Fireplace Maintenance & Safety
Enjoying a warm, cozy fire requires a clean, safe fireplace. Here are some tips for keeping it that way:
Fireplaces should not be used as furnaces. Use a fireplace for a short-duration fire — no longer than five hours.
Keep the glass open to allow air to be drawn up to cool the chimney, but keep the screen closed to prevent sparks from jumping onto the carpeting.
Never leave a fire unattended when children are in the house. Adults, even if near, should not allow children to play near or with fire tools and equipment.
Open a window when using the fireplace to prevent the room from becoming smoky. The air coming in from the window will go up the chimney.
When To Clean A Chimney
Make sure you inspect your chimney in the fall before the burning season actually starts. If birds, squirrels or other woodland creatures have built nests inside your chimney, you'll need to clean it out before the very first use. You should also inspect it inside and out for cracks and other damage that needs to be repaired.
After the burning season starts, how often you'll need to clean your chimney will depend on three factors: how much you use your fireplace, how low or high you make the fires and what kind of wood you burn. Low-burning, smoldering fires produce more creosote than high-temperature fires. And woods such as beech, pecan, pine and cedar, which create more creosote in your chimney than low-sap, low-oil woods such as oak. Make sure, too, that wood has been aged and dried, or seasoned. Dried wood burns better and generates less creosote.
How To Tell When It's Time To Clean Your Chimney
There isn’t a simple rule of thumb on how often to clean your chimney, such as cleaning after 50 uses or one year. The problem is, creosote can form when wood is burned incompletely. A smoky fire without enough oxygen emits lots of unburned tar vapors that can condense inside the flue and stick to it, possibly leading to a chimney fire.
You can reduce creosote buildup in your fireplace by providing adequate combustion air, which will encourage a hot, clean-burning fire.
To check for creosote yourself, first make sure there’s no downdraft from the chimney. If you feel an airflow, open a door or window on the same floor as the fireplace until the downdraft stops or reverses and air flows up (tape tissue to the fireplace opening and watch its movement).
Then, while wearing goggles and a basic disposable dust mask, take a strong flashlight and your fireplace poker and scratch the black surface above the damper (smoke chamber). If the groove you scratch in the creosote is paper thin, no cleaning is needed. If it’s 1/8 in. thick, schedule a cleaning soon. If you have 1/4 in. of creosote, do not use the fireplace again until it is cleaned—a chimney fire could occur at any time.