Kingston BBQ and Fireplace Giveaway

At Friendly Fires, we are a very fortunate company. Not only do we have the most amazing customers and fantastic staff, but our suppliers are world class too!

Let me explain…

All 4 of our stores have a strong sense of community and giving back. Last year at one of our Christmas parties, I challenged all of our team members to raise more money this year for local charities. Our Kingston Store Manager (Duncan Rider) and our Kingston Service Manager (Shaun Stickle) got together and came up with an idea. While attending the upcoming Home Shows (Kingston Home Show, the Kinsmen Home Show and the Quinte Home & Lifestyle Show), why not sell tickets for a draw on a free BBQ giveaway as well as a free gas fireplace giveaway. The money raised would be combined with the efforts at the Kingston BBQ Competition and the Kingston Homebuilders Golf Tournament.

The monies will be given to Joe Chithalen Memorial Musial Instrument Lending Library.  (Joe’s M.I.L.L.)- a charity near and dear to our hearts.  Joe’s M.I.L.L is a library of musical instruments that any aspiring musician can borrow for their use – usually for a 4-week period and there is no charge for the loans. This charity was developed here in Kingston and named after the late, great Joe Chithalen; a young musician beloved in Kingston that died way too young.

When we approached Enivro and Napoleon, both companies were very supportive, with our Kingston BBQ giveaway and our Kingston Gas Stove giveaway. As a company, it feels great that you can have such amazing partners that not only make a great fireplace or BBQ, but that understand the need to give back to our local community as well.

Last week we announced the winners on Facebook. Evan Cheetham was the lucky winner of the Napoleon BBQ and Glen Elliott won the Enviro Gas Westport Stove. A big thank you to Enviro and Napoleon for their sponsorship and a huge thank you to all the team members in Kingston for raising money for a worthy cause! Well done Friendly Fires….yet again!

How to Prevent a Chimney Fire

Chimney fires are a frightening prospect for any homeowner who burns with wood (or pellet).  Beyond damaging your chimney, chimney fires can spread to your home causing injury and death as well as extensive property damage.  But chimney fires can be completely eliminated with a proper precautions.

Understanding Chimney Fires

There are two types of chimney fires, free burning and slow burning.  Free burning fires are easier to detect because you will hear a loud roar like a freight train is running through your living room.  Billows of smoke and spewing flames will pour out of your chimney.  Slow burning fires are silently destructive.  They burn quietly at high temperatures for a long period of time.  While slow burning fires appear less dangerous, the high temperatures can cause serious damage to your chimney and catch other parts of your home on fire.

Both types can cause extensive damage even if contained to your chimney.  Chimney fires can reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt some metals.  This is why even prefabricated chimneys, that are designed to withstand high temperatures, are still liable to be damaged by a chimney fire.  Often, the high temperatures will distort or collapse the metal liner.  If you have a masonry chimney, a chimney fire may cause structural damage by cracking mortar, bricks and stone or causing a chimney liner to break or collapse.  The damage caused to a chimney by the flame is what puts the rest of your home at risk because it creates pathways to other flammable materials like the walls and roof of your home.

How to Respond to a Chimney Fire

If you do have a chimney fire, your immediate response should be to get everyone out of your home.  Once you’re all safe, call the fire department.  While you’re waiting for them to arrive, you can help prevent the fire from spreading by dousing your roof with a garden hose.

It’s important to bring in a professional chimney sweep in after a chimney fire to determine the original cause of the fire and assess the damage.  You may need to have your chimney repaired or the liner replaced before your fireplace is safe to use again. If the damage is not repaired a second chimney fire could bring down your home.

What Causes Chimney Fires

CreosoteThe leading cause of chimney fires is creosote buildup.  Creosote is a highly flammable substance that is a byproduct of incomplete combustion.  It’s created when volatile gasses and particles in smoke from an inefficient fire come in contact with cooler air in your chimney and form a tar-like condensation along the walls of your chimney.  Eventually if you don’t have your chimney cleaned (or aren’t burning properly) it can be plugged by creosote.

The more creosote in a chimney the more likely it is to catch fire.  If the level of oxygen and the temperature within your chimney are at the right level it can cause the creosote buildup to ignite. When the level of creosote in a chimney is low, there is little danger. In that instance, the fire would burn out quickly. When there are large amounts of creosote, it can burn for a long time and will cause the greatest amount of damage if ignited.

Preventing Chimney Fires

The majority of chimney fires can be prevented by reducing the buildup of creosote in your chimney and having your chimney annually cleaned out and inspected by a chimney sweep.

In order to reduce the accumulation of creosote, follow these practices:

  • Only burn seasoned firewood: Green wood requires more energy to burn because of the higher level of moisture which results in a less efficient fire and smoke that is higher in particulates and volatile gas that will form into creosote. Seasoned wood burns hotter and more efficiently creating less creosote. To ensure that your wood is properly seasoned, test it with a moisture meter (visually, its impossible to tell if the inside of wood is dry).
  • Chimney FireOnly use dry newspaper or proper kindling to start a fire.  Gasoline, kerosene and other composite products should never be used to start a fire in your fireplace.
  • Only use unadulterated firewood: You should not burn stained, glued or painted wood, cardboard, wrapping paper, or trash because they contain volatile organic compounds and toxins. These substances are not only harmful for the environment (and humans), they also contribute to creosote buildup.
  • Burn your stove or fireplace properly: Different appliances require different burning techniques.  Refer to your manual for specific operating instructions for your appliance.

