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Woodburning Fireplace Maintenance

Fireplace Safety Issues

When you're buying a home, be sure to have a chimney professional check the fireplace to make sure it is functional and does not need repairs.

After you've moved in, have a chimney sweep clean and inspect the fireplace annually to make sure it's safe. Between professional inspections, do your own checks and maintenace to monitor and enhance the unit's performance.

Checking Chimney Caps
A cap fitted with wire mesh sides covers the hole at the top of the chimney. It keeps rain, birds, animals, and debris from entering. Replace or repair a cap that is missing or damaged.

Inspect Masonry Chimneys
Examine the outer mortar between bricks or stone to make sure it is intact. Shine a flashlight down the chimney to look at the mortar inside. If the mortar is crumbling, it must be replaced. Look for cracked tile liners or missing bricks, too.

Inspect Metal Chimneys
Look for dented or rusted metal and missing screws at joints.

Watch for Formation of Creosote
Creosote is a flammable substance that is hard, dark, and crustlike. It is produced during incomplete combustion of wood. An accumulation of creosote can cause a dangerous chimney fire, so it must be removed.

  • You can minimize creosote by burning dry hardwoods, since their lower moisture content promotes more complete burning.

  • A hot fire produces less creosote than smoldering woods. Increase the air supply if necessary so that wood burns more completely.

    Identifying Soot
    Soot is a flammable deposit, dark in color but softer than creosote. Most chimney sweeps recommend cleaning when soot deposits reach 1/8-inch in depth.

    Creosote Glaze
    This shiny, tar-like product is flammable, and usually difficult to fully remove.

    Smoke
    If there's smoke in the house, and you've eliminated chimney debris, make sure the damper is open. If lots of smoke is coming out the chimney, it means that wood isn't burning completely.

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