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Fireplace Maintenance and Safety

While wood burning fireplaces have a certain charm, they also require a good deal of inspection and maintenance. First and most important is to have an annual inspection and chimney cleaning, by a qualified chimney contractor. Not only will this help your fireplace to burn and heat your living space more efficiently, it can help prevent a chimney fire and reduce potential carbon monoxide, increasing your family’s safety. The tar like substance that builds up inside the chimney is creosote. It is highly flammable. If you burn more than 3 cords of wood a year, it is recommended to have the chimney cleaned twice a year.

Fuel- You should only burn split and dried hardwoods. Hickory, white oak, beech, sugar maple, and white ash burn longest, though dry firewood is more important than the species. Never burn things like crates, lumber, construction scraps, painted wood, or other treated wood. They can release chemicals into your home, compromising your air quality. Log starters are fine for getting your fire going, but they burn very hot, generally only use one at a time.

Dampers- Next to keeping a clean chimney, the damper operation is vital. The damper should easily open and close, and stay in the position needed. The damper must be in the fully opened position when starting your fire, and remain there until the fire is completely out. When there is no more smoldering ash and the fire is completely out, close the damper. When closed, the damper should be form a tight seal. A well sealed damper, and the use of tight fitted glass doors, will help keep from drafting the heat, from your primary heating system. If the damper does not seal well, consider a top mounted damper. They generally form a tighter seal. To safely burn your fire, build it slowly adding more wood as it heats up. Burning the fire hot will help keep smoke from lingering in the fireplace and reduce the amount of creosote buildup. Make sure you have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector installed near the fireplace.

Gas fireplaces

Those of you who have gas fired fireplaces know how easy and relatively maintenance free there are. The best thing you can do to get ready for the winter months is to light your pilot light in the early fall. If the pilot light will not stay lit, have it inspected and repaired immediately. The most common cause for the pilot light not staying on is that the thermo-coupler is bad. This is a safety device that prevents the gas valve from opening, when there is not any heat sensed from the pilot light. Do not try to bypass this safety feature under any circumstance. While there are many makes and models of gas fireplaces, I have listed below a basic set up guide for lighting the gas fireplace.

You’re now ready to sit back and enjoy your fireplace. Make sure you have a smoke and carbon monoxide detector installed near the fireplace.

We hope that you found this information useful. Please feel free to share with your friends and families. If you have any questions regarding this article, please feel free to email On The Level Home Inspections or call 609-607-0485. If you have any suggestions for future articles, or you would like to comment on this one, please let us know. If you or anyone you know is in need of a home inspection, please keep us in mind.

Thank you
John Harashinski
On The Level Home Inspections
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Last Updated  11.07.2013