Remember that reducing the amount of creosote that builds up each burning season is only the first step to chimney fire prevention.  The second step is bringing in a professional chimney sweep, at the end of the season, to clean out the creosote that has accumulated and inspect your chimney.  A clean chimney means a safer home.  Adding this year’s creosote on top of last year’s can lead to a dangerous collection that puts your home more at risk.  By taking both steps you can enjoy your fireplace without worrying.

Remember, there are strong benefits to having a chimney sweep immediately at the end of the burning season (and during the summer months).


Chimney Sweep FAQ’s

 Who is best to clean a wood chimney?

Friendly Fires recommends companies who regularly install wood (or pellet) appliances are the best at cleaning chimneys and wood fireplaces – as long as they use Full Time Employees.  Many companies simply sub-contract their technicians.

Should my chimney sweep be WETT Certified?

Yes, we recommend WETT Certified Chimney Sweeps. At Friendly Fires, because we use full time fireplace installers, all our wood chimney sweeps are WETT certified.

Where does Friendly Fires Chimney Sweep?

You can view our complete fireplace service area listing under ‘Services‘ – but as a summary, we will chimney sweep within 1 hours of any of our store locations, including but not limited to: Almonte / Amherstview / Apsley / Arden / Arnprior / Athens / Bailieboro / Baltimore / Bath / Battersea / Bethany / Bewdley / Bobcaygeon / Bridgenorth / Brighton / Brockville / Buckhorn / Campbellcroft / Campbellford / Carleton Place / Cavan / Kawartha Lakes / Cobourg / Coe Hill / Colborne / Douro / Elgin / Ennismore / Fraserville / Gananoque / Glenburnie / Harrowsmith / Hastings / Havelock / Inverary / Kingston / Lakefield / Lansdowne / Lindsay / Little Britain / Lombardy / Lyndhurst / Mallorytown / Millbrook / Norwood / Omemee / Packenham / Perth / Perth Road / Peterborough / Plum Hollow / Port Hope / Roseneath / Smiths Falls / Sydenham / Tamworth / Trent Hills / Trent River / Trenton / Verona / Warkworth / Warsaw / Wellington / Westport / Westwood / Wilberforce / Wolfe Island / Woodview / Yarker / Youngs Point.

How can I get the best price chimney sweep?

Two ways: If you are an existing Friendly Fires customer and if you get your system cleaned in the off season (or summer months), you will get the best priced chimney sweep available.

I would like to clean my own chimney

No problem – just ensure you have the right products to do so.  Friendly Fires has chimney brushes and rods in all sizes for all applications in stock at any of our stores.

Do chimney caps make sense?

If your wood system does not already have a cap, Friendly Fires does recommend chimney caps in order to improve draft and help prevent critters and rain from entering the system.  All Friendly Fires locations stock lock top dampers, universal chimney caps as well as high quality stainless steel chimney caps that will never rust.

Feel free to comment or call us with any questions.

Fireplace Safety

As heating season comes along, its important to think about fireplace safety when it comes to children (and pets).  Fireplaces (stoves) get hot.  Although certain safety standards have improved over the years (such as mandatory screens on gas and propane fireplaces), there still remains a number of danger areas.  Follow these five steps for a safe heating season.

1. Wood & Gas Stove Gates

Consider installing a stove gate around your fireplace or stove.  These gates are customizable and can be configured in different shapes for added fireplace safety.  Although not always aesthetically pleasing, they can be removed during warmer months.  With access doors, you can also easily access your fireplace should you need to tend to it and / or add fuel.


2. Fireplace Screens

If you have a traditional gas or wood fireplace, consider adding a screen in front of it.  Although these freestanding fireplace screens can be attached to the wall for added protection, simply being freestanding can often be enough of a deterrent for an accidental touch or ‘toy barrier’ to the hot fireplace glass.  Fireplace screens now come in many designs from simple and modern to ornate and romantic, you can easily find a screen that enhances the look of your fireplace while also ensuring the safety of your furry friend or child.

3. Hearth Padding
If you have a traditional hearth that extends in front of your fireplace opening, ensure you have some protection on it.  Hearths are typically elevated and made from concrete, stone or brick – and these can be hurtful should a child fall into them.  Some companies even make a hearth padding that is fire resistant foam that you can attach to your hearth to prevent those injuries.  No special padding?  Consider a nice display of pillows (ensure to remove them should you turn the fireplace on).

4. Keep Danger Out of Reach

Flammable objects, fireplace toolsets and ignition materials all pose risks to children and pets, so it’s important to keep them out of reach (and away from your fireplace).  Matches, starter chips and other ignition materials should be stored in a secure location where inquisitive children cannot get them.  Remember that a fireplace toolset and ignition material can be as much a risk to older children as they are for toddlers.

