With sub-freezing conditions expected during the winter months, folks in Shelbyville and throughout the Southern and Middle Tennessee Valley tend to use the fireplace more frequently than in other areas. So even though you may have recently had your annual chimney inspection and cleaning, here’s how to keep your fireplace clean and safe between professional cleanings.
The chimney cap is an accessory designed to help prevent rain and snow from dripping into the fireplace. It also helps prevent sudden downdrafts that can push ash, soot, and debris out of the fireplace and into your living space. In addition, chimney caps with a mesh screen keep small animals and pests from entering the chimney and blocking the flue vent. Frequent rain and bad weather can damage the chimney cap or cause it to separate from the chimney. Checking the chimney cap during the winter heating season and replacing it when damaged will help keep your fireplace clean and safe.
Tree branches can be hazardous when hanging over or near the chimney. Falling leaves and twigs can obstruct the flue that can cause a dangerous backdraft exposing family members to harmful carbon monoxide fumes. Also, lightning strikes or a strong winter storm can damage a nearby tree causing it to topple over, potentially damaging the roof and chimney. Trees should be periodically trimmed so that branches are at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney to keep your fireplace clean and safe between professional cleanings.
Many homeowners may not realize it, but some woods burn cleaner than others. While it may be tempting to cut and split your own wood, the high moisture content in fresh or “green” woods produces smokier fires with more pollution and creosote requiring more frequent cleanings. The best type of woods to burn in the fireplace are hardwoods that have been seasoned or dried for six to twelve months. The lower moisture content produces a cleaner-burning fire with less smoke and creosote. It will also burn hotter and last longer too.
A thin one-inch layer of ash in the firebox is beneficial in helping to start and maintain your fires. However, as ashes begin to build up in the fireplace, the moisture content will dampen the flames making your fires less efficient, resulting in more soot and creosote. Remove excess ashes when you notice they are reaching the grate. However, you should take some precautions before handling the ashes. Firstly, allow the fireplace to cool for at least 12 hours until the ashes are no longer warm. Secondly, wear protective clothing, including a facemask, goggles, and gloves. Next, remove the grate and use a fireplace shovel to scoop the ashes into a metal container before disposing.
Now that you have removed the ashes you can clean the firebox and grate to keep your fireplace clean and safe between professional cleanings. You can use a broom or vacuum to remove any remaining ash or debris in the firebox. Then clean the firebox with an all-purpose household cleaner or fireplace cleaner and a medium-bristle brush to remove the creosote and oily residues from the interior masonry walls. You can also use the same household cleaner to clean the grate. Just be sure to clean it outside, so you don’t stain your flooring. When the fireplace is clean and dry, place a one-inch layer of ash on the floor of the firebox, replace the grate, and you’re ready to enjoy your next wood-burning fire this winter.