Nothing beats the warmth of a fireplace for chasing away the chill of winter.
Cozy Fireplaces
A fire in the hearth adds warmth to family time for Brian Shannon and son Mac.

There's something about curling up in front of a toasty fire during winter that brightens the corners of the soul. The warmth encourages you to relax and maybe snooze a bit, taking the edge off a busy day. Sharing the firelight with loved ones makes the time around the hearth even better. It can bring back memories of gathering around a campfire as you bask in the warm glow.

Source of Pleasure
Heat is one of the benefits of a fireplace, but we're not talking about utilitarian home heating here. Fireplace inserts (units that fit into an existing fireplace) and gas or wood stoves are generally the most efficient heat sources. But if you want atmosphere and ambience, nothing equals the old-fashioned appeal of an open fireplace.

Sitting down and watching the flames has a soothing effect, which makes the area around the fireplace an excellent place to meditate and enjoy quiet time. Studies show that finding time to unwind will help you stay calm when stressful situations arise.

A Case for Wood
Brian Shannon shares his past and his passion for wood-burning fires with wife Jennie and their two sons. "It's all we ever had when I was growing up," he says. "My parents still burn four to six cords of wood each winter. Of course, they heat their home with wood, and we don't. Jennie and I will enjoy maybe one fire a week, on a Friday or Saturday night."

On the question of gas logs, Brian says, "Jennie's mother offered to put in gas logs for us, but we prefer wood. It's a little more work, but it's worth it. A fire isn't all about the heat."

Tips for Wood-Fire Lovers
For a cleaner-burning fire, use a hardwood such as oak, hickory, or ash that has been seasoned for at least six months. Place logs at the rear of the fireplace, and don't overload it with too many logs at once. Never leave the fire unattended, and make sure it is completely extinguished before you leave the house or go to bed.

Store wood out-of-doors and away from the house. Place it off the ground, on a foundation of cinder blocks or on runners made of pressure-treated lumber. Fashion a mini tower of logs in a crisscross pattern at each end to allow air to circulate, and fill the space between the two towers with the rest of the logs. Cover the stack with a tarp without allowing the tarp to rest directly on the wood.

A handy alternative to wood is the manufactured fire log. However, it produces almost no heat, can be expensive, and can be hard to extinguish if necessary. If you do use one, follow the directions on the label.

Fire Safety
Each year before building a fire, it's important to have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep to eliminate fire hazards such as creosote buildup. Also, remember to keep a fire extinguisher on hand.

Healthy Benefits

  • Whether you're thawing cold toes or just taking the chill off, heat from a fireplace can help loosen stiff muscles, improve flexibility, and impart a feeling of well-being. Doctors also recommend warm, comfortable temperatures as a way to brighten your mood.
  • To combat dry skin from the winter cold and indoor heat, fill a stove-top steamer with water and place it near the fire to return moisture to the air.