5. Be Proactive & Keep a Watchful Eye
The last (and potentially most important) step in fireplace safety is to be proactive and educate and supervise your children (and pets) when the fireplace is in use.  You should begin talking to your child about the dangers of fire as soon as possible and teach him/her about fireplace safety early on.  Whether the fireplace is still burning or just hot, its best to make it a practice to take your child or pet with you when you leave the room.

Following these five steps will keep your loved ones safe while you all enjoy the warmth of your fireplace. Remember to also make sure all of your smoke alarms are working, invest in a carbon monoxide detector and have your chimney and fireplace professionally cleaned and inspected annually to ensure the safety of your whole household.

Fireplace Benefits

Fireplace Benefits -

The Farmers Almanac is predicting a cold cold winter…..  Here’s how a new stove or fireplace can help!

For many people, a fireplace helps to make their house feel more like a home by adding festive ambiance or creating a romantic setting. All year round a new fireplace is an attractive focal piece where family photos and seasonal decorations can be on display.  But besides soft benefits, there are also many tangible benefits of a new wood stove or gas fireplace.

No Hydro, No Problem

Hydro blackouts can be a challenge during winter, especially if you don’t own a generator.  Without an alternate heating system your house could sustain damages and you may have to stay somewhere else until the power is on again.  Friendly Fires’ recommends fireplaces that work during power outages.  No power, no problem.

Energy Independence

There has been much talk lately on large monopolies (ie hydro) increasing costs to consumers.  Fireplaces and stoves offer real alternatives to heating a home.  Most people are astonished as to how many people heat their entire homes with one or two fireplaces (gas, propane, wood or pellet).  Although they can be more work (wood or pellet) – the money you save on your heating goes a long way to making it worthwhile.  Plus, you are independent – you’ll not care what the large utilities are doing.  Do you have a masonry fireplace opening?  Consider an efficient insert.

Environmentally Friendly ‘Green’ Heat

Solar? Wind? Ethanol? Hydro? Nuclear? No matter what your opinion is on alternate ‘green’ technologies, efficient wood and pellet appliances are carbon neutral.  The only heating source that is.  Wood heat often gets a bad reputation for not being environmentally friendly, but this is not the case if done properly.  Wood is a sustainable, renewable resource that reduces your carbon footprint. Wood is a plentiful resource – especially now that wood harvesters plant as many trees as they cut down.  Unlike fossil fuels which release a large amount of carbon when burned, wood produces an equal amount of carbon burning as it does decaying naturally.  For this reason, it is considered “carbon neutral” by the Carbon Trust.  Why not heat your home in a green fashion – save the environment and your pocket book?  Wood is good!

Save Money

Decreasing your dependence on an energy company for heat can also significantly reduce your heating costs during the winter. Wood is an affordable fuel whether you collect it yourself or get it delivered.  According to the Energy Information Administration’s Heating Fuel Comparison Calculator, it costs less than $10 to produce 1 million BTUs with wood while it costs over $30 to produce the same amount of energy with electricity.

There are many great benefits to owning a fireplace….. hopefully our Team will have the opportunity to keep your home and cottage warm this winter.

Bristle Free BBQ Brush

There’s been much talk in the news lately on the safety of bristle BBQ brushes.  According to many news sources (and Doctors), there’s been an increase in reported cases where the metal bristle of a BBQ brush has gotten lodged in a person’s throat.

Yuck.  Scary.

While this is very serious – its important to note that not all BBQ brushes are the same.  The big box stores (dollar stores, grocery stores…) sell BBQ brushes made out of plastic.  What happens to plastic over time and / or when used repeatedly over a hot grill?  The plastic expands, and, well….

Not All Products Are Built The Same

For these reasons, Friendly Fires has never sold BBQ brushes made from plastic.  Our BBQ brushes cost more – but they’re made from solid materials (wood & steel) and therefore do not lose bristles over time.  Friendly Fires specializes in the ‘good stuff’ – and a BBQ brush is no exception.  Sometimes it makes sense to spend a little more.

What To Do Next?

If you own a big box store BBQ brush, throw it out.  Replace it with one of many alternatives:

1 – BBQ Brush with wood handle

2 – Grill Floss

3 – Bristle Free BBQ brush

And of course, all of these BBQ brushes are available at Friendly Fires locations and other great specialty retailers in Ontario.

Happy (and safe) BBQing!

Efficient Pellet Stove Project

Friendly Fires has been working on an efficient pellet stove project with St. Lawrence College and Green City Initiatives. Just recently at a SWITCH meeting, we were approached by Green City Initiatives as they have been experimenting with pelletizing coffee grinds.

Essentially, burning pellets is replaced with an alternative. Their concept was to see if we could use the waste coffee grinds from restaurants from landfills to produce a fuel source. We wanted to see if these coffee grind pellets could work in a regular pellet stove and if they could sell for less then regular pellets. If so, there could be a market for them!

After collecting some samples of coffee grinds, they started working with Foreman Farms to pelletize the first batch for independent testing. Their results came back fairly positive. The coffee grind pellets had a slightly higher BTU rating per pound, but the ash content was lower than traditional wood pellets.

In August of last year, approximately 80 pounds of these pellets were brought in to our Friendly Fires Kingston Store to burn in an Enviro Meridian Pellet Stove. Alternative Fuel in the Enviro Meridian Pellet StoveThe results were great! They burned well, resulting in little ash and good heat.

