5 Essential Tips for Maintaining Your Wood-Burning Fireplace

stack of firewood

When the seasons change and the air becomes cool, a cozy fire in your wood burning fireplace can be the best way to warm both your home and your spirits. If you haven't cleaned your fireplace since the last cool season, it's time to take care of it now.

Schedule an Annual Inspection

It’s a wise idea to have the chimney of your wood burning fireplace checked each year by a professional chimney inspector to ensure that it is safe to use. There is a cap that covers the top of your chimney which is designed to keep rain and small animals from getting inside. Your cap should also be regularly checked by a professional for any problems.

Store Your Wood Properly

If you’re burning real wood in your wood burning fireplace, be sure it is completely dry. It’s best to use wood that has been split for at least 6 months. Hardwood tends to dry more slowly than softwoods. If you store your firewood outside, make sure you keep it at least 1-foot off of the ground so that there is good ventilation between the pieces. Place a tarp over the top of the woodpile to keep off any rain or dew.

Check Your Damper Regularly

Between your annual inspections, you should check your chimney for any problems. Use a flashlight to check if there is anything that may be causing a blockage in your chimney. Small animals can decide to create a home within your chimney. Buildup can also develop from falling leaves. If you find a blockage in your wood burning fireplace, contact a reputable chimney cleaning service to have your system cleaned. Creosote, which is a dark material that can develop from wood that has not been completely burned, can also build up. This flammable material is hazardous and should be removed as soon as it is detected. You should also check for soot build up. Soot is a soft material that is also flammable and should be removed as soon as possible.

Prepare Your Firebox

Once your chimney is clean, remove all of the ashes and debris from your firebox. Be sure the debris is completely cooled before removing it. Place the debris into an empty container. Once most of the debris has been removed, sweep or vacuum out the remaining smaller pieces. When you are ready to light the fire in your wood burning fireplace, make sure the damper is wide open.

Burn Your Wood Cleanly

Use only composition logs, real wood or white matte paper in your fireplace. Any other materials could potentially damage your flue and harm the health of everyone living in your home. If you’re burning a composition log in your wood burning fireplace, choose material that produces fewer pollutants. Creosote and soot build-up inside your chimney can cause a potentially dangerous fire inside your chimney.

You can avoid this dangerous situation by refraining from burning resinous wood such as pine and evergreen boughs. These materials can leave creosote residue inside your flue which can flare into an uncontrollable fire. Whenever possible, use hardwoods such as birch, oak, or maple. These woods have less sap and produce less soot and creosote accumulation. They will burn a hot fire for a long time but are also generally more expensive than other woods.

Build a small fire with lots of heat by burning paper and kindling together. As the fire gets bigger, add larger pieces of kindling. Add hardwood logs to your fire to keep it hot. A small hot fire will produce smaller amounts of dirty smoke.