Caring For a Wood-Burning Fireplace
by Carla Hill
The warm glow of a fire on a cold winter night can be magical. Many families love the ambiance a blaze provides. Others rely on these embers to keep their family members warm and cozy during freezing temperatures.
Are you new to homeownership and need a few tips on how to safely maintain your wood-burning fireplace? Or are you a seasoned pro that just needs to brush up on the basics? Either way keep reading to find out how you can keep your fireplace in good working order all the way through the snowy season.
First, be sure to inspect and clean your fireplace before the first use of the season. You can hire a professional chimney sweep. If you use your fireplace regularly during the winter, you’ll probably need a professional to clean your fireplace more than once a season, which is great since a pro not only cleans your chimney, but can also spot possible problem areas.
Next, learn about creosote. Who knew fireplaces could be so fun? Technically, creosote is "a dark brown or black flammable tar deposited from especially wood smoke on the walls of a chimney." (Merriam Webster) The key word here is "flammable." That’s what every homeowner really needs to know. As your wood burns it produces dark deposits of creosote in your fireplace and up your chimney. If not attended to, this layer can catch fire.
There are around 27,000 chimney fires each year resulting in 10 to 20 deaths. This doesn’t mean you should be afraid of your fireplace, but rather that you should be sure to do regular maintenance.
You can do periodic checks yourself. Simply take a flashlight and shine it down the chimney. Be careful on slippery roofs, though! (You can also shine from the inside up.) If you see soot hanging from the sides of the chimney wall then it’s time for some action.
Prevent build-up by burning seasoned hot-burning woods such as hedge. Some woods don’t burn at a high enough temperatures, such as ash, and can cause creosote build-up. You can also avoid build-up by leaving the damper open for around 15 minutes each morning, or whenever you use fresh wood. Also, consider burning smaller fires instead of gigantic blazes.
Creosote that is built up on doors can be scraped off with razor blades. Don’t use harsh chemicals to clean glass. A soft, damp rag is best. Remove ashes whenever the fireplace gets full. Be sure to properly dispose of these. Most people have a specific ash bucket and scope that they sit outside and far away from flammable material until there is no risk of embers. Never sit an open ash bucket in a garage.
Aside from nasty ole creosote you should consider putting a cap on your chimney. These caps can keep out birds next, leaves, rain, and reduce draft issues.
These are just the basics of wood-burning fireplaces. Take a few precautions and you’re sure to have a safe and beautiful fireplace season.