Magnhelic Gauge on an Enviro Meridian Pellet StoveWith these results in mind, Green City Initiatives contacted the local Tim Horton’s and MacDonald’s to begin discussions with St. Lawrence College in order to set up a testing facility for the new coffee pellets. They started collecting 4 tons of coffee grinds a day from the Kingston Tim Horton’s alone! Our Friendly Fires installers were quick to professionally install two pellet stoves at St. Lawrence College late last year.  We are hopeful to see some positive results soon so stay tuned for our next post!

Summer Chimney Sweep?

Chimney Sweep Ontario

We often get asked when the best time is to clean a fireplace or get a chimney sweep. Although most of our customers get their wood (or pellet) fireplaces cleaned in the fall or winter, believe it or not, Spring and Summer are probably better.

A chimney sweep (or pellet cleaning) essentially removes creosote, ash, and other wood particles and debris from a wood stove or fireplace. If the system is cleaned at the end of the burning season, it remains clean for the spring, summer and fall months when downdrafts can (are most likely) to occur. In other words, as cold air falls down a chimney stack (more common in warmer months), if the system is not clean, its more likely that airborne particles enter a home. Why are downdrafts more likely in warmer months? Well, although there can be other contributing factors (negative pressure, wind, etc…), downdrafts are often created by the temperature difference from the inside and outside of a chimney. In warmer months, there is not as much temperature difference between the inside air of a chimney and the outside air – increasing the possibility of downdrafts.

But I have an ‘air tight’ wood burning stove or fireplace?

Although they are called air tight appliances, they are not air tight. Even the highest quality wood stove or fireplace leaks air.

Other benefits of a chimney sweep in the warmer months include cost savings (off season for fireplace companies), safer for the technicians, and because its not as busy – easier and more flexible to schedule.

Although we don’t tend to think about heating appliances and chimney sweeps in the summer months, maybe reconsider. As a friend in the air conditioning business told me – the best time to buy an air conditioner is in the winter!

Wood is Good – Happy Safe Burning.

Other Frequently Asked Chimney Sweeping Questions


Who is best to clean a wood chimney?

Friendly Fires recommends companies who regularly install wood (or pellet) appliances are the best at cleaning chimneys and wood fireplaces – as long as they use Full Time Employees.  Many companies simply sub-contract their technicians.


Should my chimney sweep be WETT Certified?

Yes, we recommend WETT Certified Chimney Sweeps. At Friendly Fires, because we use full time fireplace installers, all our wood chimney sweeps are WETT certified.

Where does Friendly Fires Chimney Sweep?

You can view our complete fireplace service area listing under ‘Services‘ – but as a summary, we will chimney sweep within 1 hours of any of our store locations, including but not limited to: Almonte / Amherstview / Apsley / Arden / Arnprior / Athens / Bailieboro / Baltimore / Bath / Battersea / Bethany / Bewdley / Bobcaygeon / Bridgenorth / Brighton / Brockville / Buckhorn / Campbellcroft / Campbellford / Carleton Place / Cavan / Kawartha Lakes / Cobourg / Coe Hill / Colborne / Douro / Elgin / Ennismore / Fraserville / Gananoque / Glenburnie / Harrowsmith / Hastings / Havelock / Inverary / Kingston / Lakefield / Lansdowne / Lindsay / Little Britain / Lombardy / Lyndhurst / Mallorytown / Millbrook / Norwood / Omemee / Packenham / Perth / Perth Road / Peterborough / Plum Hollow / Port Hope / Roseneath / Smiths Falls / Sydenham / Tamworth / Trent Hills / Trent River / Trenton / Verona / Warkworth / Warsaw / Wellington / Westport / Westwood / Wilberforce / Wolfe Island / Woodview / Yarker / Youngs Point

How can I get the best price chimney sweep?

Two ways: If you are an existing Friendly Fires customer and if you get your system cleaned in the off season (or summer months), you will get the best priced chimney sweep available.


I would like to clean my own chimney

No problem – just ensure you have the right products to do so.  Friendly Fires has chimney brushes and roads in all sizes for all applications in stock at any of our stores.


Do chimney caps make sense?

If your wood system does not already have a cap, Friendly Fires does recommend chimney caps in order to improve draft and help prevent critters and rain from entering the system.  All Friendly Fires locations stock lock top dampers, universal chimney caps as well as high quality stainless steel chimney caps that will never rust.

Feel free to comment or call us with any questions.

What charcoal BBQ to buy?

Growth in charcoal cooking these past few years has been dramatic. Whether it’s the taste in food or simply the versatility (from smoking to searing in one appliance), charcoal is back! One question often asked in our stores is: What’s the best Kamado charcoal BBQ?  Kamado refers to the ceramic charcoal BBQs – allowing increased moisture content in the food and amazing heat control.  There are so many brands, that its tough for consumers to make a decision.

The most common ones are the Big Green Egg (most popular & has been around the longest), Vision Grill (Big Box Store), Grill Dome (Internet), Broil King Keg (portable Kamado), Kamadoe Joe (up & coming Kamado), Primo (our brand), or the Black Olive (easiest to start).

