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By James Dulley, Published November 06 2009

Steps can help reduce smoke in your fireplace

Dear Jim: I just installed a new efficient fireplace in the living room. In the past, I have had problems getting a wood fire started and burning without much smoke. Do you have some tips for building a smoke-free fire? – Karen W.

Dear Karen: I burn fires in my fireplace at least five days per week during winter and I use various methods to start the fire. As for building a smoke-free fire, I don’t think any method can guarantee this. Even the best laid fire will smoke a little until the wood gets burning well and the chimney gets hot enough to create a strong upward draft.

Once a fire is burning well, the amount of smoke depends primarily upon the quality of the firewood. Using well seasoned firewood is the best way to minimize smoke. The type of wood also impacts the amount of smoke to a lesser extent. Burning smaller pieces of wood tends to produce less smoke because the inside gets hot faster than in a large piece.

This next piece of advice applies to everyone, but especially to you since you have had a problem with smoke. Have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned if you have not for several years. Chimney fires cause many house fires and deaths every year. When a fire is smoky, it tends to produce more creosote which is the primary cause of chimney fires.

It seems as though everyone has his preferred method to build a fire. Almost all methods use a combination of old newspapers, kindling, softwoods, and mostly hardwoods. Generally, there are two accepted effective methods, teepee and English, to lay the wood to start a fire in a fireplace.

I like the teepee method in my fireplace on the base of the firebox without a grate. Others prefer a grate. Crumple up the newspapers, not too tightly, and place them on the bottom or under the grate. These are used to create a rapid hot fire to get the kindling or firestarters burning well.

I also put more crumpled newspapers on top of the logs after the fire is laid. I start these newspapers first to warm the chimney quickly to create just enough initial draft to draw more of the smoke up the chimney.

The newspapers, both under and above the wood, burn out quickly. The kindling and firestarters burn longer to heat up the actual logs to their ignition point. Soft woods, with more natural resins than hardwood, tend to start faster. Softwood sometimes pops and spits out embers, so be cautious when it starts.

The teepee method of stacking the wood creates a cone (teepee). When the fire starts, the hot gases are channeled up between the logs. The temperature on the inside surfaces gets hot quickly to get the entire log started. This also creates a strong draft up the center of the fire and should minimize smoke.

When using andirons or a grate, the English method works well. Place a couple of logs close together across the andirons. Lay pieces of kindling perpendicular across these logs and place a third log on top. Also use some crumpled newspaper under and above the logs.


Dear Jim: My house had a leak at the roof flashing which I have since had repair. The wall had been wet inside for a long while. When they removed the drywall, some studs were rotten. How can this be fixed? – Marie K.

Dear Marie: You can either add new studs next to the rotten ones and leave them there or remove the old ones. It can be a job to get the old ones out. If they are dry now and you find no evidence of mold, you may leave them in.

The insulation in the wall should probably be replaced. Fiberglass insulation may dry out satisfactorily, but it may be matted somewhat and less effective. Cellulose insulation should definitely be replaced.


Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com