Fireplace Top Down Fire

11 Ways To Keep A Fire Going In An Open Fireplace

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

There are a number of factors than can influence how well a fire burns in an open fireplace, and so we’ve put together this complete guide on how to keep a fire going in a fireplace.

If your wood fireplace keeps going out then this article discusses all of the things that could be affecting how well your fireplace is burning, and what you can do to increase both the efficiency and heat output every time you have a fire.

1. Ensure That The Damper Is Fully Open

If your fireplace has a damper, you should ensure that it’s fully open before starting any fire.

A fully open damper will help to ensure that the chimney is producing the maximum draw on the fireplace, which in turn allows more fresh air to be sucked into the fireplace from the room.

If your fireplace has a damper, it will typically be located at the base of the chimney, within the inside top of the fireplace. Open the damper by using the handle to extend it as far as possible.

Fireplace & Chimney Diagram
A damper is located just above the fireplace at the base of the chimney

Some dampers can be left on a latch that is partially open, and so it’s important that the handle is extended as far as possible to fully open the damper prior to starting a fire.

A closed damper can cause smoke and waste gases from a fire to pour out into the room, instead of leaving safely up the chimney.

With the damper fully open, the continuous cycle of hot air leaving the fireplace up the chimney, and colder air being drawn into the fire, can help the fire to burn as efficiently as possible and help to keep a fire in a fireplace going.

For information, we have a complete guide to fireplace dampers in another article here.

2. Warm The Chimney

Cold air trapped within a chimney can cause issues when lighting a fire in an open fireplace. Cold air trapped within a chimney can push down on the fireplace and prevent waste air from leaving. This in turn can prevent fresh air from being sucked into the fire.

If a fire doesn’t get hot enough to warm up the air within the chimney, it can cause a fire to go out soon after being started.

As warm air rises and cold air sinks, warming up the chimney prior to starting a fire can help to start the draft on the fireplace, and help keep a fire going once it’s been lit.

Fireplace & Chimney Airflow
Starting the draft by warming the air in the chimney helps for more air to be sucked into the fireplace; essential for keeping a fire going.

We like to warm up the air in our chimney before starting any fire, to help ensure that the fire gets going as quickly as possible, and with minimal issues.

Taking a rolled up piece of newspaper, lighting it at one end and placing it under the inside top of your fireplace for a short while can help to maximize the draft for when the fire is started.

Warm Chimney Priming
Lighting a rolled up piece of newspaper is a great way to warm up the air in your chimney

If you can see smoke rising up the chimney from the newspaper then it’s a sign that the chimney is drawing on the fireplace properly.

Prime Chimney Smoke
If there’s enough draw on the fireplace from the chimney then any smoke from the newspaper will be sucked up the chimney

You don’t have to only use newspaper to warm up the chimney. You can also leave a couple of firelighters to burn by themselves in your fireplace, which should also be sufficient enough to warm up the air in the chimney.

We’ve discussed how to warm up your chimney in more detail here.

3. Maintain The Air Supply

If there are any external air vents located in the same room as the fireplace, be sure to open them prior to starting a fire.

Fireplace Vent
To help keep a fire going in a fireplace, open any external air vents in the room

Fire requires oxygen to keep going, and opening any external air vents will help to feed the fire with as much fresh air as possible.

Opening an external air vent can also help prevent the fire from drawing warmer air from other parts of your home.

If you don’t have an external air vent then cracking open a window in the same room as the fireplace will work just as well.

Newer homes can be much more airtight than older homes, and so without opening an air vent or window a vacuum can be created within a home, leading to a fire that keeps going out due to lack of fresh oxygen.

4. Build The Fire Correctly

To help keep a fire going in a fireplace, the fire should be built in a way that helps to create a long and successful fire right from the beginning.

The aim at the start of any fire is to get it going as quickly as possible. A fire is built in such a way that the fire spreads to the logs from the fire starter effectively and without any issues.

A fire in a fireplace can be built in two main ways. Either way will work just fine but one has a few more benefits over the other. A fire in a fireplace can be built using:

  • The traditional method.
  • The top-down fire method.

