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Get your fireplace ready for winter

Gas and wood-burning fireplaces will work better all winter long if maintenance steps are taken to prepare them for use.
Due to their warmth and beauty, fireplaces provide a focal point in many homes. If you have a fireplace, it probably sees more use in winter; therefore, fireplace maintenance should be high on your winter weather preparation list.

The two most common types of fireplaces are gas and wood-burning.

Gas fireplace maintenance

Gas fireplaces are clean burning and require minimal effort when it comes to operation and maintenance. Industry experts recommend a gas fireplace inspection once a year by a certified technician. This will help to improve heating efficiency and safeguard your home against fires, forced entry of carbon monoxide and other related hazards.

  • Inspect and adjust the burner, fan, pilot light, thermostat.
  • Check and clean the blower, if applicable.
  • Look for cracks in the logs, pipes and combustion chamber.
  • Scrub the flue from top to bottom including the smoke shelf, damper and firebox.
  • Inspect and clean the glass doors.

This type of inspection requires no special tools and applies only to readily accessible portions of your chimney’s interior and exterior.

Here are some important tips for do-it-yourself gas fireplace maintenance:

  • Turn off the gas valve. Make sure to consult your owner’s manual and follow the instructions precisely.
  • If the outer glass is the slightest bit warm to the touch, wait for it to completely cool off before cleaning it. Glass cleaner, when applied to warm glass, can actually seep into the pores, resulting in a permanently cloudy appearance.
  • Open the doors and use a soft-bristled paintbrush to sweep away soot and debris from the logs. Be extremely careful, as the logs are fragile; the slightest crack or hole can lead to a fireplace malfunction. Make sure to sweep up any remaining debris.
  • Clean fireplace walls with a damp cloth (water is fine, but you can also use a nonabrasive cleanser).
  • The glass doors can also be cleaned with a water-dampened cloth or a standard window cleaner (no ammonia). (Some gas fireplace manufacturers recommend auto wax to clean glass doors.)
  • Shine up brass louvers and gold-plated trim with a soft cloth. Never use abrasive or chemical cleaners, as they will damage the finish.

Winter weather can bring potential problems; however, a little preparation can help you avoid bigger trouble. Proper gas fireplace maintenance will help ensure a bright, warm space in your home, even in the event of a power outage. Additionally, it will safeguard your home and loved ones against fires and related hazards.

Wood-burning fireplace maintenance

If you haven’t touched your wood-burning fireplace since last winter, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. A wood-burning fireplace requires regular maintenance and care to ensure that a fire burns safely and with a moderate amount of smoke.

Not only will a clean fireplace create a better impression of your home, but it will also protect your family and your property from potential damage. A clean fireplace will encourage proper wood burning and will rid the inside of your chimney of any flammable residue that could cause a more serious fire.

Chimney cleaning should be performed yearly to make sure that your fireplace stays in the best condition. The chimney liner should also be checked for problems and wear. Creosote is a gummy, foul-smelling, corrosive and extremely combustible substance that, if no precautions are taken, will coat the insides of a chimney. It can cause roof fires.

Getting the chimney cleaned will minimize your chances for such a mishap. Dirty chimneys contribute to air pollution as well. Creosote buildup is caused by many factors including fires that burn slowly, using artificial logs, and burning wood that has not been seasoned.

When it comes to fireplace cleaning, you have two options available: hire a professional chimneysweep to clean your fireplace or do the job yourself.

While the task of chimney cleaning can easily become complicated, you can use the following tips to quickly clean your fireplace to prepare it for the winter:

  • Dust and vacuum the hearth regularly to prevent soot buildup. Make sure not to vacuum or sweep until all embers have gone out for at least 12 hours.
  • Regularly inspect the flue, firebox, and chimney for creosote accumulation.
  • Burn seasoned wood to minimize the buildup of creosote.
  • Don’t ever use water to put out a fire, unless it’s an emergency. This will turn ashes into paste, making them difficult to clean.
  • Don’t use an abrasive household cleaner inside the fireplace, which could cause a fire hazard.
  • Use a natural remedy of sprinkling damp, used coffee grounds over cooled fireplace ashes to make removal easier.

Here are some helpful safety tips when using a wood-burning fireplace.

  • Always dampen hot ashes and empty them in a metal container. Store the container at a safe distance from the house. Ashes are deceptive and even those that have seemingly died out can cause a fire.
  • Do not throw paper, or anything other than approved fireplace materials into a fire. Certain substances can emit a variety of toxic fumes.
  • Do not use any chemicals or fluids in the fireplace as they will coat the inside of the chimney. Burning items not designed for fireplaces can be dangerous.
  • Avoid the placement of flammable decor close to an open fireplace.
  • Before starting a fire, always open the chimney flue, which will allow air to feed your fire and make it burn more brightly. An open flue also allows smoke to escape.
  • Begin by creating a small fire to heat the chimney and ensure a good draft. Once a good burn is established, build on a small wood fire by placing logs on the grate at the rear of the fireplace. Overloading the grate with too many logs can cause improper burning.
  • Leave the damper open as long as there are hot ashes in the fireplace. Closing the damper can cause hot ashes to actually ignite into unintended fire that could spread into the room. Do not leave an extinguished fire unattended until you are certain there is no threat from burning embers.