Warm wood-burning fireplaces make your home cozy. These tips for fireplace maintenance help you keep your home safe while also saving some money on heating your home.
As winter rolls around, fireplaces heat up, and nothing beats that warm, crackling, especially when your feet are cold. To maintain your fireplace safely, we’ve put together a guide on the most efficient, safest methods possible.
Fireplace Maintenance Tips for Your Safety
If you haven’t used your fireplace before, it’s best to have your chimney inspected before throwing wood onto the fire. There are many causes for chimney fires, but experts also warn against backdrafting, which can cause deadly gases like carbon monoxide to fill your home.
To avoid these issues, take a look at this list and follow our fireplace maintenance tips to ensure that your desire for a cozy fire doesn’t put your loved ones or home in jeopardy.
1. Clean Out the Interior
When you burn wood in a fireplace, soot, ash, creosote, dirt, and other deposits build up on the inside. It’s important to clean the interior routinely so that your firewood burns more efficiently, but you also want to prevent any fires and air-borne diseases.
For example, inhaling creosote deposits over long periods of time can cause respiratory problems. When cleaning out the interior of your fireplace, it’s also important that you wear a dust mask to stop the inhalation of dust particles.
Sandpaper and fireplace cleaners work best to clean off stubborn buildup in the interior, but you may need a chimney sweeper to clean the rest and remove any debris.
Gas fireplaces require less maintenance than wood fireplaces, but electric fireplaces are known as the safest and least dangerous out of all three. You won’t have to clean your fireplace as much if at all with an electric fireplace or fireplace insert.
Here’s a quick guide to deep-cleaning wood fireplaces:
- Remove the grate and andirons from your fireplace, placing them outside. Use a nylon brush to remove tougher soot, then rinse with water and wipe down until completely dry.
- Metal polish adds extra shine to your grates and andirons, but it’s optional.
- With a fireplace shovel in hand, return to your fireplace and remove piles of debris and ash.
- After removing these piles, it’s time to scrub the walls of your fireplace using sandpaper or a nylon brush.
- Place newspapers on the bottom of your fireplace to collect falling soot before cleaning. Start at the top, then clean your way down.
- Vacuums with handheld hoses or a hand-vac can also be helpful for removing excess dust. Remember to wear a dust mask.
2. Look Out for Smoke
A well-maintained fireplace won’t have dark, billowing smoke that flows horizontally into your home instead of escaping upwards through the chimney.
If you notice your fireplace getting too smokey, then it could be a warning to clean your fireplace. One of the main reasons that you’ll see more smoke is when the chimney is dirty with lots of soot and creosote buildup.
There may also be leaves and debris trapped in the chimney, which blocks the smoke from venting upward. In addition, you’ll want to check the damper, making sure that it’s fully open.
3. Install a Fan or Heat-Proof Glass Doors
If your fireplace doesn’t already have heat-proof glass doors, this is a great investment to keep your home and family safe. These glass doors prevent embers and dust particles from blowing out of your fireplace.
Glass doors provide a great barrier between your chimney and living areas. They’re known for improving the efficiency of your home’s heating and cooling, too.
Other homeowners like to install a blower or fan to circulate the heat over living areas. Many fireplace inserts also include fans for this reason. These are located outside of the sealed firebox, which turns your fireplace into a heater for your living room.
4. Clean Ash from Bottom of Grate
One area that likes to collect ash is the bottom of the grate inside of your fireplace. This can restrict airflow when it piles up too high. You ideally want at least an inch of ash in the fireplace so that it’s easier to maintain a warm fire.
However, higher ash buildup can cause smoke problems. When cleaning ash, you definitely want to wear a dust mask and gloves to protect yourself.
5. Test Out Your Fireplace with a Small Piece of Firewood
If you’re not sure whether the fireplace will work properly, you can always try lighting a smaller piece of firewood, lighting it from the top down. If you see smoke entering the room instead of moving vertically up the chimney, then you should immediately put out the fire and check the chimney.
It’s likely that you have some buildup and debris blocking the chimney. Your damper may be closed. Wet wood that doesn’t burn very well can also cause smoke to go into your home instead of up through the chimney.
Fireplace Maintenance Tips For Gas Fireplaces
Gas fireplaces often have issues with the pilot light, so if you try to burn a small piece of wood only to find that there are zero flames. Pilot lights should glow blue if they are working properly. You’ll need to carefully open the vent to your gas fireplace and see if there is a small flame.
If not, one solution is to simply light it with a match or lighter. However, you’ll want to be extremely careful and use an extended match holder just for this purpose. If the pilot light won’t catch, then you could have excess moisture in your gas line.
6. Choose the Right Firewood
Experts also say that many times homeowners don’t burn seasoned firewood. Instead, they’ll try to burn “green” wood. That’s because seasoned wood has been cut and cured for at least 6 to 12 months, ensuring that there is less than 20% moisture. This leads to the safest burn.
Split wood dries almost completely and burns better than when you try to use whole logs. To know if you have seasoned wood, you can knock the logs together and listen for a sharp ringing sound. Green wood doesn’t burn all the way through typically, creating more creosote and soot.
Additionally, hardwoods burn better than softwoods. These types include ash, maple, and oak, which are denser and heavier. These also create more heat over softwoods like cedar, poplar, and pine.
Final Thoughts: Cleaning Your Fireplace Could Save Your Life
Homes with fireplaces just feel good in the wintertime. To keep your home and family safe, it’s important to check in with your fireplace and note any buildup. If you want to avoid a lot of maintenance and/or repair costs, electric fireplaces are easier to take care of, as are fireplace inserts.
Additionally, buying the right wood and using heat-safe glass doors can prevent dangerous situations, as well as make your fireplace more efficient for heating purposes.