Ah, the warmth and beauty of a fire. It seems like a necessity on a cold day, especially inside a beautiful log home.

But a fireplace or stove will only warm your home, heart and soul if it’s well-designed and appropriate for the space in which it’s installed. To help you choose the best product for your home, we offer these two dozen tips.

  1. Before you go shopping for a hearth product, decide what rooms you want the hearth to heat and where you want to place the fireplace, heater or stove. These decisions will influence the size of the unit you buy.
  2. Design your home to make the most of your hearth. Placing your fireplace or stove near the center of your home and decreasing the number of interior walls will allow heat to radiate throughout your home. Remember, too, that heat rises. Take advantage of rising heat by planning a two-story home.
  3. Help your fireplace, stove or heater do its job by making your house weathertight. Installing storm windows, weatherstripping doors and caulking any gaps between logs will ensure a tighter, warmer home.
  4. If you’re planning to install a wood-burning hearth, design room for a firewood storage area near the hearth that has indoor and outdoor access. That way, instead of dragging wood through the house, you can stack it in the storage area from the outside and pull it in as needed. You’ll also have extra firewood on hand so you don’t have to venture out in the cold as often.
  5. Vent-free hearth products release water vapor into the home as they burn. If the unit is operating correctly, the amount of water is small, but it will affect the humidity level in your home.
  6. Before buying a vent-free hearth appliance, double-check local codes to make sure it is allowed in your area. Some localities forbid the use of vent-free products in homes because malfunctioning units can release carbon monoxide into the home. Even if vent-free units are allowed in your area, you should not leave one unattended or useit for round-the-clock heating.
  7. Masonry heaters are a distinct type of hearth product fueled by short, hot fires. The heater’s masonry mass stores the heat from the fire and radiates it slowly for hours. The intensity of the fire and the baffled flue makes these units clean-burning. Masonry heaters, which are made of brick, tile or stone, are quite heavy and will need the support of a built-up foundation.
  8. Some wood-burning stoves offer catalytic converters. These systems increase the heat inside the stove to burn off pollutants that otherwise would escape into the environment. Catalytic combustors need to be inspected and cleaned periodically to keep your stove running efficiently.
  9. Zero-clearance fireplaces are prefabricated boxes that, because they are protected by insulation, can be installed directly against a wall. These fireplaces can be vented with a traditional masonry or steel chimney.
  10. A tall, straight chimney provides better draft than one that is rectangular. Also chimneys with round flues work better than those with rectangular ones. To increase your hearth’s efficiency, place as much of the chimney as possible inside the home. Outside air will cool an exposed chimney, reducing its draft. A warm, interior chimney will also radiate heat back into your home.
  11. A woodshed is the best place to store wood. The next best place is off the ground and under cover in a spot that gets sunlight and some breeze to help dry the wood. Leave air space between the cover and the firewood. Log home owners should never store unseasoned firewood against the walls of their homes, as firewood can become an inviting home for insects such as termites.
  12. Close the firebox doors when you light a fire in a wood-burning stove to increase its heat output. As long as there are air intake vents on the stove, you’ll get more warmth from a stove with closed doors than one with open doors.
  13. When emptying ashes from a woodburning stove or fireplace, remember that the ash may contain hot embers. Always place ashes in a heavy metal container. Cold ashes can be spread on gardens or added to your compost pile to improve the soil.
  14. Leave a 3-foot clearance between a stove and any combustible material, including walls, furniture and draperies. Putting a stove in the center of the room will allow the heat to radiate in all directions.
  15. Once a fire has burned out, close the fireplace or stove damper to keep warmed indoor air from rushing up the chimney. If the unit has doors, close them to seal off the firebox.
  16. Mantels help deflect heat from your fireplace out into your room. There are many options for mantels—stone, marble, slate, a split log, bricks. You may even come across an antique mantel at a salvage yard.
  17. Take safety precautions when using a fireplace or stove. Install a carbon monoxide detector. Keep a pair of fireproof gloves near your hearth to handle hot wood or coal, and invest in a chimney fire extinguisher. Adhere to building codes that specify minimum clearances around stoves, stovepipes and fireplaces. Keep matches and any flammable liquids a safe distance from the fire. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected at least once every burning season or when creosote has built up inside your chimney.
  18. A mesh chimney cap will prevent sparks from settling on your roof and possibly starting a fire. These caps will also keep small animals and birds from seeking shelter in your chimney. A metal cap can be installed to keep snow and rain from dripping down the chimney.
  19. Stoves should sit on a fireproof pad on the floor. Although the stove’s legs will raise the hot firebox up off the floor, you still will need to place noncombustible material, like brick, stone or metal, under the stove. The pad should extend at least 18 inches from the stove along the sides and in the front.
  20. Fireplace screens protect you from flying sparks. However, screens can also decrease the heat output of your fireplace. Look for a screen that sits away from the opening of the firebox or is open at the top to allow heat to flow into the room. A hearth rug will protect your wood floors from sparks that do get past the screen.
  21. If the creosote buildup in your chimney or stove pipe is more than 1/4 inch thick, it’s time to have your chimney cleaned. If you’re not sure what creosote looks like, ask a chimney sweep to show you.
  22. Before you hire a chimney sweep, double-check his references and make sure he is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. CSIA-certified sweeps are tested on their knowledge of safety codes. Sweeps should be insured. Using the same sweep year after year will make the inspection much more efficient and thorough.
  23. To start a wood fire, use plenty of dry kindling and stack it to allow air space between the pieces of kindling. Add three or four pieces of dry firewood, placing the largest piece in the back and allowing plenty of space between logs.
  24. Finally, if you burn wood, make sure it’s dry. Wood should season for about six months before being burned. Moisture trapped in your firewood will have to burn off before the wood will give off heat. Wet wood can also lead to the buildup of creosote in your flue. If your firewood sizzles or hisses when it burns, it’s wet.