Which one is the best? Well, although your food will taste the same on all of them, here are some reasons why you may choose one over another.

If you:
1 – Want the original, don’t mind spending more for a brand name, don’t mind if your product is made in Mexico or overseas and like the colour green – buy the Big Green Egg
2 – Are on a budget and don’t mind replacement parts every few years – buy the Vision Grill
3 – Want the cheapest option and are okay with replacing it in a couple of years – buy the Grill Dome
4 – Prefer the colour red – get the Kamadoe Joe
5 – Want to travel with it and don’t mind sacrificing some heat control – get the Broil King Keg (attaches to a tailgate)
6 – Prefer North American built product and want to cook a variety of foods – get the Primo Oval (most versatile)
6 – Lead a busy life and need the quickest to start and control – get the Black Olive Pellet or Black Olive Charcoal (auto start option)

Regardless of your decision, one thing is for certain – by picking any one of the above you will definitely want to spend more time outside this summer and you can’t go wrong with that!

Another Great Year

Friendly Fires Trainers

Its amazing that another full year has passed.  Once again, we could not be more proud of the incredible accomplishments of our talented team.  2015 was another great year for Friendly Fires, and once again, we achieved some great achievements this year again.  First and foremost, was the addition of some amazing new talent.  We were fortunate to grow again as a business, and one of the fun parts about growth is the addition of new people with their respective skills and abilities.  If Friendly Fires did not have the most skilled solar, fireplace & BBQ team in North America before – we definitely do now.  We added some new gas technicians, wood technicians, sales people and a Service Manager.  Its great to grow when most newspapers talk about doom & gloom!  Thank you customers!

Another interesting point is the fact that ‘winter did not arrive’ in 2015.  Normally for a fireplace business, this would be very tough and sales would suffer.  Luckily for us however, our fireplace business did very well – and – our BBQ and solar business grew!  Its tough for a business to remain small and focused on a few verticals, but so far, our focus on 3 categories is paying off.

We have no plans to sell hot tubs, furnaces, patio furniture, or any other distraction in 2016.  We want to be the best we can – in three specific yet complimentary categories: Fireplaces, BBQs & Solar.

But don’t take my word for it, check out what our amazing team accomplished this year.

Thank You Hydro One

As we enter the half way point of the fireplace season, its fair to summarize that the weather has not cooperated.  Fireplace sales are weather driven – cold brings in customers (just like the winter tire or air conditioning industries).  So one would assume that fireplace sales are down this year…. But, this is not the case.  Our efficient wood and gas burning product sales are up again this year.  And this does not include the benefit of our new Carleton Place Store store, which has surpassed our sales expectations.

I asked a new Friendly Fires customer this week why they were purchasing when it was so warm outside, and his answer: I’m tired of my hydro bills.  When I inquired with our sales team, this was a common theme.  Although saving money is definitely a reason that our customers have purchased from us in the past, never has a single reason polarized so many of our customers.  This has also reflected on our alternative energy and solar business – customers are angry about their hydro bills.

Reflecting on the issue, its fair to assume that Government will not change – even if we do elect a different political party next election that will undoubtedly ‘promise change.’  Don’t we always seem to vote for a party that is ‘promising change’?

That said, I do find it empowering that a customer can purchase a product from Friendly Fires (or hundreds of other great retailers) that allow them to completely remove themselves from the reliance of Government when it comes to heating their home.  Wood and pellet burning is rarely mentioned in the conversation of an efficient environmentally friendly way to heat – but the reality – its the only carbon neutral way to heat a home.  I always find it interesting that Hydro subsidies thermostats, efficient lighting, etc… things that sometimes help reduce hydro consumption.  Why not subsidize a product that can eliminate hydro consumption all together?  Solar panels, gas and wood burning products allow home owners an environmentally and cost effective way to heat their homes.  And looking at how politicians manage these hydro monopolies, it would appear that its a bright future for fireplace & solar stores.

On behalf of all fireplace stores in Ontario, thank you Hydro One.

Celebrity Fireplaces

This week, Friendly Fires completed another installation for a popular home renovation show.  This latest episode will be aired on Home and Garden Television (HGTV) as part of their Income Property / Vacation Property series.  It’s not the first time that Friendly Fires was chosen to be the trusted fireplace contractor, nor the last (we hope).

Unfortunately, we can’t speak much about what was done as the episode has not aired yet – so stay tuned.  We can say that the wood fireplace was installed in Apsley (Kawartha Lakes) in between Lakefield and Bancroft.  In addition, we can also speak about the experience – which was really neat.  On a normal course of business, our amazing fireplace installers typically install a standard wood stove in under 5 hours.  Total time for this episode, will be closer to 10 hours.  Our projected on air time: 10 seconds (from a 10 hour install)!

Its funny to see our technicians perform a task and then the director asks them to repeat it again, and again, and again – so that he can film it from different angles.  I think we must have thrown some old chimney pieces off the cottage roof 10 times (throw off, bring back up, throw off again…).

Working with Scott McGillivray and the rest of the HGTV designers and producers was excellent once again.  And considering that our Cobourg fireplace showroom was in the Adam Sandler / Kevin James movie Pixels this year, and that we have dozens of popular movie stars as customers – maybe Friendly Fires should consider opening a store in Hollywood?  Celebrity Fireplaces anyone?

