There’s nothing like cozying up to a glowing fireplace on a winter evening. For a gathering of friends and family sharing delicious food, festive music and warm conversation or for quiet time with a cup of cocoa and a good book, a crackling fire sets the scene.
But whether yours is a wood-burning or gas-burning fireplaces, each works safest and best with proper maintenance and care. So before you light a match or ignite the pilot light, consider the following:
A gas fireplace provides the comfort and style of a wood-burning unit but requires far less maintenance. Even so, it is best to have your gas fireplace inspected and adjusted by a professional every year. An inspector checks to be sure all parts are intact, the ignition is working well, any ventilation pathways are clear, and the heat output is correct.
Vented gas fireplaces expel exhaust gases outside your home without a chimney. If your gas fireplace is vented, the flue or vent should be closed whenever the fireplace is not in use. And regardless of whether yours is a vented or ventless fireplace, it should never produce a gas odor (different from a burning smell). If you smell gas, immediately turn off the gas and report the problem to the gas company.
Hiring a professional chimney sweep at least once every one to five years (depending on how often you use your fireplace) is the best way to ensure your chimney is safe to use. Flammable by-products from your wood fire build up inside the chimney, so it’s important to have those cleaned out to prevent them from catching fire. A chimney sweep can also inspect your chimney cap to be sure it is intact, keeping out moisture and debris.
If you have a fresh air vent to supply the fireplace with combustion air, open it and the damper before you light your fire. Then remember to close both when you are not using the fireplace so warm air does not escape.
When it’s time to make the first fire of the season, clean the firebox of any ashes from last year and dust that has accumulated during the off-season. Check that your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working order.
A well-fitting screen will help contain sparks and embers and keep pets and small children safe. Fires should always be built on andirons or grate to protect the fireplace floor. Air flow under the grate also helps produce an efficient fire.
Seasoned hardwood is the best fuel for a wood fireplace. It burns hotter than green wood, helping to minimize dangerous creosote buildup. Pine logs take much longer to dry and contain more sap than hardwood, and opinions are mixed on whether it is advisable to burn them in a fireplace at all.
Never leave a fire unattended for an extended period of time, and always ensure the fire is put out when you are finished enjoying it. To properly extinguish a fire in a wood-burning fireplace, begin by using your fireplace poker or shovel to spread out the wood and embers into a flattened mound. After the flames die out, cover the cooling wood and embers with a few scoops of ash. Once the fire is completely extinguished, you can sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the wood to ensure no embers are burning.
For more fireplace safety and home maintenance advice, or to find an appropriate contractor in your area, contact your local HBA.