By Erik J. Martin, CTW Features
A room with a fireplace can be a wonderful zone for binge-watching your favorite shows, reading a favorite book, or simply warming your feet on a cold winter’s night.
But the privileges of ownership also come with caveats, including the need to regularly clean and maintain your fireplace and prevent serious fire and burn risks. Consider that, according to the National Fire Protection Association, residential fires caused by fireplaces, chimneys, and heating equipment have contributed to an estimated 500 civilian deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage annually.
“Maintaining and cleaning an indoor fireplace is important for many reasons. First, it ensures that your fireplace will remain safe to use. If a chimney or flue is not properly maintained, creosote buildup can occur, which can be highly flammable and lead to dangerous house fires,” says Jeremy Henley with TheQwikFix. “Additionally, having a clean fireplace will improve the efficiency of your heating system – meaning you can save money on fuel costs.”
Jason Raddenbach, a fireplace expert and product support specialist with CleverlySolved.com, says it’s crucial never to forget that you are lighting an open flame in the middle of the living space.
“You need to make sure it’s in top shape since you are literally playing with fire,” he cautions.
First, consider your type of fuel.
“Make sure the wood used in your fireplace is properly seasoned and dried. Not enough moisture in the wood can cause it to catch on fire more easily,” says Dale Steven a DIY expert.
“I prefer dry and split ash, beech, oak, and maple wood, staying away from fruit or nut-bearing tree varieties and pine. And I never burn lumber scraps, since treated lumber and plastic hardware can sometimes get mixed in,” suggests Raddenbach, who adds that it’s best to split and stack wood and leave it to dry for 12 months in a covered structure apart from your home for best burning and safety results.
It’s also crucial to have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned regularly. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends having your chimney inspected yearly or more often if you use your fireplace frequently.
You should also have the flue and chimney swept at least once a year, preferably in the springtime before the heavy burning season,” recommends Henley. It’s best to leave these duties to a professional experienced with cleaning fireplaces. Just be aware that professional cleaning can be expensive.
Before your first burn of the year, make sure to visually inspect the chimney for any obstructions or vermin nests.
“Also, use a vacuum hose with a good fine filter to vacuum out your firebox and damper, removing your damper if you can. Then, vacuum above into the smoke chamber,” Raddenbach advises. “Sometimes, deceased animals and spalled bricks fall into the smoke shelf area, so use your phone to take a video up there before you reach in. If you notice any damage or trouble during your cleaning, call a chimney pro.”
Always keep a chimney fire stick and fire extinguisher handy by your hearth in case a fire starts, or a burning log or spark rolls or pops out onto your floor.
Be sure to keep pets and small children away from the fireplace, too, and always use a fire screen or glass door to guard against sparks or other hazards.
“Additionally, ensure that any combustible materials – such as furniture, rugs, or drapery – are kept at least 3 feet away from the fireplace,” Henley adds.
“Never leave a fireplace running in a room that is unoccupied, either” cautions Raddenbach. “And consider your fireplace when it is dormant. Does it tend to be drafty in that room? Or does the smell of the fire waft around the house for days after the fire burns out? If so, you may have a worn-out damper or perhaps no damper left at all. Closing off the chimney in a dormant fireplace is important, so use a wool Flueblocker or Chimney Balloon to close it tightly.”