The seasons are changing, and here in the northwest you may be finding yourself turning on the heat, bundling up with more blankets, slipping on the thick socks, and making hot tea. Fall has come, and many are stocking up their fireplaces to prepare for the cold. For many this is a loved season. Cozying up by the fire brings joy! But before you cozy up too close, let’s cover some fireplace basics. While there are many benefits, we also need to look at safety and maintenance.
Safe fireplace use starts with attention. Fireplaces will heat your home for a time, but should not be used to replace a furnace. A general rule is not to let it burn for longer than five hours at a time. Before lighting your fire, make sure the area around it is clean and safe. Check for anything flammable in the near vicinity, including rugs, curtains, stockings during Christmas, or anything that may have been left nearby by children or animals. If you haven’t lit a fire in a while, check to make sure the airflow through the chimney is safe and unblocked. You can do this by lighting a match or candle and watching the smoke rise up and out. Also, inspect your chimney. It should be checked at least once a year, or twice if you use your fireplace daily throughout fall and winter. There should be no debris such as animal nests or leaves on the cap, and no tree limbs near the chimney. Make sure there is no crumbling within the chimney, as mortar can fall into your fireplace. Here are some additional tips for safe use: As a general rule, your chimney will suck up air moving through the house. Because of this, we recommend keeping a window open or cracked to prevent smoke from building up in the room, as the cold air will go out the chimney. When lighting a fire, make wise decisions! Don’t leave the fire unattended, especially with children or pets in the house. Don’t handle logs or kindling with your hands – use fireplace tools. Also, allow sufficient time for coals to cool, up to three days, before cleaning ashes. And never use a vacuum to clean out your fireplace, as you risk sucking up live coals.
Maintenance of your fireplace is routine and can be time-efficient. Once a year, have the chimney and flue damper inspected. You can look from inside with a flashlight at the flue damper yourself. It should open, close, and seal effectively. If it doesn’t, it will allow heat to escape from the home when the fire is not being used. When you go more than a couple days without burning a fire, keep the ashes cleaned out. Clean the firebox once a week during the season you use it. A thin layer of ash is desirable, but excess buildup will clog your fireplace and escape into the air. Also keep the fireplace hearth around it clean. Lastly, use a brick cleaner on the bricks. Because bricks are porous, make sure you’re cleaning with a method designed for bricks.
Finally, to get the most heat and efficiency from your fireplace, consider these couple ideas. First, make use of your fireplace doors! They exist to reduce air that would be siphoned out the chimney. If you’re leaving a window open and desire the heat to go up, leave the fireplace doors open. Otherwise, cracking the doors slightly will prevent the air flow from funneling heavily out the chimney and allow heat to radiate into the house. Make sure you’re using a safe fireplace door, however. Doors made from tempered glass risk breaking if closed while the fire is burning. Consider ceramic doors. A cheap door will not do its job properly. Even with a good door, do not rely on them exclusively to properly heat your home. The most effective option for increasing the heat your fireplace will produce is to install a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved insert. Costing upwards of $3000, in the long-term, it can be a worthwhile investment in your home. Lastly, for times when your fireplace is not in use, you can purchase an inflatable plug to stop existing warm air from escaping up the chimney.
Altogether, a fireplace is an aesthetically pleasing way to help heat your home during the colder seasons. You should be confident and comfortable when making use of it, and can be if you take proper precautions! To see some of our trusted contractors or for inspection recommendations, visit responsiblecontractors.com. Happy heating!