Keeping A Clean and Safe Fireplace
You just had your annual chimney inspection and professional cleaning, and now you have peace of mind knowing that your fireplace is safe to operate. However, creosote and the corrosive gases created during combustion will continue to accumulate with every burn. Creosote build-up is of a particular concern because it will eventually harden into a dangerously flammable substance.
Home heating equipment is the second leading cause of residential structure fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Excessive creosote in the chimney was cited as the primary cause in most incidents. Still, creosote isn’t the only concern. Combustion gases are highly corrosive and can damage the firebrick increasing the risk of fire and exposure to carbon monoxide fumes. Periodically cleaning your fireplace during the winter heating season will keep it clean and safe between professional cleanings.
Only Burn Seasoned Firewood
Only burn wood that has been seasoned or dried for at least six months. Seasoned wood has a lower moisture content resulting in a cleaner-burning, hotter, and slower fire with less creosote. Freshly cut or “green” wood typically has over 60% moisture content which means you will have a smokey, more relaxed, and faster-burning fire with more creosote and pollution. If you use freshly cut wood, split, stack, and store the wood in a dry location off the ground for at least six to twelve months. Ideally, the moisture content should be around 20%. You can purchase a moisture meter at local hardware retailers.
Check the Chimney Cap
The chimney cap is installed on top of the chimney to keep rain from entering the flue. Ensure the chimney cap is secure and there are no leaves, pests, or nests blocking the vent. We recommend homeowners in the Richmond area install a chimney cap with a mesh screen. It provides increased protection against moisture, animals, and debris. It also has a spark arrestor, a safety feature that prevents hot embers in the chimney from landing on the roof or nearby brush, which can start a fire.
Open the Damper Before Lighting the Fireplace
Before lighting a fire in the fireplace, ensure the damper is fully open. Starting a fire when the damper is closed is dangerous and will cause smoke and harmful fumes to back up into your living space. After the fire burns out completely, close the damper to prevent heat loss.
Remove Excess Fireplace Ashes
Periodically remove the excess ash from the fireplace to prevent them from building up in the fireplace. While a small layer of ash helps start fires, too much ash reduces heating efficiency due to its moisture content. Depending on how frequently you use the fireplace, you may need to remove the ashes every two to three days or once a week. After the fireplace has been cooling for at least 12 hours and the coals are no longer warm, remove the grate and scoop the ashes into a metal container, cleaning the fireplace of ash debris. Be sure to wear protective gear, including a face mask and goggles, so you don’t breathe in the ashes or irritate your eyes. Next, use a broom or vacuum to remove any remaining debris in the firebox. Then spread a thin one-inch layer of ash on the firebox floor. Finally, clean and replace the grate. Dispose of the remaining ash or recycle them in your garden.
Don’t Burn Christmas Trees in the Fireplace
It’s not safe to burn a Christmas tree in the fireplace. The sap in the needles is highly flammable and could cause an explosion. Also, popular Christmas tree varieties, such as fir, pine, & spruce, produce considerable creosote. Heat from the fire can ignite the creosote that is already in the flue resulting in a chimney fire that can spread through the home.