Common Sense Steps for Fireplace Maintenance

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Common Sense Steps for Fireplace Maintenance

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Fireplaces need to be cleaned and maintained on a regular basis in order to keep them functioning as safely and efficiently as possible.  While sweeping chimneys is something that should be left to professionals unless you have the tools and experience to do it yourself.  However, there are many things that all of us should be doing before the start of every season to minimize waste and risk during the cold weather months.

Cleaning

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It’s important that you give the fireplace and chimney a good cleaning after the end of each season.  Precipitation, combined with heat and humidity, can introduce moisture into the chimney and react with soot and creosote that has been accumulating.  This is a leading cause of bad odors the come in from the fireplace, and the chemical reactions that occur can also degrade masonry work along the chimney.  This may lead to premature wear and tear along with creating a safety hazard.  Chimneys should be cleaned once an accumulation of residue gets to be about an eighth to a quarter inch thick.

If you didn’t have a chance to clean it at the end of the last season, you should definitely give it a good once-over before the start of the upcoming one.

For cleaning the fireplace itself, focus on the area that is below the damper.  Remove all of the ash, dust or other particles from the fire box.  Give the entire area a good scrub down with a brush with metallic bristles.  Make sure to wear a respirator, protective eyewear and long-sleeve shirts and jeans.  You do not want to inhale these particles, and you can also get very dirty as you clean.  It’s a lot easier to do laundry than trying to scrub all of that oily residue from your skin when you’re done.  You can also wash down the walls of the fire chamber with some soapy water when finished, but make sure that you rinse and dry them afterward to protect the interior from corrosion or degradation.

Inspecting

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Make sure that all of the components of your fireplace are working properly.  Inspect the damper to make sure that it opens and closes all the way.  Remember that the damper not only regulates the flow of air, and the intensity of the fire, but it also prevents heat from escaping through the chimney when the fireplace is not in use.  A well-maintained damper will save you a ton of fuel, both from the fire as well as what you’re using to heat your home.

You also want to make sure that the top of the chimney has some sort of guard around it, such a wire frame and a metallic cap.  This not only reduces the chances of animals coming into the chimney and nesting, but it will also prevent large embers from flying out and posing a fire hazard.  Make necessary repairs while it is still warm and dry out.

You also want to inspect the fire box itself and repair any cracks and crevices that may be visible.  This is particularly important around the front face of the fireplace.  Doing so will help to make the fireplace more efficient while also minimizing the chances of toxic gases from entering the room as the fires die down after each use.  On that note, it’s also a good idea to inspect your fireplace doors or grates to make sure they are also working properly and providing adequate protection from embers entering the room.

Finally, make sure that the area around the fireplace is free from combustible material.  Use good judgment to decide how far away to keep furniture, rugs, wood and other items depending on how far heat intrudes into the room while the fire is going.  You also should have a carbon monoxide detector installed near the hallway that leads out of the room where the fireplace is located.  This will alert you to when carbon monoxide levels are dangerously-high before the gas spreads throughout the house.

Take a look around your fireplace and attend to these and other issues that you notice before you start to use it during the cold weather months.  A clean and well-ventilated fireplace will be more safe and efficient, and this will allow you to enjoy the benefits while reducing potential risks at the same time.