Fireplace Top Down Fire

How To Start A Fire In A Fireplace (Without Smoke)

In Indoor Fireplaces, Wood Burning Fireplaces by James O'KellyLeave a Comment

It can sometimes be tricky to start a fire in a fireplace without smoke being produced.

There are many factors that can influence how well a fire gets going in your open fireplace, and all of them need to come together to help reduce the amount of smoke a fire produces when its started.

Thankfully there are a few things you can do right away to help start a fire without any smoke.

To start a fire in a fireplace without smoke:

  • Build a fire using the top-down method for a cleaner burn with less smoke.
  • Use low moisture content wood to help reduce the potential for smoke to be produced.
  • Ensure that the damper is wide open prior to starting the fire.
  • Have your chimney swept if it hasn’t been done so within the last year.

We have another article that outlines the main reasons why your wood burning fireplace is smoking, but this article discusses and explains in further detail below how you can help to prevent your fireplace from smoking as soon as it has been started.

How To Start A Fire In A Fireplace Without Smoke

In order to be able to start a fire in a fireplace without smoke it’s important to understand why a fire would produce smoke in the first place.

A fire produces more smoke than usual when the fuel isn’t being properly combusted.

This means that the fire is having a hard time burning through the fuel, such as wood, and as a result the fire isn’t providing a clean burn and much of the byproducts from the fuel are being wasted in the form of smoke.

The main reasons why a fire isn’t properly combusting the fuel are that:

  • There’s an issue with the fuel itself, such as wood being too wet.
  • There is an insufficient supply of oxygen to the fire.

With these two causes in mind, we can look at ways of helping to reduce the amount of smoke that is produced at the start of a fire, which are outlined below.

Build Fires Using The Top-Down Method

In order to start a fire in a fireplace without smoke you’ll need to build fires in a way that differ from the conventional way of building one.

The traditional way of building fires can be seen as placing your fire starter into the fireplace first, and then adding the kindling and logs on top respectively.

The way in which these fires are built can be problematic when it comes to starting the fire. A fire is started at the base of the fireplace, and with both the kindling and logs on top of it, the fire can get smothered and start to produce smoke as a result of insufficient air supply.

In order to overcome this problem and to start a fire in a fireplace without smoke, the fire starter needs to be placed at the top of the fire.

This reversed way of building fires in fireplaces is known as the top-down method.

In a top-down fire the logs are first things to be placed in a fireplace, followed by the kindling and then the fire starter. This is essentially a reversed way of building a fire in an open fireplace, with the main benefit being that less smoke can be produced at the start of the fire.

Here’s a picture of typical top-down fire that we built in our living room fireplace:

Fireplace Top Down Fire
An example of what a top-down fire looks like

To build a top-down fire:

  • Place a row of your largest sized logs at the base of your fireplace, or within your grate.
  • Place a further layer of logs on top of the base layer of logs but ensure that they’re facing the opposite way. This layer of logs should be smaller in size than the ones below.
  • Lay your kindling on top of the logs in a crisscross formation.
  • Place your preferred fire starter on top of the kindling. We like to use newspaper but you can also use firelighters.

For more information we’ve explained the complete process to building a top-down fire in your fireplace in another article here.

Once a top-down fire is lit, it can provide a much cleaner burn with less smoke produced. This is thanks to lighting the fire at the top where there’s nothing preventing the fire starter and kindling from receiving as much air as they need.

A top down-fire can also help to start the draft sooner into the fire than with a conventionally built fire, thanks to the fire being started nearer to the top of the fireplace and all of the heat being used to warm up the air within the chimney.

The fire will then burn down through to the logs. A further benefit of a top-down fire is that the fire can last much longer than a conventionally built fire before more logs need to be added.

Burn Low Moisture Content Wood

If there’s one thing that can cause a fire in a fireplace to smoke right from the start is that it’s using wood on the fire that is too wet.

