Updated: Oct 3, 2019

If you’re like us you can’t wait to get a jump on the fall season. We’ve had a few cool days, unfortunately it’s 85 here today, but we have already turned on our fireplaces a few times. It wasn’t done for warmth exactly, just the atmosphere that it provided. Anyway, too many people forget that precautions should be taken prior to using a fireplace. Family Handyman has many good suggestions and/or reminders on what to do. Please read excerpts from their website:

There are over 25,000 reported chimney fires a year in the U.S. While some sound like a low-flying jet and include flames shooting out the top of the chimney, others are slow-burning and go undetected until a chimney inspection uncovers damage. Chimney fires are dangerous, but they are preventable.

What causes chimney fires? Creosote buildup in the flue that lines the chimney. Creosote is a highly flammable black or dark brown residue that is a by-product of combustion. This substance can be crusty, tar-like, sticky or hardened. If there’s enough of it—and the internal flue temperature is high enough or sparks or flames reach it—a chimney fire can start.

Here’s how to prevent chimney fires:

• Have your chimney cleaned and inspected at least once a year. If you’re using it daily, like a wood stove for heating, multiple cleanings will be needed each year. A chimney cleaning runs between $125 and $250, depending on the type and condition of chimney.

• Burn “clean” fires. That means fires with more flame, less smoke. To get a clean fire, burn seasoned wood that has been drying for a year or more. Keep it under cover until use so it is dry when added to the firebox. Avoid burning evergreens—they tend to pop and spark more than hardwoods, creating a fire hazard.

• Keep the damper fully open. Restricted air supply from a partially closed damper adds to creosote buildup.

• Be smart about what you’re burning. Some people start their fires with rolled up newspaper logs. Avoid burning glossy pages, wrapping paper or cardboard, which may release nasty chemicals. Never put paper on top of a fire; feed it under the grate so burning fragments don’t rise up the flue and cause a chimney fire.

• Before that first fire of the season, check the chimney structure for cracks, loose bricks or missing mortar. You should also check your chimney liner for signs of deterioration.

• Use a wire-mesh cap to cover the top of the chimney to keep birds, squirrels, rain and other debris from entering. The last thing you want while working your fireplace is to find some deceased animals coming down the flue.

• Make sure there are no overhanging tree limbs encroaching on the chimney. Limbs can present a fire hazard and also restrict proper draft airflow in your fireplace.

• Another important step to knowing how to work a fireplace is to make sure all ashes are cleaned out of the firebox before you start stacking wood for that first fireplace fire. Simply sweep or vacuum the cold ashes and dispose of them outside.

• To prevent hot embers from getting out, use a metal-mesh screen or glass fireplace doors. Don’t burn wood in your fireplace without a guard.

• Before starting a fire, make sure all of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working. I don’t think we need to explain much further about why this is so important.

• Test your fireplace’s function by lighting a few small pieces of seasoned wood. Light the wood from the top down. If smoke doesn’t exit vertically from the fireplace into the chimney and instead enters the room, troubleshoot to correct any problems. This will be key in helping you understand how to work a fireplace. Problems can include creosote buildup, debris in the chimney (such as birds or nests) or a closed or partially closed damper. Also, if your home is tightly sealed for energy conservation, opening a window a little bit can provide the intake air needed to make the smoke go up the chimney.

• Small fireplace fires generate less smoke and create less creosote buildup. When building a fire, put the logs toward the rear of the wood-burning fireplace and be sure to use kindling, not flammable liquids, to start the fire. These tips are crucial in knowing how to work a fireplace.

• To get the most out of your fire, run ceiling fans clockwise on low speeds to redirect the warm air from the ceiling into the living space.

We plan to use both the indoor and outdoor fireplaces many, many times during the cold weather and we plan on using them very safely. We hope that you do too!

Source: excerpts from Family Handy Man – Luke Miller – it’s a great homeowner’s source for ideas. Please think about subscribing to either their newsletter or get their magazine.

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