Monthly Maintenance Reminder: November - Pointers For Fireplace Maintenance

Monthly Maintenance Reminder: November - Pointers For Fireplace Maintenance

Appraisal and Home Inspection
By Mateos Glen Hayes November 10, 2021

A fireplace is a nice addition to any home and can be a real luxury on colder days. The warm amber glow of a fire in the living room is just the thing for stoking up some holiday cheer. It's no wonder that a fireplace is such a nice feature to have when those lovely snow days come rolling on through. To keep a fireplace going strong as your home’s lovely warm core, regular maintenance is simply a must.

Regular fireplace TLC is not only essential for keeping your fireplace warm and cozy, but it's also crucial for keeping your family safe. A fireplace is after all a fire, even if it is contained, and so it should be treated with respect and care to ensure that things don't get too hot. Most fireplace maintenance is down to tasks you only have to do seasonally, but there are some little things you can do every time you use your fireplace that can also maximize its lifespan.

Wood-Burning Fireplace

Fireplace maintenance will look different depending on what kind of fireplace you have.

How it Works 

To understand what your fireplace will need, it’s important to know how it all works. Before a fire is lit in a wood-burning fireplace, wood must be placed in the firebox (where the fire will burn). A damper must then be opened in the chimney through which smoke and gases can escape. This is crucial as the smoke and gases are really bad to inhale and so should be kept out of your house. Open dampers also allow the fire to draw in oxygen from the chimney.

Fireplace Inserts Maximize the Efficiency of Your Fireplace

Fireplace Inserts Maximize the Efficiency of Your Fireplace

However, the fire will also draw oxygen from the house itself, and this will cause the house to draw in cold air from outside to compensate, making fireplaces less efficient. To minimize this effect you can get a fireplace insert that allows the fire to burn more efficiently without drawing air from the house.  

Ashes

When a fireplace is used regularly, ash can build up pretty quickly. Some ash in the fireplace can actually help the fire burn more easily, but too much ash can cause poor airflow. So it is recommended to empty the ashes from your fireplace once it starts to reach the bottom of the firebox’s grate. This can be done by removing ash using an ash dump or by shoveling it out when the ashes are cold. Be sure to wear a dust mask and some gloves when removing ash. Aspiring gardeners will be happy to know that this ash can be used in flower beds as a rich source of nutrients for your plants. 

The Importance of Controlling the Amount of Ash in the Firebox

The Importance of Controlling the Amount of Ash in the Firebox

Soot

This is the most important element to think about when it comes to fireplace maintenance. As a fireplace is used, soot gradually starts to build up in the chimney and becomes thicker each time the fireplace is used. If this is allowed to go on, there is a heightened risk for what is called a “chimney fire” in which the portion of the chimney above the firebox is set alight.

When and How Often to Clean the Soot in Your Chimney

When and How Often to Clean the Soot in Your Chimney

While your firebox can handle the intense heat of a fire, the stuff above it is only designed to deal with hot gases and smoke. For this reason, a chimney fire can be quite dangerous and cause a lot of damage. The main way to prevent this from ever happening is to sweep the chimney at the end of the winter months.

Ideally, this should be done before the summer as leaving the soot coating for too long can cause some damage to the masonry. If you find that your chimney quickly builds up soot in excess of ⅛ inch before the end of the season, it might be a good idea to do more frequent cleaning. Chimney sweeping is dangerous and dirty work, and so it’s best to let a certified professional deal with it. 

Annual Inspection

As with an HVAC system, it is best to have your chimney inspected during the off-season to ensure it's up to the task of performing flawlessly next season. Annual chimney inspections are important for ensuring that your chimney is still structurally sound, and can help detect cracks in the firebox, damaged liner, loose bricks or mortar, and any other problems.

It Is a Good Idea to Have Your Chimney Inspected Once a Year

It Is a Good Idea to Have Your Chimney Inspected Once a Year

Rooting these problems out straight away allows you to stop them in their tracks before they have a chance to become anything serious. This can be especially useful if you live in an earthquake country since your chimney tends to be the weakest part of your home’s structure. The inspection is typically done by the same person you hired to clean the chimney, which is another great reason to leave chimney sweeping to the pros.    

Tips For Everyday Use 

As a safety precaution, it’s a good idea to keep smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home if you plan on using your fireplace. Do not leave a fire unattended, and always extinguish it before going to sleep or leaving the house. It is also highly recommended to keep combustible materials such as curtains, furniture, and carpets away from a fireplace especially when it is in use. As a rule, you should only burn seasoned hardwood wood in your fireplace and avoid “green” or softwood. Greenwood and softwoods will burn with more difficulty and will produce a lot more smoke which in turn causes a lot more soot buildup.

