Hot Tips for Keeping the Home Fires Burning
By Mary Boone
Crackling fireplace flames are appealing in a romantic, warm-your-heart-and-toes kind of way. Yes, they’re more work than a gas fireplace, and there are communities that no longer allow the installation of wood-burning units due to air quality issues. But for those devoted to hauling in wood and sweeping up ash, a real, wood fire is the only way to take away the chill.
These seven tips will help you prepare for a safe and enjoyable fireplace season:
1. Regular inspections
Have your wood-burning fireplace inspected by a professional chimney sweep each year. An inspection generally costs between $50 and $100. The National Fire Protection Agency recommends having your chimney cleaned every time you burn through a cord of wood – that’s every two to three years for most homeowners.
2. Put a cap on it
Make sure your chimney has a cap with open sides (usually covered with mesh) to keep out rain, birds, squirrels and debris. Talk to your inspector to ensure the cap is in place and that it’s in good condition. A replacement cap typically costs $130 to $250 installed.
3. Burn hardwoods
Hardwoods including maple, oak, ash and birch burn hotter and longer than softwoods and have less pitch and sap, making them cleaner to handle. They also tend to cause less creosote buildup. Well-seasoned wood (which has been dried for a minimum of six months to a year) burns much better than green wood. If wood is very heavy and has sap oozing out of it, it’s too “green” to burn. Well-seasoned logs are generally cracked on the ends, and if you knock two together, they’ll make a sharp ringing sound.
4. Clear the smoke
If your fireplace leaves your house full of smoke, the culprit could be a dirty chimney, a damper that’s not open all the way or debris in your chimney. If you can’t find the cause yourself, contact a professional and don’t use your fireplace again until the issue is resolved.
5. Keep it clean
Clean your wood-burning fireplace's interior regularly. Sweep out or vacuum up cold ashes. Fireplace embers can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to three days, so always wait that long before removing the ashes. Before cleaning, open the damper so airborne ash will be drawn up and out the chimney. Regularly clean the soot and heat stains on glass fireplace doors. Make sure the doors are cool and use a razor blade to scrape off thick deposits. Fireplace stores sell special cleansers that are safe for use around your fireplace (regular housecleaning products can leave behind flammable and toxic fumes and residue). You can also clean the glass using a cup of vinegar diluted in a gallon of water; spray the cleanser on and wipe away.
6. Put safety first
Linerless chimneys are common in older homes. Even if your chimney has a liner, it could be defective; age and use can cause wear that will render a liner ineffective over time. To ensure wood-burning fireplace safety, consider installing a stainless steel liner that will keep the fire and its embers contained. Installed by a pro, a metal liner costs about $100 per foot.
7. Enhance efficiency
If your fireplace doesn’t have a fan or blower to direct the heat into the room, you might look into having one installed. It will greatly improve your wood-burning fireplace's efficiency. Similarly, if you don’t have heat-proof glass doors you may want to add them; they’ll prevent heat loss and keep embers from flying out of the fire box.
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