Baby, It's Cold Outside - Let's Build a Fire!

We live in an era where heating sources are varied – gas heat, electric heat, solar heat, thermal heat – and yet the traditional use of fire continues to be a fan favorite. Fire also has the power to conjure images and feelings unlike any other type of heating source.  The smell of smoke reminds us of camping, family, winter snuggling.  The sound of crackling is perfect accompaniment to music, laughter, conversations and holidays.  So, what is it with fire?  Does it ignite a primal instinct still buried in our brain that reminds us of safety, food and warmth? 

Whatever it is, heating with fire is still very popular here in Western North Carolina, yet most people do not know how to make the most of it.  Some say using wood is the most economical, environmentally sustainable and most responsible way to heat.

  • Benefits:  renewable, local, cheaper;

  • Risks: house fires, poor air quality, maintenance.

Here’s what you should know to keep enjoying that fire and avoid risks.

1 - The wood stove is everything! 

Traditional open fireplaces are inefficient by burning more wood than a wood stove and sending most of the heat up the chimney – not to mention some of the heated air in the room.  Let’s be honest, traditional fireplaces are really for aesthetic purposes these days.   EPA-certified wood stoves are really where it’s at because of the inherent efficiency and safety.  Got a wood stove? Check the back of the stove for a permanent metal label which should indicate the manufacturing date.  If it’s after July 1, 1990 you have a stove which meets the EPA standards.  Congrats! Your wood stove:

  • uses almost 50% less wood than a traditional fireplace;

  • produces 90% less smoke and ash;

  • is easier to start and maintain.

Wood stoves don’t just use the wood to produce heat, they also burn the smoke itself producing even more heat!  John Gulland, who was quoted in Mother Earth News, said,

“It is important to burn the smoke because any that escapes from the firebox un-burned is wasted fuel that will stick in the chimney as creosote or be released as air pollution … Visible smoke at the top of chimney is always a sign that energy is being wasted.”

2 - Not all wood is the same.

Wood comes in varying degrees of quality when it comes to using it as a fuel source.  The best firewood should be seasoned – aren’t most things better with age?  Generally speaking, the wood should be dried by the sun and wind for at least 6-months, appear darker in color and have cracks.  Like melons at the store, you’re looking for a thumping sound when it hits other wood.

 3 - Safety first!

A few tips to ensuring your wood stove works for you and not against you (or your property).

  • Remove ashes and creosote to keep the stove clean;

  • The casing needs to be maintained and free from rust;

  • Ensure tight seals on the doors and gasket;

  • Clean the air tubes, fans and baffles regularly;

  • Periodically have the chimney cleaned;

  • If you have a catalyst, it will need to be replaced from time to time;

  • Keep the area clear of flammable items such as newspaper, furniture, fabric, etc.;

  • Ensure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide sensors are present and working.

Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not in this alone.  Checking the fireplace is part of Roost’s standard Home Wellness membership. And, through our On-Demand concierge service, we can help coordinate the cleaning and maintenance of your wood stove, chimney and other type of fireplace . Let us help you eliminate the worry!

 A Tip from Roost Home Watch 

Many homes do have traditional fireplaces.  We recommend when leaving your home for a period of time, close the flue and cover the fireplace opening.  This will keep out weather and creatures from getting in the house as well as air within the house from escaping.


 Adapted from an article by Buncombe County Government, Tips for Heating Your Home with Wood . Image by Michael Shannon