What Type of Wood to Use for Your Fireplace

What Type of Wood to Use for Your Fireplace

When starting up your fireplace for the first time after a long time of not using it, it’s important to test it and make sure everything is still working as it should. The best way to do this is to take a few small pieces of seasoned wood and light them from the top down. If the smoke from these little pieces of firewood goes up the chimney as it should, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll have to call a chimney sweeper to do some troubleshooting.    

Gas Fireplace Maintenance 

If you like the warmth of a fireplace, but prefer a solution that is more convenient and modern, you probably have a gas fireplace. In that case, maintenance isn’t as intensive as with wood-fired fireplaces, but there are still a few measures that need to be taken.

Gas Fireplaces Are Easier to Maintain Than Their Wood-Fired Counterparts

Gas Fireplaces Are Easier to Maintain Than Their Wood-Fired Counterparts

How it Works

The main advantage that a gas fireplace has over a wood fireplace is that it is much more efficient. The flick of a switch is usually all that is needed to get a gas fireplace going, and unlike wood fireplaces, a gas model doesn’t lose as much heat to a chimney or to masonry. Natural gas is also famously efficient, so that means it is a much better source of heat than firewood. There are two main types of gas fireplaces: vented and ventless fireplaces.

A vented gas fireplace produces harmful carbon monoxide gas that must be removed, and this is achieved by a pipe that runs from the firebox to the outside. Vented gas fireplaces are sealed from the room they are in so that they do not remove oxygen from the space which is a good thing when you’re dealing with carbon monoxide. The result is a clean source of heat minus any bad smells or dangerous toxins.

Vented Gas Fireplace Designs Offer Safety While Warming Up Your Living Space

Vented Gas Fireplace Designs Offer Safety While Warming Up Your Living Space

Ventless gas fireplaces can be thought of as a gas range that is in your house. These fireplaces do not produce any carbon monoxide and so do not need any venting. While a vented fireplace loses some heat to the outside vent, a ventless fireplace will send all of the heat it produces straight into the room. Because these fireplaces take air from the room they’re in, they are always equipped with a sensor that will shut off the fireplace if oxygen levels become too low.

Both vented and ventless gas fireplaces use gas logs (both fireplace types have logs specifically made for them), which are sort of like regular logs except they’re made of ceramic. These help with heat distribution, and unlike real logs can be used many times before you have to replace them. 

Pilot Light

As with a natural gas water heater, a gas fireplace typically comes with a pilot light that remains lit at all times to allow the fireplace to instantly fire upon command. This pilot light is designed with fail-safes which allow it to be on year-round without any issue. However, it is still a good idea to turn it off during the warmer months when the fireplace is not in use. This reduces energy waste and will also save you money on your gas bill. It will also make it easier to service your fireplace since you won’t have to turn it off and wait for it to cool down.

Pilot Lights Allow for a Hassle-Free Fireplace System

Pilot Lights Allow for a Hassle-Free Fireplace System

DIY Cleaning and Inspection

If you like taking matters into your own hand, you’ll be happy to know that a lot of the gas fireplace maintenance measures can be 100% DIY-able. Gas fireplaces typically come with a glass front that you can easily remove and clean with a cloth and a fireplace glass cleaner. There will also be louvers around the glass front that will need dusting off, and this can be done with a damp cloth. When you remove the glass front, take the opportunity to inspect the cavities of your fireplace to see if there are any obstructions or dust.

How to Clean Your Gas Fireplace

How to Clean Your Gas Fireplace

As you take the time to clean the fireplace, it's important to check the exterior lining of the unit. Keep an eye out for unusual damage such as peeling, cracking, or bubbling paint. This could be a sign that the fireplace is not burning properly, and requires the attention of a fireplace installer. Though a gas fireplace does not produce as much soot as a wood-burning one, it’s still a good idea to get it cleaned and inspected on a yearly basis by a certified professional. This will reduce the risk of a chimney fire, and will also help to detect any problems or defects.

A Fireplace Installer Can Troubleshoot Chimney Issues

A Fireplace Installer Can Troubleshoot Chimney Issues

Everyday Use 

Though gas fireplaces are quite safe, a monoxide detector and smoke alarm are both great devices to have as a precaution especially if you are using a vented fireplace. Carbon monoxide is toxic and cannot be seen or smelled so a detector is a necessity. Just be sure to test them annually and replace batteries as needed. The surrounds of a gas fireplace can get pretty hot, so avoid putting anything combustible too close to it especially when it is in use. Avoid leaving a gas fireplace on when it is unattended.

Important Safety Measures to Consider When You’re Using a Fireplace

Important Safety Measures to Consider When You’re Using a Fireplace

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes