us. During the combustion process, the fire draws oxygen from the air to feed the flames, while the hotter smoke and exhaust gases rise and are expelled from the chimney in a continual loop. A chimney blocked with soot buildup, a closed damper inside the chimney or insufficient air supply will diminish your ability to maintain a fire.
After initial combustion, a fire requires a constant source of heat. Some of the burnt wood creates a layer of hot charcoal embers that help maintain heat. The residual ash that is also created needs to be raked away to prevent it from blanketing the glowing embers and reducing heat potential. While more fuel is required to continue combustion, oversized logs can overwhelm the supply of air and heat, resulting in the fire struggling or going out.
A newly lit home fire requires time to develop by building heat and energy through the correct mix of the three principal elements and a continuous supply of the correct fuel. Adding too much fuel too quickly or using damp, poor-quality material will overwhelm a fire's ability to continue combustion and are the main reasons for a fire going out or smoldering. Improper maintenance of fireplaces, flues and chimneys is another reason for poor fires. For safety reasons, your chimney should be inspected regularly by a professional chimney sweep.
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