Many homeowners see the fireplace as the heart of their home, especially in the fall and winter, when it’s hard to resist gathering around the warmth and glow emanating from a cozy fire. Read this guide to understand the steps for maintaining your fireplace to keep it functioning safely and properly for years to come.
Whether you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace, it’s important to maintain it by completing some basic tasks year-round and annually getting it checked by a professional. You’ll be extending the life of your fireplace—and more importantly, you’ll be keeping yourself and your family safe.
How to Maintain Your Fireplace
How you maintain your fireplace will largely depend on the type you have: wood-burning or gas. It takes more effort to maintain a wood-burning fireplace. Still, homeowners will put up with the extra work for an authentic fireplace experience—nothing beats seeing a pile of logs catch on fire, listening to the sound of crackling wood, and smelling the smoky scent of a real fire! After that real fire dies down. However, there’s ash, soot, and burnt wood scraps left to clean up.
In contrast, a gas fireplace offers the heat and hominess of an indoor fire with the flick of a switch. And after you’ve had enough, you just flick the switch again and go to bed. Lighting up a gas fireplace is really as easy as that, but regular maintenance is still necessary to keep your unit clean and safe.
Let’s take a look at the upkeep that’s involved with both types of fireplaces.
Wood-burning Fireplace Maintenance
If you own a wood-burning fireplace, much of the maintenance involves keeping the firebox (the area where you build a fire) clean. After each use, the remaining ash should be removed and disposed of—but wait at least twelve hours after the fire has died to make sure the ash is cold.
Pro tip: Ash is full of nutrients and can be added to soil, potted plants, or compost as a fortifying element.
Clean around your fireplace
Burning wood will produce soot and creosote, which is the dark residue that you see coating the interior walls of the firebox and reaching up into the lining of the chimney. This buildup should be removed once a season or whenever the residue thickness reaches 1/8 inch, as creosote can release toxic gases and is highly flammable. Creosote buildup is a major cause of chimney fires.
Hire professional cleaners when necessary
Hiring a professional chimney sweep to remove the creosote once a year is probably the safest option for homeowners, but if the buildup isn’t too extreme, it’s possible to clean it off yourself. Commercial cleaning liquids and powders designed for removing creosote are readily available. You can also prevent creosote buildup by burning a chimney cleaning log after every forty fires or so. The chemicals in these logs cause soot and creosote to dry up and fall off the walls.
Even if you’re keeping your fireplace clean from season to season, you must hire a certified chimney sweep to inspect the whole setup once a year. Only a professional will have the right tools and knowledge to ensure everything is functioning correctly. They’ll be able to head off significant issues such as cracks in the chimney lining or a damaged chimney cap.
Clean before the summer months
If you’re cleaning your fireplace yourself, do it before the summer begins so that the warm humidity doesn’t interact with the creosote to create unpleasant-smelling acids. Place a drop cloth in front of the fireplace to keep the hearth clean, and make sure you’re wearing eye protection and a dust mask to keep yourself from inhaling the carcinogenic dust.
Gas Fireplace Maintenance
Maintaining a gas fireplace requires considerably less work, but it’s still necessary to clean the area of dust and debris at least once a year and follow all safety precautions while doing so. Before you start to clean, the most important step is to turn off the gas and pilot light and give the unit some time to cool down.
How to clean a gas fireplace
To remove the grime build-up, start by removing the glass front of your fireplace and wipe it down with a special fireplace glass cleaner (not a regular glass cleaner, which may contain chemicals that won’t interact well with the fire’s heat). Next, carefully run a handheld vacuum over the lava rocks and decorative logs. If you discover that either the rocks or logs are starting to fall apart, they should be replaced.Finally, use a microfiber cloth to wipe the dust from the fireplace trim and louvers. While you’re cleaning, check the wall surrounding the unit for damp spots, bubbling paint, or peeling wallpaper. Also, inspect the chimney outside for white stains or eroding bricks. These signs indicate that something may be wrong and will require a professional assessment.Even if everything appears to be okay, it’s essential to have your gas fireplace inspected once a year by a licensed gas provider for issues that you may not be able to spot yourself. For example, the connectors and valves found in gas fireplaces can malfunction or wear down without your knowing it. Remember: When dealing with gas and fire, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
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