Whether it’s the sound of chestnuts popping, or laughter from little ones as they roast marshmallows in front of the fire, it need not be a holiday for the many memories that can be made by the fireside. As the temperatures drop and the wintery weather draws near, why not make the most of your fireplace? Here are some of the important steps to take to ensure that your fireplace is ready for the cold-weather season.
The first step in preparing your fireplace is to make an appointment with a professional chimney sweep, many of whom also offer additional services such as inspecting the interior flue and attic spaces for any damages and/or potential hazards. The purpose of the chimney sweep is to clean and remove creosote. Creosote is the black, sticky by-product of smoke, leading to a build-up inside of the chimney. This highly flammable substance can easily ignite and potentially cause a chimney fire. In addition, using improper fuel materials could also lead to a build-up of creosote. Therefore, it is recommended, by the National Fire Protection Association, for you to have your chimney swept at least once a year.
Aside from cleaning the chimney, it is advisable to have it inspected for cracks in the exterior, loose bricks or mortar joints, and any damage to the plaster work. Performing all necessary repairs is crucial for the safety of not only your fireplace, but your family and your home as well. One way to remediate and prevent debris or any small animals from entering the chimney is by installing a chimney cap.
During the inspection, be sure to have your chimney sweep check and service the damper as well. The damper must be opened before starting a fire, so it is important that it is in proper working order to ensure the efficiency of your fireplace, thereby allowing for the smoke to have a clear escape up the chimney.
How and What to Burn
Remember, before starting a fire, to first open up the flue, which allows the fresh air needed to feed the flame in and let the smoke out. If you have prepared your fireplace appropriately, the fire should only give off a wisp of white steam while it burns. Be sure to not let a fire smolder overnight. Once the fire is completely extinguished, be sure to close the flue to keep out debris and small animals.
Keep your eye on children as well as your chimney. Make sure all members of the household know the rules regarding the fireplace. A fireplace screen or guard is a crucial safety feature. Have a metal container handy for removing and storing the hot ash. Note: embers and ashes should be placed outdoors and within a safe proximity from the home as they are known to stay hot for long after the flames have been extinguished.
Next step in preparing a fire is to select a source of fuel, options being synthetic logs/fire starters or wood. Keep in mind that the use of synthetic logs or fire starters should be done so with caution; Follow the package directions carefully. If you choose to use wood to start your fire, here are some important things to remember:
- Do not burn coniferous wood such as firs, pines, and spruce.
- Burn only clean and seasoned wood that has been dried for at least six months.
- Hardwoods will burn more slowly and evenly, thereby producing less smoke and providing more heat as opposed to softwoods.
**Consider this: It is recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) to replace your wood-burning fireplace with alternatives such as gas, oil, propane, or electric fireplaces, which are cleaner and more energy efficient. Another option is to replace your old fireplace with one that is EPA-certified; the latter, generally use about one-third as much wood, circulate more heat, and, on average, have been known to emit 70 percent less pollution!
When the temperatures drop and Jackfrost is nipping at your nose, you will be glad you did your homework to safely prep your fireplace. Huddle around the hearth with a warm blanket and get cozy with the company of a good book or the comfort of a companion!