It’s recommended that firewood should have between 15% and 20% moisture content to burn its most efficiently in a fireplace. As the moisture content of the wood goes above 20% it can become progressively harder for the wood to burn effectively on a fire.

Burning wet wood can be the cause of many problems experienced with having fires in your home, and especially the cause of increased amounts of smoke at the start of the fire.

Green Wood Moisture Content
Wet wood will be no good if used as firewood

Freshly cut wood will be higher in moisture content than what is recommended for firewood. The wood therefore needs to be seasoned (left out to dry) or kiln dried before the wood is low enough in moisture content for it to burn effectively.

A fire needs to use more of its energy to burn off the excess moisture content within the wood before the wood can be properly combusted. During this time the wood won’t be properly combusted and the fire can let off more smoke as a result.

Dry wood can be much more easily combusted by a fire, and so wood low in moisture content will provide a much cleaner burn with less smoke being produced overall.

You can use a moisture meter to help identify the exact moisture content of your firewood.

Kindling Moisture Content
You can check the moisture content of all of your wood with a moisture meter

A moisture meter is an essential tool for your fireplace. If there was one thing that we could recommend for any fireplace it would be a moisture meter. It allows you to understand how well your wood is going to burn before you even use it, and can help you to start fires in your fireplace without smoke every time.

If you don’t have a moisture meter we’d recommended checking out this one here.

If you’re a UK reader you can find the moisture meter we use right here.

Therefore, to help start fires in your fireplace without smoke:

  • Burn firewood that is under 20% moisture content;
  • That has either been seasoned or kiln dried, and;
  • Use a moisture meter to check all of your logs before using them in your fires.

Maximize The Draft

We know that a lack of sufficient air can cause a fireplace fire to smoke, and so it’s important that the draw on the fireplace is maximized to help ensure that enough air is flowing through the fireplace.

The movement of air up your chimney is known as the draft. As warmer air moves up the chimney more air is sucked into the fireplace to replace it.

To help you start fires in a fireplace without smoke you’ll need to be maximizing the draw on your fireplace to help feed the fire as much as oxygen as possible.

We’ve explained all of the ways you can improve the draw on your fireplace in another article here, but in summary if you want to start a fire in your fireplace without smoke you’ll need to:

  • Have your chimney swept if it hasn’t been done so within the last year.
  • If your fireplace has a damper open it fully before lighting any fires.
  • Open any doors, external air vents or windows located in the same room as the fireplace.
  • Warm up the chimney prior to starting the fire to help start the draft.

It’s recommended that chimneys are cleaned at least once per year but more often if you regularly burn softwood or wet wood in your home, as this can increase the rate of creosote build up within your chimney. A dirty chimney can reduce its internal diameter and therefore reduce the potential draw on the fireplace.

Having your chimney swept before your burning season is the most ideal time.

If your fireplace has a damper it will usually be located within the top area of your fireplace. Dampers can be closed when fireplaces aren’t in use to prevent heat loss from a home.

Simply use the lever to open the damper fully before each and every fire in your fireplace. This will help to ensure that air is flowing freely up your chimney to help reduce the potential for a fire to smoke when started.

Open any doors and external air vents within the room before each fire. This will help to ensure that the fire is receiving as much air as it needs to keep burning through the wood. If a fire isn’t receiving sufficient air supply it can start to produce more smoke.

Fireplace Vent
Open any vents before starting a fire to help increase airflow to the fire

If your fireplace still isn’t receiving enough air you can also crack open a window in the same room as your fireplace to help improve air supply.

Further Reading

How Fireplaces Work

Open Fireplace Tips & Tricks

How To Improve The Draw On Your Fireplace

How To Start A Top-Down Fire In A Fireplace

How To Slow Down A Fire In A Fireplace

How To Keep A Fireplace Fire Going

How To Get More Heat From Your Fireplace

Reasons Why A Fireplace Is Smoking

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