Having a fireplace in the home is nice for when the mountain temperatures drop. A fireplace isn’t used just for burning firewood but is also aesthetically pleasing. In fact, it also helps keep heating costs lower in the home. However, just like with everything, if you want it to heat your home in the cold winter months, it needs to be maintained.
What is involved in fireplace maintenance? Safety, removing the ash, cleaning the creosote, chimney and chimney cap, testing the fireplace, burning seasoned wood, installing a glass door and blower.
Let’s take a look at why you need to know about maintaining a fireplace, the 7 ways to do this, along with problems you may see, precautions in the home, other maintenance, and when to call a professional.
Why You Need to Know About Fireplace Maintenance
When you use the fireplace, you want it to be safe for the family. You also don’t want to find out in the middle of winter that there are issues you should have found in the springtime. We will provide you a list of ways to maintain your fireplace so next winter it keeps you warm without the stress of something breaking or not working.
1. Safety with the Fireplace
If this is a fireplace in a pre-existing home, it should have been inspected on a home inspection. If it was not, or if you had it added to the home, it is a good idea to have the fireplace inspected so that you know it is functioning properly. This meaning, for example, that there is a fire screen in front of the open fireplace that catches the embers so they don’t land on the floor and start a fire. Also, there is no build-up of creosote in the chimney that can start a fire.
Also, making sure the fireplace has lintels is important. This is because it is a major factor in holding up the firebox and support opening. A fireplace can’t function properly if the lintel’s are not there and unfortunately, you may see a mess if the mantle comes crashing down if they are missing.
If there is smoke escaping from the firebox, this means there is an issue with the fireplace, and contacting a professional is important. The flue can also draw in gases like carbon monoxide if it is not working properly. This is a great reason to make sure that you have a carbon monoxide detector or a few of these throughout the house on each floor of the home.
2. Remove Ash from the Firebox
When the firebox and the ashes are completely cool, you can remove and dispose of them. Did you know that the ashes have nutrients in them so sprinkling them on plants is helpful?
3. Clean Creosote Build-up is Part of Fireplace Maintenance
Over time, soot and creosote build-up and can start a fire. Over 25,000 fires each year start because of a chimney fire! At the end of the winter, if you find the creosote is over 1/8in., clean it out before humidity from the summer temperatures set in and create strong odors. To clean this, lay a drop cloth on the hearth and wear a respirator. This is because breathing in the creosote is dangerous for your health. Then, the professional uses a metal or plastic brush to clean the soot and creosote as well as a vacuum.
Here is a product you can use as well to cut down on the amount of creosote.
4. Chimney and the Chimney Cap
It doesn’t matter if the chimney is made of masonry or metal, it needs inspection for any cracks, rusting, or dents. If any of these are visible, it could be an indicator of a bigger issue.
The chimney cap is on the top of the roof and is made of stone or metal slab. It often has a cover or screen to keep out birds and pests. This needs to be inspected as well to make sure there are no issues.
A chimney sweep can be performed by a professional who will look at these issues and let you know as well what to fix. The Chimney Institute of America has a listing of professionals who carry the certified credential in your state.
5. Test the Fireplace
Testing the fireplace in the spring or summer…what? That is a perfect time so you can make sure the fireplace works and the smoke goes where it should. To do this, get a few pieces of wood. Then, light the wood and make sure the smoke goes up and through the chimney. If not, take the time to find out if there is an obstruction or call a professional.
6. Burn “Seasoned” Wood
Green wood is not good to burn, however seasoned wood that has been under a cover for 6-12 months and registers 20% moisture is perfect to use.
Types to Burn
Burn tree types of oak, maple, or ash. These hardwoods will burn longer than softwoods like cedar, poplar, or pine.
7. Install a Glassdoor and Blower
If you don’t have these, they are very important in a home. A glassdoor is like a screen that keeps little hands away from the embers. A blower will help circulate the heat in the room.
Problems You May See
Efflorescence– you may see this white color on the bricks and this signifies too much moisture. Unfortunately, it also leads to mold. To take care of this, getting the water source away from the brick is important and you may have to use a chemical cleaner to get rid of it.
Bricks in pieces– you may see brick pieces and this can signify that the masonry is aging and needs a sealant. However, make sure it isn’t a weep hole that you are trying to seal. A weep hole is necessary for brick (and for a window) for drainage of water on the exterior of the home.
Here is a video about fireplace maintenance:
Precautions in the Home
In the home, make sure carpets and rugs are far away from the hearth. If embers come out, you don’t want them causing a fire in the room. If you have a run in front of the fireplace, make sure it is non-flammable.
Use proper tools for cleaning the fireplace- A tong, chimney brush, poker, and shovel are great tools to use to clean the fireplace and they are made of wrought iron.
Other Maintenance to Do
Check the roof
The chimney on the roof is important to check in the summer and fall months. You want to make sure that it is not leaking, missing any shingles, and that the chimney is intact. This is a great roof inspection checklist to start with!
Many homes have a roof cricket which is a sloped backing that is built onto the chimney to allow water to run down the roof. Without it, water would pool on the roof and wear away the shingles and masonry. If your home doesn’t have one, you should be looking at the ceilings in your home to make sure you don’t have water leaking.
When to Call a Professional
Call a professional if you have questions about maintaining the fireplace in your home or you want a professional to do a chimney sweep. Remember, they are trained to help you and do this work. It is better to ask a professional instead of guessing how to clean the fireplace and end up making a mess or worse, causing a fire.
Final Thoughts on Fireplace Maintenance
Fireplaces are wonderful in the home and need to be maintained in order to keep them working. Following the information above will help with maintenance and as always, you can call a professional for help. Colorado Inspection Team will inspect your fireplace during your home inspection in Castle Rock and Front Range areas.