Fireplaces are a beautiful way to heat your home in the winter. But before you light up a gas or wood-burning fireplace for the first time this season, there are a few issues you need to take care of, like cleaning up soot and creosote from last season and making sure you don’t need any repairs.
Stay safe and prepare for a smooth winter season by being proactive about your fireplace maintenance this year.
Prepare Your House Before Lighting Your Fireplace
- Clear the Clutter
It happens: When you don’t use your fireplace for a long time between seasons, clutter naturally tends to fill up the surrounding area unless you are diligent about keeping tidy. But when winter returns, you will need to clear the clutter so you can avoid fire hazards and more easily enjoy the flames. Be sure to move or get rid of any objects in front of the fireplace before you light your first fire this winter, especially anything that might be flammable or emit unpleasant odors when warm. Make sure any furniture or rugs are a safe distance away.
- Inspect the Gasket
Many gas and wood fireplaces have gasket material around the door of the fireplace to help keep smoke and gas out of your home and excess oxygen out of the fire area. If your fireplace has a gasket, you should inspect it once a year to make sure it is intact. You may need to replace the gasket if it looks damaged.
- Replace the Batteries in Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are all the more important in seasons when you are using your fireplace and other heating systems. To keep everyone in your home safe, you should replace the batteries and run tests to ensure the alarms will work when you need them.
Check Your Chimney
- Check the Chimney Cap
If you have a chimney, it should be capped to keep leaves, rain, birds, and debris out. You don’t want to discover a bird’s nest or other small critters inside your chimney next time you want to use it! If your chimney cap is damaged or missing, make sure you replace it before winter arrives.
- Trim Nearby Trees
Many homeowners in the Pacific Northwest have large trees in their yards that may grow to hang over their chimneys. Unfortunately, tree limbs are a fire hazard. They can also damage the chimney cap if they fall in a windstorm. When you check your chimney, you should also trim any tree limbs hanging nearby.
- Inspect For Chimney Damage
Homeowners should ideally check their chimney for damage every year or so. Cracks, loose bricks, damaged mortar, and other structural problems often occur over time as a result of freezing-thawing weather patterns and soil changes. These issues can interfere with chimney function, so if you notice them, be sure to get them fixed before winter.
- Hire a Chimney Sweep
You should hire a chimney sweep to clean your chimney at least once a year, even if no repairs are needed. Built-up soot, creosote, and other debris can put you at risk of a chimney fire and keep your fireplace from working as well as it should. Even a small amount of creosote glazing from burning wood can become a fire hazard, so it’s especially important not to put this step off if you have a wood fireplace. A sweep can also alert you to any damage to the chimney.
- Check the Damper Function
The chimney damper is a valve or plate regulating the airflow inside the chimney. Typically, it opens or closes via a push rod, rotary control, or pull chain. The damper should be closed when you aren’t using your fireplace, but you will need to open it when you want to start a fire. To make sure the damper still works, try opening and closing it. You can generally tell when the damper is open if you can feel a breeze or see up the flue when you peak your head in.
If You Have a Wood Fireplace, Prepare Your Firewood
- Pick the Firewood
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you will need to dense, seasoned wood such as oak available to burn. Recently cut or “green” wood and softwoods like pine produce more creosote, which can build up in your chimney and cause problems later on, so you should use denser wood that has been split and stored in a dry place for at least six months. If you don’t plan on cutting your own wood or don’t have the space to store wood for half a year, try to buy locally grown wood so you can help the local economy and avoid spreading invasive insects from other parts of the country and world.
- Prepare the Firewood
If you are cutting your own firewood, you will need to split it so it fits into your fireplace. Ideally, each piece should be less than six inches in diameter for optimal burning. From there, store the split wood in a covered space outdoors so it stays out of the rain but doesn’t attract pests into your home. When you stack your wood, make sure the split-side is down and off of the ground.
- Test the Moisture
Before using your firewood, you should check that it is properly dried out. You can buy a wood moisture meter to test this. If the wood has a moisture reading above 20%, it probably will not burn well. You may need to store wood you cut yourself for as long as a year before it fully dries out.
Clean Your Fireplace
- Clean the Blower
Some fireplaces have blowers to spread warm air throughout the room. If your fireplace has one, you should take the time to thoroughly clean it before the cold weather sets in, especially if there isn’t an accompanying filter. Otherwise, you may find that you are just blowing dust around and not effectively heating your home.
Arrange Your Annual Professional
- Fireplace Inspection
You should have a professional inspect your wood-burning or gas fireplace at least once a year. They can look for gas leaks, worn parts, and other issues that may cause a safety hazard or loss of function later on in the season, then provide you with a report describing anything that needs to be repaired or replaced. By being proactive with your fireplace maintenance, you will avoid headaches and costly repair bills later on.
If you live in the Puget Sound Region, call Four Day Fireplace for gas fireplace service and repairs. We also install wood-burning, gas, electric, and outdoor fireplaces and provide complete design-to-completion project management.