Wood Burning Fireplace Maintenance
The best thing you can do to maintain your wood burning fireplace is have it regularly cleaned by a professional. Once a year is the minimum interval, with more frequent visits from the sweep being needed if you use your fireplace nightly or otherwise burn a lot of wood during the season. A trained professional can notice problems that you might miss, problems that could lead to a chimney fire, or toxic fumes or smoke spewing out into your living area.
Once you've attended to the major detail of scheduling a professional cleaning, there are several things you can do yourself to make sure that your wood burning fireplace is safe and effective both in the fire season and year round.
The best way to prevent a chimney fire is by not creating a lot of creosote. Creosote is the flammable, tar-like substance that sticks to the inside of your chimney. A bit of paper wafting up or a hot spark can catch this creosote on fire.
So what creates creosote and how do you avoid it? Well, creosote is the result of wood that doesn't burn hot enough. Ideally, the wood will burn at such a high temperature that the components of creosote will go straight up the chimney as a gas rather than condensing on the inner walls as a sticky solid. But if you burn new, "green" wood, there's too much water content in the wood to get a hot fire going. Only burn seasoned wood. Also, don't close the glass doors to the fireplace too quickly. Let the fire get good and roaring by ensuring it has plenty of air.
Some creosote buildup is unavoidable. The other thing you can do is ensure that flames don't go up the chimney to reach it. Building smaller fires is a good idea. And if you use newspaper for kindling, make sure the newspaper is balled up tightly.
You can inspect your chimney by shining a flashlight up it from the bottom or down it from the top. If you see shiny, tar-like deposits, that's creosote. The duller black deposits are soot, which is also flammable. If the soot gets more than 1/8 inch deep, call out the chimney sweep. Check the outside of the chimney as well, paying particular attention to the mortar to make sure there are no cracks. Don't forget to use your flashlight to check the inside as well as the out.
You should also have a chimney cap. This prevents birds from building nests in it during summer months or leaves from collecting in it during the fall. And rain can go down your chimney any time which is also a problem, creating rust and seeping into the brick encouraging cracks.
Check the venting and damper system to make sure everything fits tightly. If anything is loose, you should have a professional repair it. Remember that if the damper is loose, it can be a big drain on your heating bill. The warm air in your house will escape right up the chimney and out into the world.
It's easy to clean a wood burning fireplace. Just remember not to use chemicals or abrasive cleaners. A soft, damp cloth will work great for most surfaces. A little window cleaner on the glass doors should polish them up just fine.