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Fireplaces took a big step forward in 1678 when Prince Rupert, Charles’s nephew1, raised the grate on the fireplace. This increased the airflow and greatly improved the efficiency of the burning fire.

Fireplace grates provide many benefits and a roaring fire is one. As the logs are lifted off the firebox floor, air is drawn from under the burning logs creating a drain. This causes a cycle. Air extraction burns the hotter logs and the hotter the logs burn, the more it draws. This causes the fire to burn cleaner, which means less contamination and less creosote in the chimney, which reduces the chance of a chimney fire. A hot fire also means more heat for you. When the grate is placed towards the back of the firebox, the heat hits the slope of the back of the fire. The slope of the back of the fire tilts forward reflecting heat into the room.

Another benefit of fireplace grates is that they securely hold burning logs in place so they don’t fall to the floor. This benefit should be obvious. Fireplace grates will also keep burning logs compact, causing them to “feed” each other instead of spreading out and burning independently.

Fireplace grates also make it easy to start a fire. Just crumple up the newspaper and tuck it under the rack. Next, put wood on the fireplace grate. On top of the chips, place pieces of wood of medium size, and on top of it place one or two logs. Presto, a full size fire. The importance of the fireplace grate in all of this is to keep the weight of all the wood off the paper, which would suffocate it, preventing it from getting hot enough to light the wood.

When measuring your firebox for a grate, simply measure the back of the firebox. This is usually the narrowest point if the walls (sides) slope inward. Make sure there is at least 2-4 inches of clearance on each side. The fireplace grate should have 6 to 8 inches of clearance from front to back to keep it as far away from doors or screen as possible. Fireplace grates have a long history and are still just as important today for many good reasons.

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