A fireplace provides much warmth and comfort during the cold weather months, but with owning a fireplace comes great responsibility. Fires burn at over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and that can cause a lot of damage when not properly contained! Before you light the first fire of the season, make sure you’ve checked off all of these fireplace maintenance and safety tasks so you can cozy up and enjoy the warm glow without worry.
Maintenance: Improving Fireplace Efficiency and Performance
A fireplace is a good thing and a bad thing when it comes to energy efficiency. On one hand, it helps keep your home warm and toasty, which means less need to crank up the furnace. On the other hand, it can be drafty and ultimately require you to heat your home even more. While you may think that gas fireplaces are the energy hogs of the household since they require gas for burning, wood-burning fireplaces are actually less efficient because they don’t burn as cleanly. Whether it’s wood or gas, improving fireplace efficiency is an important aspect of running an efficient home!
- Get an Annual Inspection—Make getting an annual fireplace inspection a priority each year before the cold weather hits. A thorough inspection not only reduces fire hazards, but also identifies damage and holes that can cause your fire to run less efficiently.
- Clean the Soot—According to the U.S. Department of Energy, even one-tenth of an inch of soot can drop the heat transfer efficiency of up to 50 percent. Getting an occasional chimney sweep and periodically brushing the inside of your fireplace with a wire brush will help improve efficiency.
- Patch Up Any Holes—Make sure that there are no cracks in the chimney that might invite in snow, rain, wind, cold air and critters that may decide to take up residence in your chimney! You may want to consider capping your chimney to safely patch holes without losing out on ventilation.
- Upgrade to New Logs—If you have a gas fireplace, occasionally swapping out your old energy-hogging gas logs for newer, more efficient styles can seriously reduce the amount of gas needed for a rousing fire. Be sure to choose ventless gas logs, which use less gas.
- Install a Fireplace Insert—Wood-burning fireplaces need some maintenance in the efficiency department, too! Installing a fireplace insert—a fireproof box surrounded by steel, creating a closed combustion system—can drastically improve the efficiency of a traditional fireplace.
- Choose the Right Wood—Did you know that the wood you burn can alter efficiency? Make sure you always use seasoned (dried) wood that has been stored in a dry place for at least six months. This emits more heat more efficiently and also prevents flammable byproducts from developing in your chimney.
Safety: Preventing Smoke, Fires and Sparks
Of course, your main consideration when doing anything in your home is to make sure that your family and pets are safe. While fireplaces are generally safe, there are a few things you need to know to prevent house fires or rogue sparks, which can cause irreparable damage to flooring, furniture and artwork, not to mention your family members! Here are the most important things you can do to keep your fireplace safe and enjoyable.
- Install Fireplace Doors—There’s no better way to keep sparks and hot flames out of harm’s way than by installing tempered glass fireplace doors, which can stay closed when the fire is burning. Fireplace doors keep out kids and pets while also protecting your furniture and floors from sparks that can cause permanent damage.
- Check Your Detectors—Ill-maintained fireplaces can emit toxic fumes into your atmosphere, including carbon monoxide. Getting an annual inspection will help prevent hazards that trigger carbon monoxide emissions, including blockages. If you have a wood or gas fireplace, make sure you also have functioning carbon monoxide detectors installed.
- Know the Rules of the Damper—Only start a fire if you’re 100 percent sure the damper is open and keep it open until the fire is totally out. Accidentally starting a fire with the damper closed prevents smoke from escaping to the outside, resulting in a smoky home.
- Only Burn on a Grate—Only burn dry, well-aged logs on a metal grate within the fireplace. Placing logs directly on the floor of the fireplace can produce excess smoke. Resist the urge to start a fire with anything but kindling or safe fire-starters. Never douse your wood with lighter fluid or another flammable liquid, no matter how tempting!
- Clear Away Anything Flammable—It should go without saying, but make sure that there are no flammable items inside or near your fireplace—that includes the obvious like fire-starters and lighter fluid, but also the less obvious like nail polish remover, linseed oil or aerosol spray cans.
- Keep Fires Mild—The safest fire is one that’s small. Naturally, fires that are too hot or too big can fill the area with smoke and can lead to a damaged or cracked chimney. Keep those big, rousing fires for the fire pit outside!
- Be Prepared for Anything—Never leave any burning fire unattended and be sure to wait until a fire is totally extinguished before heading to bed or leaving the house. Always make sure you have a functional fire extinguisher nearby, and know how to use it, in case something goes awry.
Burn Fires with Common Sense
As long as you keep in mind some of the common dangers associated with fireplaces, you’ll be able to safely enjoy it throughout the year. Ultimately, information and common sense are the two most important ingredients to responsible blazing, so always trust your instincts. With a little bit of routine maintenance and some extra care to ensure that it’s totally safe, your fireplace can bring you and your family years of snafu-free enjoyment!