Starting That First Fire Of The Season? Is Smoke In Your Face?

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Are the trees around your home starting to change to those vibrant Fall colors? Is there a chill in the air? Is there anything better than spending the evening by the fire, enjoying the warmth it provides our bodies and the calm and relaxation it provides our minds? And for a touch of romance, what beats a glass of wine and a view of the fire? The Fall season is rapidly descending upon us, and it will only be a matter of days before it’s time to light the first fire of the season in your fireplace or wood stove.

So the evening arrives, it’s the magic hour. You load the fuel in the fireplace, gather together some kindling, and it’s SHOWTIME. But something’s not right. Right after you get the fire started, smoke starts coming into your home, filling the house with pungent odors. You react by opening windows, dousing the fire, and wondering what in the world just happened! Not exactly the relaxing evening you had planned!

Naturally, you review your steps, checking to see if you forgot something. Did you remember to open the damper? Yes. Did you check the flue? Yes. You looked up into the flue to check for blockages, but you could see clear up to the sky. So what in the world is going on? How can you enjoy your fireplace when all this nasty smoke is coming back into your home, your lungs, and your eyes?

Well, one of the first things to consider is there is a proper and an improper way to start a fire. Many times it takes more than simply stacking some firewood in the fireplace and lighting some kindling. Starting a fire requires knowing how to warm up the chimney and get the chimney “started” (establish a draft). So how do you effectively start a fire?

Start off by stacking the wood in the fireplace. Now, don’t fill it up with the wood - rather, use smaller split pieces and kindling.

Next, open the damper. This is done with a handle that you should see inside of your fireplace, below the flue. It may take a flashlight to find it, but once you do, open it completely.

Once you’ve done this, open a window or door in the same room as the fireplace to allow some fresh air into the room.

Next, roll up a sheet of newspaper and make it into a torch. Light one end and hold it up past the damper. This will get heat into the chimney and help create draft.

Now, if the smoke from the newspaper is going up the chimney, go ahead and light your fire - it should start burning. If the chimney achieves draft and the wood starts to burn, add more wood as needed for that look you are going for, but don’t overload the fireplace. Too much wood is not a good thing.

If this doesn’t work to get your fire going, then you need to call in an expert, as there could be numerous issues that need to be addressed. Often the cause of a smoking fireplace, as you may be experiencing, is the house itself. This is what the chimney and venting industry refers to as a physics or pressure issue. You see, for the smoke to go up the chimney, there has to be enough air available to the fireplace to make this happen. And due to today’s energy codes and concerns regarding weatherization, many of today’s homes simply do not have the available air required by the average fireplace.

Whether you’re experiencing problems or not, it really is important to heed the advice of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an association of fire protection officials across the country. This safety-conscious group recommends that chimneys be inspected on an annual basis by a “qualified agency,” and there’s no better way to find a “qualified agency” than to check the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s site for a certified chimney sweep technician. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is a non-profit, educational foundation that oversees a national testing & certification process to evaluate the knowledge of chimney sweep technicians. Analysis and diagnosis of various types of issues - including smoke problems and draft problems like you may be experiencing - are a part of the training these technicians undergo.

So schedule your annual chimney check-up today! Head to to find a certified technician to inspect your chimney each year, even if you don’t have smoke pouring back into your home and eyes! The CSIA truly cares about you and wants you to enjoy your fireplace safely this winter. Visit their website and enter your zip code in the locator to find a certified sweep in your area.

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