As we head into fall and look forward to cooler weather with a cozy fireplace, we should remember that fireplaces, stoves and inserts – like a vehicle – require yearly maintenance to ensure everything is in good working condition for the heating season. The best person to perform the required service is a trained technician who specializes in the maintenance of fireplaces, venting or chimney systems. Before lighting the first fire of the season, here are a few important maintenance tips if you have a gas or wood-burning fireplace:
- Have a technician check the gas lines, clean the burner, control compartment, fan and related air circulation passages, as well as check for condensation annually.
- Ensure the vents are unobstructed and able to do their job.
- Check the batteries in the carbon monoxide detector.
- Be alert for unusual odors or flames, which are often a sign that the fireplace is not operating properly.
- Clean the glass and adjust the glowing embers and logs for best appearance.
- Have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis. Soot and creosote can adhere to the inside and cause a fire because they are highly flammable. A yearly chimney sweep by a professional ensures the whole system is in proper working condition. They will also check the condition of your flue lining, where even a small crack can cause a house fire.
- Check the integrity of the chimney. When the mortar is cracked or bricks are loose, it can cause moisture to enter your chimney system, which can affect the overall performance of your fireplace. Have it repaired as soon as possible.
- Make sure the fireplace damper is working properly and that no debris is preventing it from opening and closing.
As with other gas-burning or fire-producing appliances (stove, barbecue, etc.) precautions must always be taken to avoid serious burns. A gas or woodburning fireplace is no exception. Be sure to adhere to the following safety tips to minimize the chance of burns or fire:
Gas Fireplace Safety Tips
- Installing a safety screen or safety barrier is recommended to reduce the risk of serious burns by preventing direct contact with hot glass, which can take up to an hour to cool.
- Always supervise children, the elderly, infirm or pets near an operating or recently turned off gas fireplace, stove or insert.
- Keep the remote control (if available) out of the reach of children. Install a switch lock to prevent children from turning on the appliance.
- Inform family members and guests that the glass panel of a gas fireplace, stove or insert can be very hot and cause burns.
- Wait for the appliance and glass panel to cool down before allowing anyone near it. Cool down can take a long time – an hour or more. Some appliances turn on and off automatically with a thermostat, so you may not know when the fire turned off. Always consider the glass as potentially hot.
- Be aware that metal surfaces such as door frames and grilles may also get hot.
- Always read the owner’s manual and follow the instructions. For example, there may be ways to disable your remote when not in use to prevent children from turning on the fireplace.
Woodburning Fireplace Safety Tips
- Install a chimney cap, preferably with mesh, to keep moisture and critters out and to prevent fires by extinguishing hot embers that might otherwise escape from the chimney.
- Check outside to make sure there are no overhanging tree limbs encroaching on the chimney. Limbs present a fire hazard because they restrict proper draft airflow.
- Try to burn small fires, as they generate less smoke and cause less creosote accumulation.
- When building a fire, position the logs toward the rear of the fireplace and use kindling to start the fire, not flammable liquids.
- Ensure your fireplace is functioning properly by lighting a few small pieces of seasoned wood to see if the smoke exits vertically from the fireplace up the chimney and not into the room. If the smoke doesn’t exit vertically, it could mean there is creosote buildup, debris in the chimney (nests, leaves, branches, etc.) or a closed or partially-closed damper. Keep in mind, if you have a tightly sealed home, opening a window slightly can provide the fireplace the intake air required to direct the smoke up the chimney.
- When selecting wood to burn, choose dense wood such as oak. Use wood that has been split and stored in a high and dry place for at least six months prior to use. Avoid burning green wood such as pine, as it can produce more creosote. Remember, properly seasoned firewood should have a moisture content below 20 percent for best results.
- Coals can remain hot for up to three days, which can become a fire hazard if they come in contact with flammable materials.
- Install a metal-mesh screen to prevent hot embers from escaping. While following these tips can provide an extra margin of safety, there is no substitute for a physical barrier. Consumers with existing fireplaces, stoves or inserts should consider installing a protective screen or physical barrier to reduce the risk of serious burns by preventing direct contact with hot glass, the fire itself, or flying embers. Safety barriers are available through specialty hearth retailers or by contacting the manufacturer.
Since January 1, 2015, all newly manufactured glass-fronted gas appliances – that means fireplaces and heaters – require a protective barrier if its glass surface temperature exceeds 172 degrees Fahrenheit. This safety standard requires that the barrier must be in place when the product is installed.
Visit hpbacanada.org or hpba.org for more safety and maintenance tips, and contact your local specialty hearth retailer to book an appointment for service.