Here’s how to prepare your fireplace for the cold weather ahead

Although it seems unlikely now, the days will soon be a mite cold.

And in colder temperatures, many fireplace and wood stove owners will light them for the first time this season.

But before you start a fire in your house, you should probably make sure the fire and smoke and anything else related to burning stays where it’s supposed to stay or where it’s going, said Katie Poole, the owner of the Chimney Guys in Pataskala.

“The National Fire Protection Association recommends checking chimneys annually,” said Poole.

And now is the time of year when everyone seems to be doing these inspections, she said.

“We have already entered our busy season,” she said.

“Sometimes 40 or 50 degrees weather is enough to get people talking on the phone,” said Gene Reed, office manager at Whempy’s Chimney Service in Columbus.

An inspection will determine if a chimney is clogged or needs cleaning and if the chimney structure is damaged or unsafe, Reed said.

Lots of things can get into a chimney and plug it up in the spring and summer, Poole said.

“You can have problems with dirt, especially if there isn’t a (chimney) cap,” she said. “But even if there are, animals have a way to get there. Animals can leave some fun things in that you don’t want to catch. “

Although wood-burning chimneys require more cleaning, gas fires should also be inspected, said Rob Schenz, owner of the Specialty Gas House in Clintonville.

Traditional fireplaces that use gas blocks instead of wood still need to be physically checked to make sure the fireplace isn’t clogged, Schenz said.

“Put your head in and make sure you see light,” he said with a chuckle.

(But do this before you start a fire.)

“It is of course the best way to leave it to the professionals, but not everyone has the money,” said Schenz.

(Basic inspections for many local chimney and chimney maintenance companies start at around $ 100.)

From time to time, non-ventilated and directly ventilated gas chimneys also need to be cleaned and inspected, Schenz said.

“All manufacturers recommend annual maintenance, but you should consider at least a biannual maintenance check,” he said.

While annual inspections are a good idea, the inspection could reveal that the chimney doesn’t need cleaning this year, especially if it’s rarely been used, Reed said.

“One of the rules we like to go by is if you burn more than one piece of wood you should have (your chimney) cleaned every year,” he said.

On the flip side, chimneys of common fireplaces and wood stoves that are constantly being burned to heat a room or an entire house could require more than one cleaning per year, Reed said.

Using softer woods or wet or green woods can lead to more creosote build-up in a chimney, requiring more frequent cleaning, Reed said.

An annual chimney inspection should include a physical inspection of the exterior of the roof chimney.

Many chimney and chimney companies are now doing basic rooftop inspections using drones, but Poole said their company still prefers to personally send an inspector to the rooftop.

“We like to stand up there and touch and feel and make sure that everything is structurally sound,” she said.

Ironically, quite a number of repair calls to their chimney service involve water, not fire, Poole said.

“We live in Ohio where we have a freeze-and-thaw weather cycle,” she said. “Water can penetrate the masonry in the chimney, where it expands, contracts and damages.”

Water can, and often will, enter the house through rooftop chimneys, Poole added.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to make physical repairs on the outside of a chimney in cold weather, Reed said.

“A lot of the repairs we find in the fall or winter we have to do in the spring,” said Reed. “In icy weather it becomes more difficult to work with mortar and water.

“So we want people to see their chimneys as a spring household problem.”

What is predictable, however, is that most people postpone their thoughts about their fireplace until they light it for the first time for the year.

“The phone never stops ringing after that first cold night,” said Schenz.

And while Ohio weather is known to be unpredictable, you can be sure that the first cold night is on the way soon.

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@SteveStephens

Fireplace tips

A number of websites offer recommendations on how to prepare your fireplace or wood stove for the season.

ThisOldHouse.com offers these seven tips for wood fireplaces:

1. Have your chimney swept annually.

2. Have the sweeper or inspector check for damage to the chimney structure.

3. Make sure the chimney has a suitable cap to keep the elements, debris and living things out.

4. Burn seasoned hardwood. Green woods and resinous softwoods like pine can produce more combustible creosote that can build up in your chimney.

5. Do not overload the chimney. Too big a fire can create more smoke, creosote, and heat that can damage the chimney.

6. Be sure to start the fire. Place logs at the back of the fireplace on a metal grate and use non-flammable liquids to start the fire.

7. Use a spark arrestor such as a metal screen or glass fireplace door to prevent sparks from flying out of an open hearth – especially important when the room is unoccupied.

A sure fire is a cozy fire.  So make sure your fireplace is ready this fall.

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