Wood burning fireplaces are becoming a less common feature in many homes. In some cases the homes that have them use them more for decor than actual function. Then the weather gets bad or the electricity goes out, and occasionally the heating bill is just too much. During these times the forgotten fireplace is remembered and put back into operation.
If the unit has been properly maintained there is no issue and the warm heat is very welcome. If the fireplace has not been maintained or was not properly installed serious issues may occur. Home fires being the worst-case scenario, chimney fires may not always cause serious home damage but could cause more structural problems later. Regular fireplace and chimney maintenance will cost less when done routinely, instead of waiting until there is a major problem or a home has no heat.
Annual Chimney Sweep
Having a chimney sweep performed annually is one of the most important things to maintain. At this time the person performing the sweep should also do an inspection. Following the sweep and inspection, the technician can point out any other problems or give suggestions on better burning practices. In some cases, a chimney may need to be cleaned more than once per year.
The codes and regulations that surround fireplaces change frequently. In many cases units that were very popular last year can not be sold this year due to these changes. This just occurred again this spring of 2020. That does not necessarily make the unit unsafe for use but it should be inspected and discussed. Often times other building codes affect the way a unit was installed and have nothing to do with the fireplace itself. In the many centuries that humans have been using fireplaces, we are still learning how to best build, install, and reduce emissions for them.
These are all important reasons to have a technician you trust and can communicate with come out to take a look on a regular basis.
What Causes Chimney Problems
Creosote build-up. Creosote is formed when wood smoke rises and meets cold air and forms into a sticky tar-like substance. Well pretty much we won’t get all scientific here but it’s a byproduct of wood combustion. For the purpose of burning a wood fireplace, we will focus more on how to keep it to a minimum and optimize unit and heat performance.
- Burn hardwood such as oak or walnut
- Never burn softwoods like pine
- Always season wood properly before burning. Stacking wood a little more loosely allows airflow into the stack and allows it to season faster. Splitting the wood is also recommended. Keeping the woodpile dry is important. Some wood may take up to 3 years to properly season.
- Do not burn a lot of paper, cardboard, or other items that cause a lot of smoke.
- Try not to burn small fires that smoke a lot. Fireplaces and freestanding stoves are meant to be burnt hot.
- We highly recommend a stovepipe thermometer that tells you how hot the pipe is. The best operating temperature is generally between 500 and 800 degrees. Remember this temperature is for the stove pipe, not the unit.