Installing a traditional fireplace in your living room can make it instantly warmer, more inviting, and more comfortable for the people inside. But if you want your fireplace to last a long time – and keep your home safe – you’ll need to put a cleaning and maintenance plan in place.
Here’s how to do it.
The Importance of Fireplace/Chimney Maintenance
First, let’s talk about the basics of chimney maintenance – and why it’s so important to practice it.
Over time, a material called creosote can build up in your chimney, causing significant damage (as well as a safety risk). When you burn a fire in your fireplace, hot gases and various particles of debris float up to be released into the air. But when this air reaches the top of the chimney and begins to reach the cold air outside, it condensates – the same way hot air around your cold glass of water can cause condensation on the outside of the glass.
This condensation contains a number of different particles, and when it cools, it will completely solidify. Initially, creosote looks like soot; it’s soft and flaky and is relatively easy to remove with a simple brushing. Over time, it begins to become harder and thicker, eventually resembling tar. At this stage, it’s much harder to remove, and often requires a professional tool known as a rotary loop to clean. If creosote develops any further, it can be extremely hard to remove.
Creosote is a problem for several reasons. First and foremost, it’s a fire hazard; if you allow creosote to build up in your chimney, it could easily ignite, sparking an entire house fire. Additionally, it interferes with the efficiency of your ventilation, which could be dangerous for you and your family. Plus, as your creosote buildup becomes thicker and more intense, it will become more expensive to deal with.
How to Keep a Chimney Clean
Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help you keep your chimney clean.
· Burn the right kind of wood. Start by burning the right kind of wood for your fireplace. With most wood-burning fireplaces, it’s ideal to burn seasoned hardwood. Hardwood is less likely to produce smoke, and therefore creosote. Damp or wet wood will also produce more smoke, so make sure you dry the wood for 6 to 12 months before using it. Additionally, avoid burning artificial logs, which have a tendency to produce lots of extra combustion gases.
· Keep the fire burning hotter. It may be tempting to build a slow-burning, smoldering fire, but it’s better for your chimney to opt for a hotter fire. Hot, efficient fires tend to burn cleaner, mitigating the risk of creosote buildup.
· Improve air flow in the fireplace. In line with this, it’s a good idea to ensure your fire has sufficient airflow. Keep glass doors open and use inserts to stimulate a healthier flow of air.
· Warm the flue (if outside). If you’re using an outdoor fireplace, make sure you warm the flue before you attempt to light a fire. The cool temperatures in the flue can make condensation occur faster and more reliably, so this step can reduce the accumulation.
· Invest in chimney cleaning logs. If chimney cleaning logs seem like a gimmick, that’s because they are; burning this type of special log won’t automatically remove creosote from your chimney. However, it can loosen existing creosote and lend itself to helping you maintain a cleaner chimney. Burn one occasionally, between cleanings.
· Get an annual cleaning. Arguably the most important step is to get an annual cleaning. Hire a professional chimney sweep to come out and clean out any creosote that has built up – before it gets any worse. It’s a small fee that will greatly minimize your risk of a house fire.
Other Tips for Fireplace Maintenance
While you’re at it, there are some other fireplace maintenance tips that can help you keep your system in good working order:
· Clean the fireplace regularly. It’s not just your chimney that needs to be cleaned. Clean out the interior of your fireplace for more efficient burning (and a lower fire risk).
· Invest in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. There’s always a chance that something could go wrong. Make sure to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms throughout your house so you’re notified in the event of an emergency.
· Repair damage immediately. If you notice any damage to your fireplace, such as a crack, get it professionally repaired immediately.
It doesn’t take much time or money to keep your fireplace and chimney well-maintained. Even an annual cleaning and a few best practices can increase the lifespan of your fireplace and keep your family safer in the meantime.