When building a traditional fire in a fireplace, the fire starter (such as newspaper) is placed at the base of the fire. The kindling is placed on top the newspaper, and the logs are in turn laid on top the kindling. The fire is lit at the base of the fire and the flames spread upwards towards the logs.

Fireplace Logs
A typical fire in a fireplace, built the conventional way with logs on top

To build a fire in a fireplace in the more traditional way that helps to keep a fire going:

  • Newspaper sheets should be crunched up and placed at the base of the fireplace, or underneath the fireplace grate.
  • Kindling should be added on top of the newspaper in a crisscross arrangement to allow for enough airflow.
  • A couple of smaller sized logs should be placed on top the kindling, also arranged in a way that also allows for sufficient air to get in between the logs, but so that they’re also touching for the heat and flames to be transferred between them.

You can read our complete guide to building and lighting a fire in a fireplace using the traditional method here.

When building a fire in a fireplace using the top-down method, the order of adding the fuel to the fire is reversed.

The largest logs are placed at the base of the fireplace (or grate), while smaller sized logs are placed on top. The kindling can then be laid on top of the smaller logs, and any form of fire starter such as newspaper placed on top of the kindling.

Fireplace Top Down Fire
What a top-down fire looks like in a fireplace, where the logs are placed at the bottom of the fire

To build a fire in a fireplace using the top-down method that helps to keep a fire going:

  • Place a row of large sized logs at the base of the fireplace. The logs should be packed together tightly horizontally, and the ends of the logs should be facing the front of the fireplace.
  • Place a row of smaller sized logs on top, but perpendicular to the way the larger logs are facing.
  • Add a layer of kindling on top of the logs in a crisscross arrangement so that air can still get in between the bits of wood.
  • Either progressively smaller sized bits of kindling down to wood shavings can be added on top of the kindling, or a layer of crunched up pieces of newspaper can be used.

The benefit of building a top-down method fire is that the fire can keep going for longer before more logs will need to be added to the fire.

Because the fire burns downwards in a top-down method fire, larger logs can be used when building the fire. It’s not recommended to initially add larger logs to a traditionally built fire because they can smother the fire during its early stages.

If you’re looking to keep a fire going in a fireplace for a longer period of time once it’s been started, look to build your fires using the top down method.

Our complete guide to building a top-down fire in a fireplace can be found here, and includes all of the benefits that top-down method of building a fire has over a conventionally built fire.

5. Only Burn Wood That Is Dry Enough

While it’s important to build a fire correctly, if you’re looking to keep a fire going in a fireplace then you’ll need to be burning wood that is sufficiently low in moisture content.

Burning wet wood can lead to a range of issues, with one of the main problems being that it can cause the fire to go out before the logs even catch fire.

For a long, hot and successful fire, dry wood must be used throughout the fire, and should be used for both the logs and the kindling.

Using wet wood when building a fire can prevent them from from catching. Adding wet logs to a burning fire can cause the fire to struggle, smolder or go out completely.

Wet wood is harder to burn because more energy is required by the fire to burn off the excess moisture content before the wood can be properly combusted.

To be able to burn efficiently with reduced smoke, firewood should have a moisture content of 20% or lower. Freshly cut wood will need to be dried out for a prolonged period of time before it will hit the 20% moisture content threshold.

The drying out process of wood for firewood is known as seasoning.

If you’re buying in your wood then it should already either be seasoned or kiln dried. If you’re seasoning your own wood then you’ll need to leave the wood outside for up to two years, depending on the type of wood and its starting moisture content.

Whatever way you get your firewood, it’s worth investing in a moisture meter so that you can accurately read the moisture content of any wood before you burn it.

Moisture Firewood
Us taking a moisture reading of our wood

A moisture meter is an essential item for any fireplace.

You can see our favorite moisture meter here, or if you’re in the UK you can find the moisture meter we use here.

In summary, if you’re looking to keep a fire going in a fireplace then ensure that you’re only burning dry wood that is lower than 20% in moisture content.

6. Burn Room Temperature Wood

If your wood fireplace keeps going out then try only burning room temperature wood, rather than using wood taken from outside.

