By Linda Matchan Globe Staff February 05, 2016
Who doesn’t love a fire in a fireplace? Hardly anyone, apparently — these days you can even download a virtual crackling file on an app. But if mobile fire pits aren’t your thing and you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you may need a refresher course on how to safely build a fire. We turned to an expert, Erwin Liverman of E. Liverman Chimney Cleaning Co. in Newton. Liverman started working as a chimney sweep with his dad when he was 7, and now he’s 69. His advice:
1 The harder the better. Use hardwood such as oak or maple to build the fire. The wood should be aged at least a year and be completely dry. “When wood is crackling or hissing, it means there’s a fair amount of water content in the wood, and it casts out sparks,” said Liverman. Not only is that dangerous, but it causes greater build-up on the inside of the chimney.
2 Pay it backward. Keep the fire toward the very back of the fireplace, Liverman cautions. The further back the fire is, the less chance of getting smoke in the room. Raise up the wood slightly on a grate or a pair of andirons, or even bricks. “The purpose is to get the wood up off the floor so the air can get underneath, enter the fireplace, and pull smoke up the chimney.”
3 Keep circulating. Check to be sure the damper is fully open before lighting any paper or wood. What, you ask, is a damper? It’s the rectangular piece of cast iron inside the chimney that prevents cold air from coming into the house. Open it fully when you’re building a fire so the smoke doesn’t come back in the house, and close it only once the fire is completely out.
4 Light it up. Loosely crumple up some newspaper and place it under the fire grate or andirons. Place some twigs or kindling on top of the grate, against the back wall of the chimney. Twist a few pieces of newspaper into the shape of a torch, set it alight, hold it up inside the chimney at the damper height for 10 or 20 seconds to start warming the flue, then drop the paper onto the small pile of wood. After the wood has ignited, add the larger logs on top in a criss-cross shape, leaving a small space between the logs.
5 Be careful! Remember, you’re lighting a fire in your home. “Fireplaces give you emotional and visual heat more than strong, radiant heat,” said Liverman. “A big fire will not necessarily give you much more.” His recommendation? “Enjoy a two- to three-hour-long fire for two to four hours, and then let the fire die down. You’ve had your enjoyment for the evening.”