The fireplace is the focal point of many homes. There’s just something homey about the crackling sound of wood and the glow of fire filling the room with warmth. To help ensure that your fireplace continues to provide comfort in style for years to come, consider these best practices for fireplace maintenance.
Clean the Interior of the Fireplace
A wood-burning fireplace can improve the ambiance in a home but it does produce a variety of byproducts from burning all those pieces of wood and you need to remove them regularly. Cleaning the interior will not just improve aesthetics, this will also make the fireplace more efficient in providing heat. Besides, those ashes make excellent sources of nutrients for plants so you can sprinkle them in your garden. Use a dust mask when cleaning your fireplace.
Install Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarms
While the fireplace can be an enjoyable source of warmth inside the house, it can also be a potential source of health hazards as well. Normally, a properly installed fireplace shouldn’t give you any problem. Issue like carbon monoxide poisoning could arise when you have a clogged chimney or vent system. What makes carbon monoxide even deadlier is that it’s an odorless, colorless gas making it hard for people to detect it.
Smoke is another health hazard that comes with having a fireplace. Normally, smoke is released into the chimney. But if too much dirt buildup or foreign materials block the chimney system, that’s when smoke finds its way into your home. To ensure that your fireplace is functioning as it should and to ensure the safety of your family, it’s best to have a carbon monoxide and smoke alarm installed.
Remove Soot and Creosote Buildup
Creosote is one of the many components that’s left after woods burn, particularly if you're using woods that were not thoroughly dried and properly stored. These brown or black residues found in the inner walls of the chimney are flammable, making it one of the major causes of chimney obstruction or fire.
Soot is another harmful and hideous byproduct of burning woods. Although softer than creosotes, soots are just as much of a risk for fire and they stick to a much wider area. Both of these residues have to be removed professionally, if necessary, to prevent it from blocking the airflow, which will just aggravate many fireplace issues.
Check the Chimney and its Cap
A well-functioning chimney is imperative for an efficient fireplace. Whether you have a masonry or metal chimney, it is vital that you regularly check it for any cracks, dents, or rusts, as they could be signs of a bigger problem. Also, the chimney has a cap usually made of stone or metal slab, designed to keep water, birds, and other materials out. The cap features a screen on its side, which also functions as a spark arrester. Check the cap and the screen and replace them if necessary.
Use the Right Wood
Some homeowners think that all woods are created equal. As far as your fireplace is concerned, they’re not. As a general rule, stick with seasoned hardwood like oaks, maple, and birch and steer clear from softwoods like cedar and pine. Seasoned woods are those that have been properly dried with typically less than 20% moisture. Generally, wood should be dried for 6-12 months before they’re good for burning in the hearth. To make them dry faster, it’s best to split logs into small pieces of wood.
Hardwood may be more expensive but they also produce more heat, burn longer, and they don’t produce as much creosote as softwoods. In the long run, you’re better off with using hardwoods than softwood for your fireplace.
Test the Fireplace Before Using It
Make sure the fireplace is functioning properly before you use it. Just light up a few pieces of woods first and check if the smoke is released through the chimney. If it enters the room, troubleshoot and correct the problem first before loading up lots of wood. Common issues that could be causing this are an obstruction in the chimney duct, too much creosote or soot buildup, closed damper, or wet wood.
Install a Blower and Heat Proof Glass Door
To make your wood-burning fireplace safer, more efficient, and easier to maintain, the use of a glass door and blower cannot be overstated. The glass door will not only prevent sparks and embers from tumbling out from the hearth into the room, but it will also keep your overly curious pet or child from getting too close to the heat.
A heat-proof glass is easier to maintain too. All you need to do is to use a damp newspaper or paper towel, dip it into the ashes, and use it to wipe the soot off the glass. For those tough to remove buildup, use light sandpaper to scrape it off the glass.
In addition, having a fan or blower installed will help circulate the heat to cover a bigger space, making the fireplace more efficient.
Troubleshoot and Correct Problems as They Arise
You have to be proactive in troubleshooting and correcting issues as they arise. Even a small crack in the mortar between the bricks of your chimney could be a symptom of a much larger issue. Or if not, it could snowball into a larger problem—one that’s harder to repair. Some common signs of fireplace troubles you should be aware of includes:
- Smoke filling the room instead of being released up in the chimney.
- White stain in the bricks of the chimney, also known as efflorescence, can be a sign of too much moisture due to leakage. This could progress to mold infestation or further chimney damage. Rust is often a sign of water damage as well.
- Spalling bricks will tell you that the aging masonry is in dire need of a sealant. Otherwise, the bricks would disintegrate causing further problems.
Consider Safety Precautions
Ensuring the safety of everyone is part of the responsibility of having a fireplace. Here are some tips to make sure safety is at the forefront of your fireplace maintenance routine.
- Keep combustible carpets or furniture as far away from the hearth as possible. If you must have a rug in front of the hearth, make sure you’re using a nonflammable one.
- When you’re cleaning the wood-burning fireplace, make sure you’re using the proper tools for it.
- Never leave a fire unattended. Always extinguish the fire before sleeping or going out of the house.
Hire a Professional Chimney Sweep
To make sure that your fireplace works safely and efficiently, you need to have a certified chimney sweep inspect it at least once a year or more frequently than that if you notice creosote buildup or other signs of trouble. While some issues are very obvious and easy to correct, there are problems that entail requisite knowledge of a professional who can spot and correct them.
Having a fireplace can definitely add to the appeal of a home. But it’s also important to keep in mind that along with owning one is the responsibility of maintaining it to make sure it works efficiently without posing some safety risk to your family.