A fire can require extra energy to bring colder wood up to combustible temperature, and so ensuring that you’re only adding room temperature wood to a fire you can help to minimize any issues of a fire struggling to burn the wood.

We bring our wood into our home from storage outside at least a day before being used. This gives the wood plenty of time to warm up before it’s burnt.

Wood Storage
We store our wood inside prior to burning to ensure that it’s not too cold

7. Burn Hardwood Logs

To help keep a fire going in a fireplace for longer and hotter, look to burn hardwood logs rather then softwood.

Hardwoods are typically denser then softwoods, and so you’ll find that hardwood logs will last longer in a fire before they completely burn through. As a result, hardwoods logs will also generally give out more heat, and over a longer period of time.

Kiln Dried Hardwood Firewood Bag
A typical bag of hardwood logs

Burning hardwood logs will also help to reduce the build up of creosote (soot) within your chimney over time. Softwoods typically have higher sap content and if you’re only burning softwoods then you may need to have your chimney swept more regularly to ensure that your fireplace is functioning as efficiently as possible.

It can be preferable to use softwood for kindling rather than hardwood however, as softwoods can typically catch alight and burn more quickly, which is important during the early stages of a fire.

Kiln Dried Kindling Bag
For kindling, softwood can be preferable because it burns very quickly

8. Add A Couple of Logs At A Time

Adding more than one log at a time to a fire in an open fireplace can help to keep the fire going for longer.

Adding a few logs at a time means that the logs can feed off and transfer the heat between each other as they burn.

Placing the logs on the fire overlapping each other can help the air to circulate around the logs, and get them to catch alight faster and burn with fewer issues.

9. Don’t Add Large Logs Too Early Into A Fire

If you’re building fires in your open fireplace using the traditional method, where the logs are placed on top of the fire, be sure not to add your largest sized bits of wood too early into a fire.

Because of their size and surface area, larger logs can be harder to light from a flame. Temperatures need to be hot enough within the fireplace for the fire to catch hold of larger sized logs more effectively.

Adding progressively larger sized logs to the fire as it heats up will help to prevent the fire from being smothered by logs too large in size, and help to prevent a fire in your fireplace from going out.

To overcome this issue, the top-down fire method allows you too add the largest sized logs at the beginning of the fire because they’re located below the fire starter and kindling, allowing them to have more time to catch fire.

If your wood fireplace keeps going out then make sure to only add smaller sized logs when building a fire, or try building a fire using the top-down method so that your largest logs can be used right from the beginning.

10. Keep Your Chimney Clean

To maximize the draw on the fireplace and help keep a fire going, a chimney should be swept at least once per year to ensure that it’s working as effectively as possible. If burning wood regularly throughout the year, the chimney should be swept more often than once per year.

A dirty chimney can block up the passageway for air and reduce the draft, and in turn how much air is being sucked into the fire.

Burning hardwood logs instead of softwood will help to keep the buildup of creosote within your chimney to a minimum.

A clean chimney will help to maximize its efficiency of removing waste gases and smoke from the fireplace, and help to draw as much fresh air into the fire as possible; essential for keeping a fire going in a fireplace.

More information about how often your chimney should be swept can be found in another one of our articles here.

11. Burn Hotter Fires

Smaller, hotter fires are more efficient than poorly burning larger sized fires.

A hotter burning fire will help to provide a cleaner burn, and in turn help the fire to produce more heat.

A smoldering fire is a sign that the wood isn’t being properly combusted. When wood isn’t being burnt properly more smoke can be produced by the fire.

It takes time for a fire to reach optimum temperatures where even the largest sized logs will catch alight and burn with ease. Building smaller fires at the beginning, and working your way to a larger fire as it progresses, will help to prevent a fire in your fireplace from going out.

Building too large of a fire at the beginning can lead to an underperforming fire that’s struggling to burn through the initial bits of wood.

Further Reading

Open Fireplace Tips

How Fireplaces Work

How To Build And Light A Fire In A Fireplace

How To Start A Fire In A Fireplace Using The Top-Down Method

What Moisture Content Wood Should Be (And How To Check)

Parts Of A Fireplace & Chimney Explained

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