Winter is coming and the time for hot soups and warm fires is drawing near. Whether you already own a fireplace or you’re looking into getting one, there are some important things to consider before firing up. Fireplace maintenance is often neglected and leads to thousands of fires each year. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 30% of heating equipment fires from 2007-2011 were due to lack of maintenance. The wrong kind of fire poses a risk in wood, gas and electrical fireplaces, so maintenance needs to be an important part of the fall season.
Why It’s Important
Wood burning fireplaces require regular cleaning because burnt wood produces byproducts that float into the chimney and create a layer of creosote, which is highly flammable. Soot can also build up in a chimney and inhibit airflow. Smoke is harmful to our health, so ventilation is vital in stopping backdrafts of poisonous carbon monoxide.
Electrical and gas fireplaces don’t pose these same problems since they’re free of wood, but maintenance is just as important in preventing gas leaks and fire hazards.
Wood Burning Fireplaces
These require the most maintenance, but they also offer utility-free heat. Keep wood burning fireplaces functioning properly by following these steps.
- Clean fireboxes at least once a week while the fireplace is in use. Cleaning should be concluded with a quick test for ventilation by simply lighting a match to see that smoke is actively going up and out the chimney instead of lingering or drifting into the room.
- Clean out ash when it reaches the bottom of the grate so it doesn’t affect airflow (but keep an inch in place so coals have insulation).
- Regularly check mesh, screens and grates for damage so they can be immediately repaired or replaced.
- Sweep chimneys once a year. You should also sweep the chimney about every 80 fires if you’re a heavy fireplace user or whenever creosote is more than an eighth of an inch thick. Consider hiring a professional with the knowledge and equipment to detect and inspect problems.
Wood burning fireplaces take more work than gas and electric alternatives, but you can make maintenance easier with these simple tricks.
- Buy or cut firewood late in the winter so it has at least 6-12 months to dry out before being burned.
- Burn hardwoods like oak, ash and maple. They’re denser and produce more heat with fewer logs.
- Stick to firewood to reduce the risk of flare-ups. Adding pizza boxes, driftwood and manufactured logs to a wood fire can increase the chances of chimney fires.
These are a great option since they don’t produce soot or creosote, but they still require cleaning and inspection. Make sure to do these key maintenance steps at the beginning and end of every winter.
- Clean glass inside and out to remove residues that could take flame. Check the glass door to see that it’s fitted efficiently and give gaskets a thorough inspection to ensure they’re not leaking carbon monoxide.
- Look over all connections to make sure they’re secure, clean and free of any tears.
- Investigate vents for any clogs that may inhibit ventilation so you can remove blockages and replace compromised vent kits.
This low maintenance option offers heat at the flick of a switch and without all the cleaning and sweeping of a wood burning fireplace. They do run on electricity, so do seasonal checkups to keep them functioning properly.
- Dust both the inside and outside of your fireplace to clean up any debris that could catch fire.
- Change the lightbulb in your fireplace every two to three years to keep your fireplace running warm and efficient.
- Check the appliances plugged into surrounding outlets to make sure that everything has the power required.
- Move back any encroaching flammable items or electrical hazards (ie. fish tanks).