10 Tips for Maintaining a Wood-Burning Fireplace

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When bitter chilly winter winds blow exterior, nothing beats the nice and cozy crackle and glow of a wooden hearth in a fire inside. Maintaining your hearth commonly will be sure that it operates within the most secure, best method attainable.

If improperly put in, operated, or maintained, wooden burning fireplaces are potential sources of home fires. Embers coming out of an unscreened hearth or chimney fires from creosote build-up are simply two of the hazards that may be prevented with correct use and care. Wood burning fireplaces also can negatively have an effect on indoor air high quality. According to Burn Wise, a program of the US Environmental Protection Agency, “Smoke might scent good, however it’s not good for you.” Any smoke escaping from the firebox into the room means the hearth isn’t working correctly. Also, since fires eat a big quantity of air as they burn, it’s attainable to create destructive stress within the residence as air from exterior is drawn indoors to switch the air consumed by the hearth. If that “make-up” air is drawn again in via the flues of gas- or oil-burning furnaces and water heaters, it may well additionally draw lethal flue gases, like carbon monoxide, again into the house. This known as “backdrafting” and is one purpose all houses must be outfitted with working, well-maintained smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Ashley Eldridge, a veteran chimney sweep and director of schooling on the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) says, “Safety is the very best purpose to have an expert chimney sweep examine, clear, and take a look at any hearth while you transfer into a house. While it’s attainable for owners to wash and preserve their very own fireplaces and chimneys, it’s unlikely that they possess the requisite information or expertise to identify all potential issues throughout an inspection.”

Find a licensed chimney skilled via the CSIA.

Most wood-burning fireplaces are constructed of heavy masonry supplies on stable foundations with masonry chimneys. Some are manufacturing facility constructed and have particular triple-wall, chrome steel chimneys.

One frequent masonry kind known as a “Rumford” hearth, after the 18th century British Count Rumford who developed the design. Rumford fireplaces had been significantly better at eradicating smoke from a fire and heating a room than their predecessors. The design has stood the take a look at of time – Rumford-inspired fireplaces even outperform some newer, fashionable designs.

A masonry hearth’s firebox is constructed with particular, heat-resistant firebrick, and the inside of the chimney is lined with heat-resistant, sq. clay tubes, referred to as “tiles.” The seen elements of the chimney, fireside, and fireside are sometimes made from non-combustible supplies like commonplace brick, stone, or tile. The chimney is typically capped with a steel or stone slab to maintain rain and snow out, in addition to display screen to maintain birds  and animals out of the chimney. