Fireplace Maintenance: A Handy Winter Safety Guide

Wood Fireplace

Have you ever wondered why Santa always looks so squeaky clean in your annual holiday cards?

After sliding down so many chimneys each year, it’s a wonder he isn’t sooty from head to toe!

The inside of the average fireplace isn’t likely to put a smile on the average safety inspector’s (or homeowners insurance broker’s) face. The truth is, 42 percent of winter home fires can be traced back to home heating.

More than half of home heating fire fatalities annually occur because a home heating element comes into contact with something flammable.

It is true there is nothing cozier than a cheery winter fireplace. But knowing that fireplace is well-maintained – well, that is the kind of peace of mind even money can’t buy!

What Are the Basic Types of Fireplaces?

While traditional wood-burning fireplaces will never go out of fashion, here in Canada gas fireplaces are the new norm for home renovations and new construction.

Gas fireplaces are easier to operate and maintain, as well as cleaner-burning and more energy efficient.

There are three main types of gas fireplaces. Gas fireplaces typically have two different ignition types: a continuous pilot light or an electronic/autopilot light.

1. Insert fireplace

Inserts can be placed into any existing fireplace/chimney system and are often used to convert a traditional wood-burning fireplace into a natural gas or propane-fueled fireplace.

2. Prefab fireplace

Prefabricated or so-called zero clearance fireplaces are factory-built, all-inclusive units that can be placed near a wall or other flammable surface.

3. Freestanding fireplace

Freestanding gas fireplaces look like old-school wood-burning stoves but operate with gas or propane fuel.

What Type of Maintenance Does a Fireplace Need?

Just like any other heating appliance, your fireplace needs basic maintenance to work well and safely.

Annual professional safety inspection and tune-up

At least once a year, it is important to schedule a preventative safety inspection and maintenance service.

This service will include the following:

  • Comprehensive inspection and maintenance of all components
  • Pilot light inspection, test and adjustment as needed
  • Inspection of valves, connections, gaskets and safety test for carbon monoxide
  • Inspection and testing of thermopile/thermocouple, ventilation system, thermostat
  • Inspection of batteries and/or wiring
  • Inspection of liner, mortar, bricks, chimney flue, vents, and cleaning or repairing as needed
  • Inspection and cleaning of ceramic/gas logs and ensuring proper placement
  • Inspection for black soot, debris, dust and dirt buildup and clean as needed
  • Inspection of the chimney at the roof level for damage, cracks or leaks

Ongoing cleaning and preventative maintenance

In between professional inspections and tune-ups, it is important to schedule time to clean, inspect and maintain your fireplace at home.

This will reduce the risk of a home fire, ensure you have a backup heat source if there is a power outage and spot little problems before they become major, expensive repairs.

  • Clean cold ash out of the firepit and wipe away any soot or dust buildup.
  • Check the fire extinguisher expiration date.
  • Verify a 3-foot-minimum safety perimeter all around the fireplace.
  • Clean the fire-screen or fire-glass.
  • Check the chimney flue for animal nests and install wire mesh.
  • Inspect the fireplace itself for cracks, loose bricks, damage or soot buildup.
  • Check your damper to verify a smooth, well-sealing closure.
  • Visually check to see if your fireplace is straight and secure.
  • Clean your chimney or bring in a professional to do it.

Tips for Safe Home Fireplace Use

These tips will help ensure you never experience the devastation of a fireplace-generated home fire.

Clean away all creosote

Creosote is a type of tar that occurs naturally whenever fossil fuels ignite and burn.

As such, creosote will always be a safety issue with any type of fireplace. It is also an irritant linked to skin, eye and respiratory issues and some cancers.

Every year, accumulated creosote inside chimneys causes chimney fires. In most cases, this happens when creosote is allowed to build up inside the chimney.

Use only manufacturer-recommended logs

For a gas fireplace, always use vented or ventless ceramic, ceramic clay, refractory cement or porcelain logs. For a wood fireplace, always use seasoned dry wood only.

Always follow the fireplace manufacturer’s guidelines for your choice of wood and kindling. Never burn any other materials even if you think they are safe (i.e., gift wrappings, cardboard).

Do not ever use fire starter or gasoline.

Build small fires

Smaller fires will generate a lesser quantity of toxic byproducts and creosote and keep your fireplace system easier to maintain.

Install metal chimney flashing, wire mesh and a chimney cap

Installing metal flashing around your chimney will prevent leaks and make it that much harder for small animals, insects and other wildlife to sneak inside your chimney.

A chimney cap with wire mesh serves a similar protective purpose. Make sure to inspect these regularly to prevent creosote buildup and clogs.

Clean the fireplace glass or screen carefully and check the safety perimeter

Always consult the manufacturer’s guidelines before cleaning the fireplace glass window or safety screen to guard against expensive cracks. Make sure not to touch or handle the glass or screen while it is hot.

At the same time, do a visual check of the 3-foot safety perimeter all around your fireplace. Remove any flammables and clean the area to remove any flammable dirt or creosote.

Test your smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarms regularly

Be sure to test your smoke detector and carbon monoxide alarms frequently while your fireplace is in use.

Get in Touch

Is it time to schedule your annual fireplace safety inspection and preventative maintenance service? We can help!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-549-4616.

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