Around the Fireplace
The light summer coats are stored and puffy winter wear is starting to appear. At the start of any season change, there is plenty of excitement. Sweater weather comes to mind – perhaps earthy tones and hot buttered rum? One joy of winter is the soothing, cozy warmth of a fireplace. The beauty and romance (not to mention cost savings) of a fireplace in winter are well worth the investment. Though wonderful, a fireplace can become a dangerous hazard if it is not well maintained and regularly cleaned. Enjoy a safe winter season by following these helpful ideas to keep your home and loved ones safe.
Arrange an Inspection
There’s a chance you may already know a lot about your wood-burning system, especially if you had a hand in the installation process. Many homeowners have purchased chimney sweeps and do some maintenance on their own.
Nothing can top a thorough inspection by a professional, especially if you’re not sure the work you’ve done is having an effect. Most hearth shops will recommend an annual inspection (approx. 80 fires). The primary goal of the inspection and cleaning is to remove any creosote buildup in your chimney.
Creosote is a highly flammable oily substance that adheres to the inner walls of your chimney. It is a natural byproduct of burning wood so it must be kept in check. Failure to clear the creosote can result in a dangerous chimney fire.
An inspection is a good time to make sure the seals on your firebox doors are in good condition and the damper is working properly.
Take a peak inside the firebox or fireplace to inspect the firebrick. In a wood stove, this is the brick that lines the outside of the firebox. Over time these bricks can crack, crumble and deteriorate. Replace the brick that is in poor repair. If you own a fireplace, inspect the brick within the fireplace for cracks and separation. If there is need for repair, hire a professional mason to do the work. Never use regular mortar to repair firebrick as it will not withstand high heat.
Clear Away Tree Limbs
Before the snow gets too deep, take a look outside around your chimney. Trees take forever to grow, but you may be surprised at a few limbs that weren’t there last year. There are a couple of reasons you’ll want to clear trees from around your chimney. They present a fire hazard in the event embers escape your chimney and may negatively affect the draft your fireplace needs to burn efficiently.
While you’re looking at things, if you do have trees nearby, it may be a good idea to invest in a chimney cap if you do not have one. It will help keep debris out of your chimney as well as birds, squirrels, bats, and other pests who may want to make a home in your home.
Some people store their wood fuel inside the home. It makes sense as it is warm and dry. However, this can also pose a real hazard in the event embers escape your fireplace. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and birch burn hotter and longer than softwoods like pine. Never burn treated lumber or painted wood which can create toxic fumes.
It is always a good idea to clean out the ashes from the bottom of your fireplace. Remember, coals can remain hot for a few days, so be sure the ashes have completely cooled before removing them. It is always a good idea to move ashes to a fireproof container. If there are a few warm coals left over they won’t cause you trouble like if you used a plastic bag. Most professionals recommend cleaning out ashes every week, or once there is around an inch of ash depth.