Carleton Place Fireplaces

Yes its true – Friendly Fires is now open in the most cursed location in Carleton Place.  How it came about is an interesting (we think) story.  Although Friendly Fires gets asked to sell & service product across Ontario, we prefer to remain local (close to our service locations) and refer out of town business to other local dealers.  However, over the past few years, we have been receiving increased inquiries from the Lanark area and considering I was originally from Ottawa, that area has remained an interest for us.  There is (was) a strong demand for Carleton Place Fireplaces!

Early this year, a local heating & air conditioning company went out of business in Pakenham.  It had some amazing staff and they were now out of work.  We seized the opportunity and committed to opening a local store.  Although finding the right team is typically the most difficult part of a new venture, in this case, finding the right location was the challenge for us.  The Mississippi Mills community was incredibly welcoming early on (we committed to bring local jobs to the area) and considering we had the team and systems already in place, all we needed was a location!

We searched Carleton Place and surrounding area for a few weeks looking for the best location.  We wanted an amazing showroom and adequate warehouse area to ensure proper stock.  Fireplaces and BBQs are a destination, so we didn’t need anything prime.  The only good spot was a run-down strip mall on Hwy 7 that had been empty for years and years.  For anyone who commuted from Ottawa to Peterborough – mention ‘Valley Plaza’ – and they know the spot.  The previous landlord had left the mall in total disrepair, and as such, no business had been able to succeed.  We were up for the challenge, and our team and local contractors worked for 12 straight weeks and got the project done (15 bins of garbage were removed)!  We have neat pictures of the progress (and hiccups) on our Facebook page ( and on our website under our Pictures section.

We could not be happier with the result.  Its one of the nicest showrooms in our company.  Everyday we get people dropping by thanking us for having cleaned up the mall, and a number of our local customers have dropped by and business (so far) has exceeded our expectations.

Although we are new to the community, we want to thank everyone for the warm response (and business).  Looking back, its pretty amazing what the Friendly Fires team accomplished in such a short period of time.  Our team never ceases to amaze me.

Drop by and say hi to Paul and keep your suggestions for new store locations coming – who knows where we will open next…..

Are Solar Panels Normal?

When I graduated from Queen’s University in 1995 as a very young environmental idealist, I dreamed of a day when Solar Panels would be easily accessible – not a novelty item.  So began my epic journey into the Solar Industry.  Back then, hardly anyone had touched or seen a solar panel, let alone had them installed on the roofs of their homes.  We worked hard, taking our solar powered trailer to every home show, county fair and sometimes even to the local beer store to show people in our community how solar worked.

In 2008, we were honoured when David Suzuki came to our store . We were the first business in Kingston (and maybe even Ontario) to feed solar and wind power back into the electricity grid.  As he stood next to me, I realized my solar dreams were slowing coming true. Imagine, little ol’ me – shaking hands with David Suzuki at our store!  Check out Cam Mather’s video on the event – but more on that later.

I sat down with a good friend and our Solar Engineer, Jason Wamboldt, and we came to some very interesting conclusions.

1) The Ontario Power Authority, released a long term energy report in 2013.  In that report it says that the price of delivered electricity in Ontario will rise to 20 cents/kilowatt hour in 2015 and continue to rise to 25 cents/kilowatt hour by 2022.  Take a closer look at your Electricity Bill – you’ll see that they are right!

2) With a south facing roof, we can install solar panels on your roof for around 18 cents per kilowatt hour.  Yes, you read that correctly, Solar Electricity is cheaper then regular electricity!

Jittery with excitement about this newly discovered fact, I thought it would be interesting to share this with my niece and nephew, seeing as they are the next generation that will benefit from cleaner forms of energy.  Then I remembered a trip we took to Toronto awhile back.  I thought it would be intriguing to stop and show them the Solar Panel installation by the Napanee Good Year plant.  Much to my dismay when I stop the car, I discover that they are on their phones in the back seat.  They were completely oblivious to all of my mind-blowing explanations of how solar panels work.  So, I asked them why they were not more excited, and their answer was very interesting.  “Well Uncle Brad, Papa (their Grandfather) has Solar Panels on his roof, Dad has them on his roof and you work with Solar Panels everyday.”  I paused for a minute and replied, “So, is this normal to you?”  They replied, “Yes!”



New Emission Standards for Wood Stoves

There has been a lot of chatter in the fireplace industry this past couple of weeks about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Residential Wood Heaters.  Although the EPA is an American Government Agency, their rules and regulations affect the wood and pellet stoves that are sold here in Canada. The biggest marketplace in North America is the USA; so when manufacturer’s are designing new products for our industry, they always design to the American standard.

From the not for profit web site, John Gulland points out the some of the highlights:

* in 5 years all new wood heaters would have to comply with a weighted average emission cap of 2.0 g/h
* between now and 2020, all new wood heaters would have to comply with the current Washington state limit of 4.5g/h
* furnaces, boilers and masonry heaters are also included under the new rule.

