How to Prep Your Fireplace for the Burn Season Ahead
Winter is on the way; is your fireplace ready for the burn season? Typically, January and February are the coldest months of the season. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the Atlantic Corridor, including Maryland, is expected to be wetter than usual. Here’s what you need to know to prep your fireplace for the upcoming burn season.
Schedule a Chimney Sweep
We’re getting down to the wire when chimney professionals are busiest, but it’s not too late to schedule a chimney sweep. Getting your chimney swept at least once annually is vital, and it’s recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). There are two main issues a chimney sweep will be looking for: creosote and flue obstructions. Creosote is a highly flammable byproduct of burning wood that sticks onto the chimney’s interior walls. When large amounts of this crusty, tarry material accumulate, the high heat and flying embers can ignite a chimney fire. It’s the number one cause of residential structure fires and why you should schedule a chimney sweep before your light the fireplace.
Obstructions are also a common problem, even if you have not used your fireplace recently. Flying twigs, leaves, and other debris may get blown inside the chimney. Small animals can also sneak inside and build nests. These types of obstructions can hinder the venting of toxic fumes and cause carbon monoxide to be pushed back into the living space. It also reduces fireplace heating efficiency.
Chimney Masonry Damage
Before the burn season, the masonry should be checked for damages, including cracks, loose, or missing bricks, and gaps in the mortar joints. The porous masonry materials absorb falling precipitation, which can cause damage to the chimney. When the moisture turns to ice, it causes the brick and mortar to crack. As the moisture thaws and re-freezes with each freeze-thaw cycle throughout the winter season, the cracks get progressively larger. Eventually, bricks can crumble and separate from the chimney, resulting in structural issues and water leaks inside the chimney that can render the fireplace unsafe for use.
Chimney Cap and Damper
Ensuring your chimney cap is in excellent condition is very important. Its primary function is to prevent moisture intrusion, which can lead to mortar and brick deterioration. A chimney cap also helps keep out small animals and pests, ensures there are no downdrafts, and keeps hot embers from flying onto the roof and causing a fire.
The damper should also be in an operable condition. When starting a fire in the fireplace, you open the damper to let oxygen inside and vent smoke and fumes outside. When the fireplace is not in use, closing the damper helps retain the heat in the fireplace. However, warping, worn gasket, or other damage can hamper the damper’s airtight seal resulting in energy loss.
Stock up on seasoned firewood so you’re ready when it’s time to light the first fire of the burn season. Firewood that has been “seasoned” or dried for at least six months has a much lower moisture content than fresh or “green” wood. Your fires will burn hotter for more extended periods, with less smoke, soot, and creosote. You will use less wood fuel too.