Firestarting Options

As the temperatures outside continue to drop, fireplaces are once again being used as a source of heat and comfort in our homes. However, this also leads to the age old debate: what is the best fire starter?

While everyone has their favorite method for starting a fire, there are very few truly “right” or “wrong” ways to do it. Below are several different fire starting options. This year, branch out from your favorite to try a new one!

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  • Fire starting logs. Fire starting logs are composite chemicals logs designed to ignite quickly and burn for long periods of time. Popular brands like Duraflame can often be found at most grocery stores. While fire starting logs provide a fast and easy way to start your fire they do contain chemicals; make sure the damper is completely open to provide proper ventilation. Likewise, if you are planning on cooking with your fire make sure the fire starting log has completely burned off to avoid chemical transfer onto the food.
  • Fatwood kindling. If you like the ease of fire starting logs but don’t like the chemicals, try fatwood kindling. Made from the pine stumps left over from logging, fatwood kindling ignites quickly and can burn for up to 20 minutes, giving your seasoned firewood plenty of time to ignite and begin to burn on its own. Because it is natural wood, fatwood kindling may take several minutes to fully ignite before it burns hot enough to light other wood.
  • Dryer lint. Re-purpose two things at once by using cardboard tubes and dryer lint to create your own fire starters! Set aside your dryer lint and pack it into the cardboard tubes left over from paper towels or toilet paper; while the tubes should be full, avoid over packing them so there is still room for oxygen to circulate. Because lint ignites and burns quickly, two or three rolls may be needed to successfully start a fire.
  • Wine corks. If your family is regular wine drinkers, you can re-purpose the corks to create easy fire starters! Simply keep the corks in a sealed jar with rubbing alcohol; when needed, toss a couple corks onto the kindling and light! While the cork jar can double as a decorative piece, like all fire starters it should be stored away from the fireplace for safety reasons.
  • Fire starter gel. These sticky gels are similar to lighter fluid and can be applied directly to the firewood. When lit, they burn intensely for several minutes, making them a fast and effective way to start a fire. However, because they are a chemical product it is important to follow the same rules as when using fire starting logs; likewise, some homeowners do not like the chemical smell they can create.
  • Egg cartons. Use leftover materials from around the house to create your own compact fire starters in an egg carton. Fill the compartments of a cardboard egg carton with combustible materials such as sawdust, dryer lint, or shredded paper. Next, pour melted wax from candle nubs or broken crayons over each compartment. Once the wax cools, the compartments can be broken apart into a dozen compact fire starters.

Proper Ash Disposal

Operating your fireplace safely doesn’t end when the fire goes out. Proper ash disposal and removal is an important part of fireplace safety. By taking the time to properly remove ashes, homeowners can rest assured that they are minimizing the risk of accidental fire as well as helping their fireplace to operate with maximum efficiency.

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Are ashes dangerous?

Most homeowners view ashes as the least dangerous part of any fire. While the ashes themselves are not dangerous, hidden coals and embers in the ashes can be. “Wood ashes retain enough heat to ignite other combustible materials for several days,” meaning that they can reignite long after the fire has gone out. Because of this, it is important that homeowners learn how to properly dispose of their ashes.

Improper ash disposal

Unfortunately, some of the most common ways that homeowners dispose of their ashes are also some of the most unsafe. The following common ash removal methods should not be used.

  • Pouring water onto a fire: While this may seem like an easy way to quickly extinguish a fire, it creates a hard to clean mess and can damage your firebox.
  • Dumping ashes into trash cans or dumpsters: Any hot coals hidden in the ashes can ignite surrounding trash.
  • Using cardboard boxes or paper bags to store or transport ashes: Combustible containers such as paper or cardboard can ignite if any coals are left in the ashes.
  • Using a vacuum to clean ashes out of the firebox: Even vacuums with a HEPA filter can cause ashes to go airborne. Because they are so fine, ashes can coat and stain carpets, walls, or furniture.

Proper ash disposal

The first step is proper ash disposal is ensuring that no hot coals or embers remain in the ashes. To do this, fires should be allowed to naturally extinguish overnight, periodically stirring the ashes to eliminate hot spots. Next, ashes should be transferred into a designated ash container. Ash containers should be made of metal, have a tight fitting lid, and should not sit directly on the ground. Likewise, avoid storing ash containers near combustible materials such as in garages or sheds to further minimize the risk of accidental fire.

Alternative uses for ashes

After taking the time to properly remove and store their ashes, many homeowners are left wondering what to do with them. Thankfully, there are several alternative uses for ashes.

  • Fertilizer: Small amounts of ash “improves root health and strengthens the very cellular structure of plants, helping them resist all kinds of stresses,” says Julia Gaskin.
  • Bug repellant: Keep slugs and snails away from gardens by sprinkling ashes around the edges of the plot. The ash acts as a natural repellant to many insects while also enriching the soil.
  • De-icer: Ashes can be used as a natural alternative to salt or gravel on icy walkways during the winter. However, if you sprinkle your driveway or sidewalk with ash, be sure to wipe your feet before coming inside!