Proper Fireplace Maintenance

Log fire in a fireplace.

If there is one special feature that every prospective homebuyer looks out for it's a working fireplace. Nothing can beat a cozy fire on a chilly night. Whether it's family game night or a romantic evening for two, a fireplace is a warm and inviting feature in any home.

As a new fireplace owner you shouldn't take that hearth for granted. It might seem like a simple thing to do in terms of lighting a log and watching it crackle, but before you striking the match, there are some things you want to do in preparation for your first fire of the season.

Before Your Fire

Hire a Chimney Sweep - It's recommended that you hire a professional chimney sweep to clean out the flue every six months or so. The smoke and ash from a fire can build up in the chimney and actually become a fire hazard. The chimney sweep should also inspect the exterior of the chimney and insure there are no overhanging branches or vines that might spark up. Once your chimney has been swept, consider the following tips for continuing fireplace maintenance and use:

Install a Cap - You're chimney should have a cap that will keep out the water and animals. If a bird or other critter takes up home in your chimney the blockage could push carbon monoxide back into your home. A spark arrester at the top of the chimney is like a fine grate that can prevent any flying embers from landing on the roof or grass.

Protect the Floor - Place a nonflammable rug in front of the fireplace. If a burning ember should fly out, better it should land there than on the carpet or wood.

During Your Fire

Use Your Tools - Never use your hands to move a burning log around. That's what your fireplace tools are for.

Use the Heater - Use the fireplace for short-term warmth not as a furnace to heat the whole house. The optimum duration for a typical fire should be around five hours. Keeping a fire going for longer than that increases the chances of overexposure and potential harm.

Open the Door - If you have a glass door on your fireplace, it should be kept open while the fire is burning to draw air into the hearth. However, always make sure you keep the screen closed to cut down on the potential of sparks or embers flying out onto nearby carpet or furniture.

Watch the Fire - A fire should never be left unattended, especially if there are children in the house. You should also crack open a window for a little more air flow and avoid the room filling up with smoke.

After Your Fire

Clean the Glass - To clean off fireplace glass doors of soot, wait until the glass is completely cool. Spread out some newspapers under the doors and scrap off any built up soot with a razor blade. Then use warm water mixed with either dishwashing detergent or vinegar to apply to the glass. Use newspaper here as well to wipe the glass. Newspaper doesn't leave behind lint. There is also glass cleaner made specifically for fireplace doors that can be used.

Dispose of Ash - Fireplace coals can take up to three days to completely burn out. When cleaning out the ash, make sure you've waited until at least 48 to 72 hours from the last fire. Even then those ashes should be scooped into a metal container and flushed with water. Never put ashes next to any combustible materials. Even placing them outside can cause a problem if a gust of wind brings those embers to life. Coals or ash should not be picked up with a vacuum cleaner at any time.

There is no reason why a properly working fireplace can't provide you with hours of comfort. A little care and prep go a long way towards that goal.