You can find the new rule here:
At 344 pages, it is not an easy read.
As the NSPS challenges our wood and pellet stove manufacturers, to make a products that meet this new emission standard, I am confident that they will rise to the challenge and surprise everyone along the way.

Does it get any better?

HPBA Vesta

What an amazing year for Friendly Fires!

First – we were featured in Pools, Spas & Patio Magazine.  Then, we were featured in Patio Hearth & Product Report for our opinions on the North American fireplace & BBQ market.  One of our fireplaces was then chosen for the Colin & Justin Bunkie (two popular designers  To top it off, we were chosen as the official Fireplace Contractor for HGTV’s Income Property Show (  To add to our accolades, we were also chosen as “Favourite Fireplace Store” in all our markets by local media (Best Kawartha Fireplace Store – Peterborough This Week and The Peterborough Examiner, Best Fireplace Store Northumberland, by Northumberland This Week, and Best Kingston Fireplace Store as well…).  We also won two more awards from the Kawartha Home Builder’s Association at their annual gala ( and received honourable mentions from multiple charities for our dedicated involvement.  Reflecting back on our record number of BBQ classes, BBQ competitions, amazing employee events ( – what a year we had!

Oh – and how can we forget that our Cobourg Store is being featured in the upcoming Adam Sandler & Kevin James Movie Pixels.

But – our crown jewel was being named Best North American Fireplace Store by the Hearth Patio & BBQ Association in Salt Lake City (  Friendly Fires was up against some amazing American fireplace stores, and we were chosen as #1 (the first ever Canadian company nominated). Not bad for a store with locations in Kingston, Cobourg & Peterborough – eh?

Looking ahead, 2014 will be tough to beat when it comes to public awards and accolades, but we do have a few surprises up our sleeve – so stay tuned!

A special thanks to all our customers, suppliers & amazing team for a very memorable year.


You can’t touch this!

When I joined the fireplace industry I was amazed as to how many Canadians primarily heat their homes with wood.  Coming from the city I was used to the open brick fireplace that actually removes heat from a home – and I was not familiar with new efficient wood burning appliances.

I soon learned that these Canadians heat with wood because its the only sustainable carbon neutral way to heat a home (yes – wood burning IS the most environmentally friendly solution), the warm radiant heat produced by a wood appliance is unlike any furnace,  but most importantly – heating with wood saves thousands of dollars on annual heating costs.  What would you do with tens of thousands of spare dollars when you retire?

These are the main benefits typically associated with heating with wood.  Last winter however, another important benefit surfaced:  As certain propane suppliers ran out of fuel, some homes who did not have a wood (or pellet) burning appliance did not have heat.  It never occurred to me  that if you heat with wood – you will never run out of fuel.  This does not seem that important until power outages start occurring (most furnaces don’t work if there’s no hydro) or if fuel suppliers (propane / oil / natural gas…) can’t supply for some reason or another – as what happened last winter.  What about nuclear?  It sounds great until a quick Google search reveals how competent the Government has been at managing these types of projects.  What would the Government do with tens of billions of dollars had it not been wasted?

Wood burning is good for the environment, very safe, allows home owners to save thousands of dollars on their heating bills, and now – provides peace of mind that their home will remain warm and cozy forever – no matter how mismanaged the large utility or fossil fuel companies are.

In future blogs we will discuss these benefits but for now – rest assured….

“You can take my propane, you can take my electricity, but you can never take my wood!”  Braveheart movie anyone?

Keep warm – with wood!

Less Can Be More

A trend in the fireplace & BBQ industry is the infinite increase in choices (options) being offered by manufacturers.  Manufacturers call this giving consumers what they want.  We call this trend sku creation on steroids.  The fireplace & BBQ industries are not alone (I recently purchased a couch that had 4 different shades of red as options).

In this competitive world, I appreciate the desire for manufacturers to increase their business by offering more variations of existing products in the hopes of increasing sales.  However, what manufacturers are ignoring are the significant pitfalls with offering too many options:

1. Out of Stock

How can retailers or distributors stock product when hundreds of different configurations exist for a particular fireplace?  This creates the dreaded back order which eventually turns into the dreaded emergency or angry consumer (or even lost sale).  How do you feel as a consumer nowadays in our instantaneous society waiting for back ordered product ?

2. Manufacturing Costs

It costs more to manufacturer different options than a single sku.  Manufacturers are often hesitant to drop a low volume sku as they fear losing those sales.  But, if that option was eliminated, maybe manufacturing costs could be reduced hence making the product more affordable to more people.

3. Confusion

On average, when shopping for a fireplace, a consumer needs to chose the location, fireplace, size, brick interior, front, surround, venting, and then finishing.  Some manufacturers also allow for different log patterns, burner configurations, heat distribution methods and fireplace controls.  If six options are available for each choice (how many finishing options are available nowadays?) – that translates into thousands of different configurations for one fireplace (recall algebra class – 6 to the power of 6 to the power of 6…..).  Imagine the poor customer who is looking for 2 fireplaces for their home?  Its almost like the same person who created the income tax form is deciding on the availability fireplace options….

4 – Delayed Purchase Decisions

The more options available, the more difficult it is to make a decision.  We have seen consumers chose their fireplace in 10 minutes, but take 1-2 weeks (or more) to decide the best ‘front’ for the fireplace.


