The following is a guest post by Stan Horst.
A wood fire burning brightly on a cold, wintry day is one of life’s little pleasures, and depending on the type of fireplace or wood stove you have, may even save money on heating bills. In fact, more than one-third of Americans use a fireplace or wood stove as a primary source of heat in their homes, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
But fireplaces come with some risks you should know about. Over 36 percent of all household fires in rural areas are caused by fireplaces or wood stoves. Most of these fires could probably have been prevented with adequate fireplace maintenance. Wondering how to care for your fireplace? You’ve come to the right place.
Keep It Clean
Over time, creosote builds up along the walls of your fireplace, eventually clogging the chimney. At high temperatures, the creosote can ignite, causing a fire in the chimney that can spread to the attic or house through any cracks in the mortar. Fire or hot embers spilling out of the top of the chimney can also ignite a wood roof or dry leaves.
Hire a professional to clean your chimney at least once every two years, and even more frequently if you use the fireplace often. The chimney sweep will remove creosote and also visually inspect the fireplace and chimney for any cracks or damage.
Install a screened chimney cap over the chimney. Our home sat empty for several months before we bought it and moved in. A couple days after moving in, we heard a squeaking noise in our family room. With a bit of investigation, we discovered that the noise was coming from the fireplace. Imagine our shock when we opened the glass fireplace door and a bat flew out. The bat had flown in through the chimney and taken up residence in the fireplace.
A durable chimney cap or guard will keep out wildlife, leaves and even rain, which can mix with creosote to make an acidic soup that eats away at the walls of your fireplace. Go for functionality and durability over appearance when choosing a chimney cap.
Burn Bright and Hot
Another factor to consider when using your fireplace is the wood that you burn. Green or damp wood burns more slowly than dry wood, and creates more smoke, which causes creosote build-up and increases air pollution. Buy firewood that has been seasoned for at least a year. If you cut your own wood, store it in a dry place for at least one year before burning it.
Make small fires, rather than large, unmanageable ones and place the wood at the back of the fireplace on a stable grate. Put the fire out completely before you go to bed or leave the house. Clean out old ashes each time you start a new fire, and never burn cardboard, wrapping paper or Christmas trees in the fireplace. These materials create a lot of smoke and can potentially start a chimney fire.
Store wood on a wooden pallet at least 30 feet from the house to keep it dry. You don’t want the wood sitting on cement or bare ground where it will absorb moisture. Store it under the eaves or in a shed where it is protected from rain and snow, as well. An outdoor wood storage bench is an excellent choice for storing smaller quantities of wood.
Whether you use your fireplace to regularly heat your home, or for the occasional cozy fire, knowing how to care for it will increase your enjoyment while reducing the risk of fire. Ask friends for the name of a good chimney sweep and look for certification by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
Stan Horst enjoys spending cold winter evenings with his wife and two children in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. A former furniture and cabinet maker, Horst is passionate about educating consumers on the topic of selecting furniture. His website offers tips for choosing the perfect bench, as well as information on leading brands, such as furniture made by Kingsley Bate.