Enjoying the warmth and ambiance of the sparkling flames and crackling logs in a stunning fireplace is a winter tradition in many homes throughout the Southern and Middle Tennessee Valley and around the country. However, there are a few things homeowners need to know about fireplaces to ensure they maintain a safe and enjoyable experience.
Homeowners must schedule a chimney inspection every year. A chimney inspection is necessary for gas and wood-burning fireplaces to reduce the risk of fire and exposure to dangerous carbon monoxide fumes. A Certified® Chimney Sweep will visually inspect the entire chimney system, including vents and attached heating appliances, for combustible deposits, obstructions, cracks, leaks, and other potential issues per National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) industry-standards. The chimney sweep will also go onto the roof to inspect the flashing, chimney crown, and chimney cap for signs of wear or damage since these are common areas where water leaks can occur. If you have a gas fireplace, the chimney sweep will also inspect the ceramic logs, burner, and gas fittings. Your chimney sweep will also advise if chimney cleaning is necessary.
Be sure to close the damper after the fire is out to increase energy efficiency. It will prevent heat loss from the cold outside air mixing with the warmer indoor air. Also, the damper has a rubber gasket which forms an airtight seal when shut. A worn damper or gasket should be replaced; otherwise, any air leaks will reduce energy efficiency, increasing heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.
Typically, the damper is installed in the chimney’s throat just above the firebox. Its proximity to the fire makes it susceptible to warping and frequent gasket replacements. Top-Mount dampers are more beneficial because they keep moisture out of the flue when shut, prolonging the lifespan of the chimney liner and interior masonry. A top mount damper also prevents small animals like birds, squirrels, and other critters from entering and building nests in the chimney eliminating the necessity for a separate chimney cap.
When using the fireplace during the winter, a one-inch layer of ash will help it burn more efficiently. However, when ashes continue to build-up in the firebox, the extra moisture can have the opposite effect. It can also cause the grate to deteriorate, requiring its premature replacement. Once a week during the winter, clean the grate and scoop the excess ashes into a metal container after the fireplace has been cool for at least 24 hours. When using the fireplace, leave a one-inch layer of ash in the firebox to help start the subsequent fire. After the winter burn season, clean the firebox thoroughly. You can recycle the ashes in your garden.
When sourcing firewood to burn in your fireplace, only use wood that has been “seasoned” or dried for six to twelve months. The low moisture in the wood that has been appropriately seasoned will produce a hotter, longer-lasting, and cleaner burning fire. Freshly cut or “green” wood has a very high moisture content. It will burn faster at lower temperatures with more smoke, soot, and creosote. You can use a wood moisture meter to ensure the moisture content is 20 percent or less.