To swim against the manufacturing trend of trying to be all things to all people, Friendly Fires has implemented a few internal processes to simplify our business (at the chagrin of some distributors and manufacturers).

Firstly, we have reduced the number of manufacturers and distributors we do business with.  This has allowed our sales team and installation crews to become more educated with specific product, allowed us to stock more and negotiate better pricing.  Secondly, we only display best of breed product from Tier 1 suppliers.  Tier 2 suppliers who do not manufacturer great product or support our customers need not apply – no matter how large the market is (such as the $500 Chinese BBQ category – no thanks – not for us).  And lastly, we always re-evaluate our customers, so if a particular ‘exotic’ fireplace becomes more mainstream, we will display and stock up and replace a low-volume sku.

Was Henry Ford ahead of his time when he proudly pronounced: “You can have any colour you want, as long as its black?”

No one says we have to be that rigid… but what would Henry Ford have said if the consumer could have chosen between 4 different shades of black?

Built in Canada… or is it ?

One nice thing about our industry is that we get to sell and promote products that are made in Canada.  In fact, almost 80% of what Friendly Fires sells and installs is made in Canada.  In our industry, Canadian-made product is simply better quality and often comes with superior after-sales support.  Some of the best fireplace & BBQ manufacturers in the world are Canadian – we lead in this manufacturing category.

However, there is one troubling trend.  It seems that as Canadian manufacturers grow they tend to add new skus.  As the number of skus increase, these manufacturers eventually get drawn into the mass merchants addiction and then – what happens ?  Production begins to move offshore.

For example, a major Canadian manufacturer makes some of the best BBQs available today and has been an incredible Canadian manufacturing success story.  They have done a great job building their brand through quality products and great support.  However, this same company now has overseas manufacturing and sells these products to the mass merchants.  Customers are often surprised to learn that a BBQ with the same brand name in our showroom is made in Canada whereas the one at the Big Box Bargain Store was made overseas with cheaper components.  As an aside, this BBQ manufacturer is not alone …. Many Canadian and U.S. manufacturers employ this strategy.  This allows the mass merchant to have a cheaper priced (and produced) product that shows well in their weekly flyer.

Its been our experience that customers will pay more for quality when appropriate and explained.  Its unfortunate that so many manufacturers sometimes forego quality in order to get short term sales gains with the mass merchants.

Formerly great manufacturing brands have been decimated overtime by the lowering of their manufacturing standards to meet the bargain box store expectations and weekly sales flyers.  Hopefully, our great Canadian fireplace & BBQ manufacturers will resist and fight this temptation and continue to produce great high quality products right here in Canada.

Social media not so social

A successful business nowadays must be best of breed in many categories including finding great employees (the most important), product (high quality), its processes (must be efficient), aware of rules and regulations (getting more complicated and onerous everyday), traditional marketing / branding – and now – social media.

5 years ago a marketing plan consisted of a brand strategy, some standard radio or print ads as well as a website.

Today – a marketing strategy consists of the above – as well as regular content on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, You Tube, Houzz & Pintrest.  Did I miss one?

Social media has allowed our customers and team members to interact and share content in ways never imagined just a few years ago.  For example, our Facebook page gets over 700 impressions every week and our Tweets are constantly shared with even higher numbers.   In addition, social media is a great venue for our customers to ask questions, send us pictures of their fireplaces or meals that they are cooking on their BBQs, and ways for our team to reach out to the public.  Also of interest, is that Friendly Fires gets contacted from customers and other fireplace / BBQ stores across North America because of our social media pages.

Outrageous Prediction….

I wish we could predict Social Media in the future.  I’m probably wrong, but something tells me that ‘less is more’ will become more and more prevalent in the future.  Although I won’t predict which social media site will be gone – does anyone remember Alta Vista? Yahoo Search?  Lycos? My Space?

Before they do disappear – let’s enjoy them.  And boy – do I ever look forward to reading this blog post in 10 years.  But for now, please visit our amazing social media sites as our team cares and does a great job keeping them updated with relevant content that hopefully you find interesting.

Happy surfing.

What an amazing team we have!

Last Friday, the Hearth Patio & BBQ Association (HPBA) held their annual trade show and conference in Salt Lake City.  The HPBA has thousands of members and is an association that represents retailers, distributors and manufacturers in the fireplace and BBQ industry.  The annual conference has a trade show, education sessions, as well as an awards ceremony.

Well – Friendly Fires was nominated this year as Hearth Retailer of the Year.  We did not think we had much of a chance of wining because we were the first ever Canadian retail store ever nominated.  Also – some of the American finalists where very impressive.  One fireplace showroom in the U.S. was 20,000 square feet!

In any event, we won the award.  We can’t believe it.  In hindsight it would have been great to have our entire team at the ceremony because our company is our team.  We have the best sales people, technicians and facilities support anywhere.  We won the North American award because of our team.

Brad and I could not be more proud of the amazing group of individuals we get to work with everyday.  Forget the 3 P’s (people product price) – we have the 3 G’s.

Great award.  Great people.  Great company.

We are so glad that specialty retail continues to strive and survive in the world of Big Box Stores.

Thanks Team!