Home is where the hearth is

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By K. Pearson Brown / Published by K. Pearson Brown
Home is where the Hearth is Nothing is more comforting on a cold day than the warmth of a fireplace. A fire in the hearth lights a room with a beautiful amber glow and creates an atmosphere that is cozy, inviting, and romantic. If you have avoided using your fireplace because of concerns about safety or mess, or you are not sure how to get the most out of this built-in glamour feature of your home, Jason Cameron, DIY Network star and home expert for Pine Mountain, offers these tips and ideas for getting your fireplace started.

What are factors to think about when deciding between a traditional and a gas fireplace?

In order to have a traditional, wood burning fireplace you must have a working chimney for ventilation. A chimney sweep can easily inspect this for you at a reasonable cost with prices averaging between $125 and $250. Other factors to consider are cleanliness, safety and relative cost per use.

How can you inexpensively update an old fireplace?

Fireplaces have come a long way since the traditional red brick and concrete. To achieve a sleek look, replacing dated brick with a metal surround can help make your fireplace more contemporary. Marble is also a hot design trend right now, but as most trends, it comes with a price. Marble-look adhesive paper helps achieve the look for less. Simply cut the adhesive paper into squares and cover the existing fireplace tile to transform your space. 

Applying the paper can bring a new focal point to your room, while also deceiving guests that you’ve gone through a major upgrade. Updating the mantle is another easy option. You can dress up your mantle once per season to bring a unique feel to your home each season, like a wreath during the holidays or nautical decorations in the summertime. 

How do you start a fire easily, safely?

Before starting a fire, you need to make sure your fireplace is clean to use. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be swept and inspected at least once a year, usually taking place before your first fire of the season in your fireplace. This helps prevent the potential for a chimney fire.

Once your chimney is clean, starting a fire is easy. If you already have a stack of seasoned firewood to use, I recommend you pick up a Firestarter like the new Pine Mountain ExtremeStart Firestarter. Simply place the firestarter below your seasoned firewood, light it at the indicated arrows, and watch your fire come to life within minutes. Firestarters help get your fire started quickly without requiring you to sit there and add kindling or babysit it, and you leave this firestarter in its wrapper so it’s totally mess-free. 

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Are there tricks to making the fire last longer? 

It’s important to know what kind of wood you’re working with. Damp or green wood are not preferred as they both are more likely to cause the problem of creosote buildup and not light as easily. Your supply should be stacked with seasoned firewood that has been dried for at least six months. This can lead to cleaner, longer-lasting fires. 

It’s also important to keep the display simple. Start by placing larger pieces of wood across the bottom, then place additional pieces of wood in the opposite direction then smaller pieces in the opposite direction above this. Simplicity is key to keeping a fire roaring for hours. 

 What are ways homeowners are using their fireplace "wrong?" 

It can be easy to overlook – or push to the bottom of the list – the safety measures that are necessary to properly use your fireplace. Even if you hire a professional chimney sweep once a year, it’s important to also self-clean your fireplace and chimney. This extra step can help prevent dangerous chimney fires that can occur when there is excess creosote buildup in your chimney. 

Creosote is the chemical mass of carbon formed when wood is burned that needs to be periodically removed. To easily do this, you can add a creosote-busting firelog to an existing fire in a wood fireplace or wood stove after every 40 fires, or at the start of the fireplace season. The firelog stays in its wrapper when placed in the existing fire, allowing your hands and home to remain clean. When heated, the powder in the firelog changes to an active gas and attacks the creosote in the chimney. 

Once your chimney is clean, if you’re starting a fire in your fireplace with wood (instead of a firelog), choose firewood that will give you a longer, hotter burn. Hard woods like oak and maple will produce an intense, sustained fire allowing you to burn less wood. Minimize your use of soft woods like pine. Pine starts easily but burns quickly and does not give off as much heat as hardwoods. Also, pine contains sap which can cause increased creosote build-up in your chimney.