Residential Fireplaces

Students may use approved fireplaces on campus. Please ensure that all safety precautions are taken – fireplace screen and implements, only burning properly seasoned and sized wood, chimney-flue open, no chemical fire starters, etc. Please also remember that fires may not be left unattended.

  • You will need to contact the Commons office affiliated with your residence to get approval to use a fireplace.
  • If you are unsure of how to work a fireplace, please do not use it!
  • The College does not supply firewood. Only firewood may be burned in fireplaces.
  • Accelerants such as lighter fluid are prohibited on campus. 

Trouble with a Fireplace

Use Seasoned Wood
This is key. Seasoned wood burns better and with less smoke because it’s drier than the green variety. If you’re buying firewood, the best way to tell if it is seasoned or not is by its weight, appearance, and even smell. A piece of seasoned wood will be lighter than a similarly sized, but green counterpart, and it will sound hollow when hit against another piece of wood. Green wood will also be lighter in color and generally have a stronger, fresher smell to it, while seasoned wood will usually appear darker and have little odor. Seasoned wood can also be identified by cracks on the end of the logs.


Open the Damper
When I talked to a chimney cleaner about how to fix my smoke problems, the first thing he said was “make sure to check that the damper is open.” You’d think it’d be a no-brainer, but he told me this is the most common reason people have smoke coming out of their fireplace!


Crack a Window
Fireplaces require large volumes of air to burn. This air comes from inside the living area and must somehow be replaced. With modern energy efficiency concerns, most houses have been carefully insulated and weather-stripped to keep out the cold drafts, but an undesirable side effect is that there is often nowhere for all that air leaving through the chimney to get back in. This can lead to fireplaces that burn sluggish and smoky. To counter that, open up a window a crack and sit closer to the fire.


Prime the Flue
Before you start a fire, your chimney’s flue is probably full of cold air — especially if your chimney is built on the outside of your house. When you open the damper, this cold air in the flue will sink and come into your warm house. If you try to light a fire during this air sink, you’re going to end up with smoke coming into the house instead of up the chimney. To counteract the air sink, you need to prime the flue by warming it up. This is done by lighting a roll of newspaper and holding it up the damper opening for a few minutes. When you feel the draft reverse, you know the flue is primed, and you’re ready to start your fire.

Build an Upside Down Fire
Several fire-building methods exist, and all of them have their merits. If there’s a particular way you like to build a fire, by all means do it. But if you’re looking to build a clean-burning fire that lasts for hours, you might consider using the “upside down” fire lay.


  • Start off by stacking your large fuel logs on the bottom of the fire grate.
  • Stack smaller logs on top.
  • Add a kindling layer (small twigs about the size of your pinky or bigger) on top of the stack.
  • Add some planks of cedar board.
  • Top off the stack with some sheets of newspaper and your tinder.
  • Light the fire from the top and presto. In about 20 minutes you’ll have a roaring fire. Because smoke won’t have to pass through the cold logs, the fire will burn cleaner. What’s nice about this arrangement, too, is that you don’t have to do much to keep it going.


Don’t Build a Fire on Very Windy Days
If the wind is howling outside, there often isn’t anything you can do to prevent fireplace smoke from blowing back into your house. You’ll have the best luck enjoying a minimally smoky fire on calm days./;


Call Facilities Services
If you’re still having problems after following all these tips, contact your CA so that Facilities Services might arrange a cleaner to check to see if your chimney has any blockages or structural problems that might be causing the smokiness.

Approved Fireplace Locations

The following locations are approved for use.
Checked for safety by Facilities Services
Programmatic use approved by Office of the Dean of Students


Adirondack View-20  Japanese House - Living Room
Adirondack View-97   PALANA House Living Room
Adirondack View-99  Senior Residence Living Room 
Allen First Year Residence First Floor Lounge
Bowker   Xenia Living Room
Brackett House   Tavern Social House All Units 
Brooker House   Outdoor Living Hall All Units
Chateau    Grand Salon Only
Coffrin Hall   Annex Lounge                  
College Street-236    Senior Residence Living Room
College St-248   Portuguese House Living Room   
Deanery German House Basement 
Forest Hall  Residence Hall East & West Lounges
Franklin Street-131  Hebrew House Living Room 
Hepburn Hall Residence Lounge
Hillcrest - 70 Queer Studies House Living Room
The Mill Mill Social House Living Room Only
Palmer House  SuperBlock All Units     
Pearsons Hall   Residence Lounge
Prescott House   Chromatic Social House All Units
Ross Dining Fireplace Lounge
Stewart Hall     Residence Lounge
Sperry House Arabic House Living Room
Using a Fireplace

Before using a campus fireplace, please make sure that all of these items are present.   

  1. Fireplace screen
  2. Fireplace grate
  3. Fireplace tools (heat resistant gloves, poker, shovel and tongs)
  4. Metal bucket or container with proper fitting cover for ash and ember removal
  5. Fire extinguisher (ABC type) located within 35' of fireplace
  6. "Seasoned" fire wood (1 year old or older) – the College does not provide firewood.

Operating instructions

  1. Clean the fireplace. Ash and ember removal must be done prior to starting a fire.
  2. Open fireplace damper/flue.
  3. Crinkle several sheets of newspaper (black & white print) and place under a log grate
  4. Place 2 to 4 "seasoned" dry logs on the grate
  • wood must be stored outside, in a dry area
  • Roll up and light a single section of newspaper
    • does the smoke rise up the chimney?
      • Yes, light the paper under the grate
      • No, extinguish the piece of paper and check to make sure the flue is open. If you have the same result, contact Facilities Services to have the chimney inspected.
  • Close the fireplace screen
  • Additional Precautions

    • Never leave the fire unattended
    • Do not let the fireplace overheat
    • Leave the fireplace damper open for approximately 12 hours after the fire is out
    • Do not place old ashes or embers in a waste basket or up against the building

    Chimney Fires

    If you hear a loud roar within the chimney, or there are flames or parks coming from the top of the chimney, activate FIRE ALARM system, evacuate the building and call 911 / 5911 Middlebury College