Before firing up your fireplace for the first time this winter, there are a few things you must check for the sake of your family’s health and safety. Cozying up to a warm fire can be delightful on a chilly winter night, but be safe about it! Follow the winter checklist below to ensure a pleasant and safe experience.
Chimney Inspection and Cleaning. The best way to be sure that everything is in proper working order and is safe for use is to have the chimney checked and/or cleaned. The National Fire Protection Association suggests having your chimney inspected on a yearly basis for maximum efficiency and safety. Common chimney problems include build-up of deposits and chimney fires. Bring in a Chimney Safety Institute of America certified chimney sweep to assess the situation. A few things on their chimney checklist will include looking for:
- Soot. Soot is a brown or black soft powder. It is made up mostly of carbon and sometimes combined with ash. The threat this buildup poses depends on the amount of ash it contains, as more ash reduces the problem. Carbon is flammable, posing a larger risk of a chimney fire.
- Creosote. Creosote, another flammable substance, starts off as a residue of smoke and vapors from wood. It clings to the venting system as it builds up as a hard, flaky deposit resultant from incomplete combustion. It is recommended that a cleaning be performed when either soot or creosote buildup reaches ¼ inch or more.
- Glaze. Glaze is the toughest chimney intruder to remove. This is a tarry, shiny substance which puddles up in the chimney and sometimes even drops down into black icicle-like deposits that hang above your fireplace. It’s the most dangerous chimney fire culprit because of how dense it is, allowing the glaze to burn longer. Glaze should be removed when buildup reaches or exceeds 1/8 inch.
If the above residues are found in your chimney, or other problems are detected during inspection, the chimney sweep may decide to clean out the system. Aside from the risk of a chimney fire, cleaning will help to ensure proper chimney ventilation, eliminate undesirable odors and remove blockages that would result in CO poisoning. While cleaning, the chimney sweep will employ:
- Standard cleaning. Standard cleaning is recommended for the elimination of both soot and creosote. Brushes and high-powered vacuums are run along the chimney walls to eliminate and prevent the substances from entering the home.
- Mechanical cleaning. Mechanical cleaning is the high-powered version of the standard method. Wire brushes, cables and chains are twisted and turned by a motor at a quick speed to rid the chimney shaft of hard creosote and glaze.
Some chimney sweeps also choose chemical cleaning, which involves spraying various substances to break down and dissolve hard glaze and creosote. In any case, at least one of these methods will be used.
In addition to cleaning your chimney, there are some fairly obvious safety measures you should take in preparation for your fireplace’s first seasonal use. Add the following to your winter checklist:
- Proper firewood. Only use dry wood that has been split and seasoned outdoors for 6 months to 1 year. To learn more about firewood, read our articles on environmentally friendly firewood and firewood in the Washington DC area.
- Clear the Area of Fire Hazards. Move all furniture, curtains and other items away from the fireplace.
- Smoke Detector. In the case that you leave the room for a minute or dose off, a smoke detector will alert you of problems near your fireplace. Make sure yours are installed and working.
- Carbon Monoxide Detector. CO is a major concern when burning fires in the home. It is virtually odorless and unnoticeable unless you have the right equipment installed, and is the primary chemical that comes from burning wood and having chimney soot. Do not be caught off guard! Install one of these.
- Fire Extinguisher. Accidents happen to everyone. Maybe the fire burned to hot or big, maybe the door was not shut and a log tumbled down onto the floor. In cases like these, be prepared to deal with the situation by having a fire extinguisher nearby to avert a crisis.
Winter fire burning can be a tremendously enjoyable part of the season. Follow this guide and you will be well on your way to preparing your chimney and fireplace for winter!