8 Essential Fireplace Maintenance Tips

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Dot2.

Once the focal point of all household activities, the fireplace is still the cornerstone of comfortable, homely living, helping the cold winter months pass more quickly.

And with the right maintenance routine, you can be sure it will keep you warm, safe and comfortable for many years to come.

Here are our tips for maintaining a wood-burning fireplace.

1. Only burn dry, seasoned wood

Fire
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Many chimney problems can be avoided by simply burning the right wood. You will also want to make sure the wood has been seasoned for at least six months before burning.

Unseasoned wood has a higher moisture content. This creates smoke when the wood burns, causing creosote to build up in the flue.

Point: The best choices for firewood are hardwoods like maple, oak and birch, which burn hot without producing too much creosote.

2. Prioritize personal and home safety

Woman reading by the fire.
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Always allow the fireplace to cool completely before cleaning. Ideally, you should wait about 24 hours before removing the ashes.

Be sure to use sturdy goggles and gloves when cleaning, and wear a mask to avoid breathing in the ash and soot.

To take fireplace security to the next level, consider installing a heat-resistant glass door. This will protect the room in case sparks and ashes end up outside the fire pit.

3. Clean up soot and creosote regularly

Fire
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Soot and creosote are inevitable by-products of the wood burning process. If allowed to build up, they can cause blockages in the chimney and even start house fires.

Once a week, use a small brush, water and an all-purpose cleaner to remove creosote and soot from inside your fireplace.

For the chimney flue, or if your chimney is covered with a very thick layer of creosote, the best approach is to hire a professional chimney sweep to take care of the cleaning.

4. Make sure the shock works properly

Cleaning the chimney flue or flue
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If your chimney flue has a damper you will need to check it regularly to make sure it is clear of debris and that the plate is on its track.

If the damper doesn’t open and close properly, or worse, if it’s blocked, it can lead to the spillage of smoke and carbon monoxide inside your home.

Use a soft brush and water to regularly clean soot and creosote from the plate and hinges, and call a professional if the plate and frame need repair or replacement.

5. Clean the ashes once a week

fireplace ashes
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Depending on how often you use your fireplace, you will need to remove the ashes once a week or when the layer is thicker than an inch.

Allowing ashes to build up can block and damage the vents at the bottom of the fireplace. However, too little ash can leave the bottom of the fire pit exposed, which can cause cracking and warping.

Point: If you have a garden, save the wood ash for your plants. Rich in phosphorus and potassium, the ash makes an excellent fertilizer and can also be used to neutralize acidic soils.

6. Check the flue

Chimney inspection and cleaning by a chimney sweeping expert
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Using a flashlight, look inside the chimney flue. Look for any signs of damaged siding, cracked brick, chipped or missing mortar, or even missing bricks.

If you notice that the inside is coated with a thick tar-like substance, this is a sign that there is a lot of creosote building up in the flue. In such cases, always ask a professional to help you remove it.

7. Inspect the Chimney Cap

Solar panel roof
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Over time, the chimney cap can become clogged with leaves, twigs, dirt and other debris. It may also be covered in creosote deposits, further restricting airflow.

This will prevent smoke from escaping properly and make it difficult to start a fire. Keep the chimney cap clean throughout the year and check for debris, especially after a storm or high winds.

Point: Even if your chimney doesn’t have a cap, it’s worth having it in place. Installing one may cost a few hundred dollars, but it will keep rain, snow, and debris from falling into your fireplace, prevent birds from building nests above your chimney, and protect your roof from sparks and embers.

8. Have the fireplace inspected once a year

Fireplace Chimney Inspection
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The National Fire Protection Agency recommends that chimneys and fireplaces be inspected at least once a year.

This will ensure that all components work properly, are free from blockages and deposits, and the risk of a household fire is greatly reduced.

Of course, inspecting the fireplace yourself regularly helps a lot, but calling in a professional at the start of the heating season is the best way to ensure that you are using your fireplace safely.

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