There's nothing better than curling up in front of a warm fire on a cold, winter's night. A wood burning fireplace is a perfect addition to any home, adding style and warmth to almost any space -- but, no one wants to sit in a room filled with smoke or to risk the chance of a house fire. Using proper care and properly maintaining your wood burning fireplace will help keep the fireplace burning cleanly all winter long. To help you stay warm and safe, here are a few tips for maintaining your fireplace.
Remove Creosote and Clean the Interior
It's easy to forget that burning wood can result in a buildup of ash, dirt, dust and creosote inside of the fireplace. Creosote is a flammable substance that is dark, hard and crust-like. It typically appears after incomplete combustion of burning wood and wood that is wet will produce more creosote than wood that has been properly dried and stored. Creosote is highly flammable, so when there is too much it creates a fire hazard. Using a stiff chimney brush to remove buildup of creosote, ash and dust from the interior of the fireplace will help prevent any material from catching fire when you least expect it.
Don't Let Ashes Build Up
You should only keep about a 1-inch layer of ash in the fireplace during the burning season to insulate the coals and protect the floor of the fireplace. Do not let ashes build up to the grate because it may cause the grate to wear more quickly. Before cleaning ashes out of the fireplace, make sure they are completely cool. Soot is another after-effect of burning wood and it can become an issue if it isn't handled properly. Soot is typically softer than creosote and it can be easily disturbed, resulting in a difficult mess to clean up. A large enough volume of soot can also catch fire, so it's best to clean the soot deposits regularly.
Inspect the Chimney and the Cap
If you have a masonry chimney you should inspect the outer mortar between the stones or brick to ensure it is intact. Cracks in the mortar may be a sign of a larger problem or it could mean the start of a new problem. Mortar that is crumbling should be replaced and any missing bricks or cracked tile liners should be repaired or replaced immediately. If you have a metal chimney, it should be inspected for dents, rust and dirt. Also check for any missing screws at the joints as this is one of the most common areas that show signs of weakness. Have any damages repaired immediately, preferably before you use the fireplace. The chimney cap should also be checked to make sure it is in place and there is no debris blocking the airflow.
You should only burn well-seasoned hardwood, such as maple, oak or birch. Green wood and soft woods cause smoky fires as well as creosote buildup. When a fire is burning, there should not be any smoke inside your home. Getting a fire to burn as quickly and as hot as possible will help to minimize the smoke. If the fireplace is smoking, it is likely due to creosote buildup or a problem with the flue, both of which should be addressed as soon as possible to prevent the risk of a house fire and serious injuries. Have your fireplace cleaned and inspected at least once, such as by Alpine Fireplaces, a year to ensure the fireplace is safe for use.