Wood Fireplace Maintenance

Much wood fireplace maintenance is preventive in nature. Your main concern is not to have a chimney fire. You should have your chimney professionally cleaned before each fire season, and possibly once during the season as well. When using your fireplace for the first season, have the chimney professionally cleaned halfway through. The chimney sweep can advise you on how much creosote buildup there is and whether you ought to have a mid-season cleaning every year.

Preventing Chimney Fires

Burning wood produces creosote, a flammable substance that can condense on the inside of your chimney. Later, when a spark flies up the chimney, the creosote can catch fire. This fire can be extremely hot and difficult to put out.

Here's how to reduce your production of creosote and thus your risk of a chimney fire:

Burn Seasoned Wood

Seasoned wood should be dry, having been properly seasoned over the course of a year. That is, it should have been exposed to sun but protected from rain and snow and kept off the ground so it doesn't get damp from underneath. Green wood burns slower and cooler, increasing the risk that creosote will condense as a solid on the inside of the chimney rather than escaping out the top as a gas.

Burn Hard Wood

Beech, ash, oak, and maple burn clean and hot, lowering the amount of creosote produced. Poplar, spruce, pine, and redwood burn cooler and produce more.

Periodic Fires

Open the damper all the way and let a fire burn for 10 to 15 minutes each morning during the season.

Open Damper

Every time you apply fresh wood, open the damper all the way and let the fire burn for 10 to 15 minutes that way. This produces a hotter fire. And the wood reaches the charcoal stage faster, burning up the gas vapors that could otherwise produce creosote.

Hot Fires

In general, prefer a small hot fire to a large cool one. Creosote forms better at low temperatures.

Clean Frequently

Clean the ash and charred wood out of the firebox after each use. The buildup of ash can weaken the draft of the fireplace. That means there isn't as much air flow to take gas and smoke up out of the chimney. Instead, it lingers lower down where it can cool and form creosote.

Check the Seals

You should also check the latches and door gaskets to make sure that the fireplace doors can shut tightly. This will keep you from losing heat when not using the fireplace. And it will ensure that fires die quickly when you're done with them. Use washers, spacers, and gaskets as appropriate to maintain a tight seal.

Clean the Glass

When the glass starts looking cloudy, clean it with an approved glass cleaner available at your local home store. Do not use abrasive materials. Remember not to clean the glass while it is hot.