Winter culture is not much of a thing in these parts, but it nonetheless is true that many south Texas homes have fireplaces. Maybe more for ambiance than anything else, but there are sure to be a few night this winter during which a nice warm fireplace would do the house well.

Incredibly, building such a fire is not as simple as holding a match up to a pine log. There are techniques involved, and if you follow them you’ll end up with a roaring, warm, safe fireplace that makes your beautiful home all the cozier.

Let’s get started.

Clean the Chimey

Is your chimney clean? If the answer is, “I don’t know, I mean, I think so,” then you might be better off getting it clean before you start pumping smoke into it. The danger is that not all the smoke escapes, and comes back into the room, and ruins your night or makes everyone sick. Even if you haven’t used it since the last time you cleaned it, there could still be nests of various kinds in there, or other blockages.

Make Sure the Damper is Open

This is like telling you to make sure the lense cap is off before you start taking pictures, but forgetting to open the damper is a mistake most fireplace owners will make at some point.

Stack in Reverse

The typical arrangement for building a fire is to put small kindling at the bottom, topped with smaller logs, then big pieces on top. But for a longer-lasting, less smoky fire, reverse this. Put the big logs on the bottom and stack them up until you’re lighting newspaper and other kindling at the top. The fire will last longer this way, and because the flames aren’t trying to eat through cold wood, it won’t give off as much smoke.

Keep the Ash

This is more of a tip for next time, but don’t discard all that ash at the bottom. You want to use it to create an ash bed, which helps keep the fire isulated and hot. You want an inch or two of ash surrounding the hearth.

Follow these tips and enjoy the coziness and warmth of a fireplace all winter long — or on the rare event it gets cold enough to light one.