Fireplace Maintenance Checklist – Stay Warm and Safe this Winter
Protect your family with these tips on the proper care and maintenance of your wood-burning stove and fireplace.
In the humid winter months, it’s cold outside and sometimes the oven just won’t cut it. Many people use their fireplaces for additional warmth or just for the cozy feeling that comes from cuddling around the fire.
However, an improperly maintained fireplace can be a disaster if you light a fire on a cold winter night. Make sure you have properly inspected and maintained your fireplace before starting your next fire. Avoid potential safety risks to you and your home by using our checklist before burning.
- Check the outside – If you have a brick chimney, look at the structure from the outside. Look for loose or missing stones. Are there cracks, holes or chips in the joints? Does it lean? All of these are signs of a compromised chimney structure in need of repair. If your chimney is visible in the attic, don’t forget to check there too. Use metal furnace pipes to check for corrosion and loose connections along the stack.
- Check the chimney cap – Most chimneys have a cap at the top to prevent damage from weather and wildlife. If it is a rotating cap, inspect your cap for damage and mobility and make sure there is a screen to keep out nesting animals and larger sparks. Use caution when inspecting your roof or call a professional to do the job.
- Look for internal damage – A strong indicator of leaks around your chimney are water stains or moisture on the surrounding interior walls. If you see signs of water it could flash your roof or damage the exhaust liner. Call a professional right away if you experience this type of damage.
- Take a look inside – If you look into your fireplace you will quickly see if it has recently been cleaned. During the burning process, creosote and soot can build up inside the hearth and chimney. Creosote is a hard, dark brown or black substance that builds up in the fireplace, especially when burning wet or soft wood. Soot is softer and naturally builds up during the burning process. Both substances are flammable and should be cleaned annually to avoid the risk of a fire in the fireplace.
- Clean your chimney – The National Fire Protection Association recommends having your chimney swept every fall at the start of the burning season. Even if you haven’t used your fireplace heavily, combustible debris along with soot can line your pile and increase the risk of fire. Contact the Chimney Safety Institute of America to find a certified sweep on site.
- Use your Spark screen – Many fireplaces have glass doors that make sure the sparks stay on your carpet or on you. However, glass doors get dirty, obscuring the beauty of a wood fire, and blocking out radiant heat. Avoid the temptation to burn with the doors open unless you have an ignition shield. Ignition screens are available in either a “curtain style” that you pull over the opening, or a movable decorative style.
- Examine the fireplace and hatch; – These two parts of your wood-burning fireplace are essential for proper ventilation and functioning. Make sure the damper moves smoothly and the chimney is clear. Not sure what these things are? Time to call a professional.
Dwayne Boggs of Boggs Inspection Services has seen his fair share of chimneys in need of maintenance and repair. “The most common problem I see is simply the need for a good chimney sweep,” he shares. However, missing spark guards, loose bricks, and damaged dampers are also common problems.
For every home he inspects for sale that contains a fireplace, Boggs recommends, “With the exception of new homes, any wood-burning fireplace, stove, or other appliance should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned as necessary by a certified, professional chimney sweep and / or stove fitter prior to use first use. “
Whether you own a home with a gas fireplace, a wood-burning fireplace, or a wood-burning stove, Boggs urges homeowners to make sure carbon monoxide detectors are installed. Not only are these now required by law, they can also alert homeowners to the presence of this potentially harmful gas.
The maintenance and safety of the chimney should be a priority for every homeowner. If you go through this checklist annually, your wood-burning fireplace will give you years of worry-free service. But remember – a professional look can capture things you may be missing out on. Include professional service in your maintenance plan. With a clean, safe fireplace, you can throw a log in the fire, curl up with a good book, and enjoy.
To learn more about Boggs Inspection Services, click here or call 360-480-9602.