There’s nothing cozier than a crackling fire when outdoor temperatures dip. But safety is as important as comfort, so you’ll need to take certain steps in order to have both. A good fireplace maintenance program is important to keep everything in good working condition.
Fall is the right time to have your fireplace and chimney cleaned and inspected. If it hasn’t had any attention in recent years, you really shouldn’t put it off. And if you can’t remember ever adding it to your maintenance schedule, it’s even more important.
Here’s what you need to know about chimney and fireplace maintenance, and why it’s one of the most important jobs for any homeowner who has one.
By and large, chimneys are durable and meant to last. But years of fires and exposure to the temperature extremes outdoors can take their toll.
Mortar between bricks can degrade over time. This can allow creosote to seep through to the outside, and it can also make the whole chimney unstable. Any loose mortar should be replaced, and it’s not a difficult job for a pro when caught early.
Black marks on the outside of the chimney mean creosote is seeping through, and that’s a sign that you should not build a fire before a professional checks it out. Creosote is hard when it’s cool. But when the heat from a fire warms it up, it softens, drips, and becomes highly flammable. If there’s creosote on the outside, there is probably a lot of it on the inside of the chimney.
A professional might also show you ways to make your fireplace more efficient. (Read: Tips to Make Your Fireplace More Efficient)
A Chimney Sweep Maintains the Interior of the Chimney
Creosote cleaning logs help a bit with keeping buildup down, but they are not intended to replace regular maintenance that a chimney sweep can do. This is a job that you might also do yourself, but you’ll need a helper. If you've got a wood-burning stove, the process is different. You can disassemble the pipe and clean it out with a brush and rinse it down with a hose.
To properly clean a traditional chimney, you’ll need one person on the roof and another inside the room by the hearth. A chimney sweeping ball, which is a large, stiff wire brush, is attached to two ropes. The person on the roof pulls the ball up through the chimney, and the person by the hearth pulls it back down. Soot may go everywhere inside once it’s loosened up, so protect the hearth and room with plastic drop cloths and cover your eyes with safety glasses and your mouth and nose with a cloth or mask … or hire a chimney sweep to handle the mess. So check out tips for hiring a chimney sweep from the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
We already mentioned that creosote softens and becomes flammable when it’s hot. By keeping the inside of the chimney clean, you reduce the risk of a chimney fire. Dripping creosote can catch fire when it drips down, and the whole chimney can catch fire as a result.
Fireplace maintenance is one of the most important things you can do to keep your home and family safe. Fires are wonderful and beautiful things, but safety always comes first. (Read: Buttoning up For Colder Weather)
The time and effort involved with cleaning the inside of your fireplace, and recommend if/when you need to have the chimney mortar inspected, are well worth it. With regular home maintenance, you’ll enjoy the warm glow of your fireplace for years to come.
If you have a fireplace that you use seasonally, mark you calendar. For safety’s sake, now is the time to have it inspected and cleaned.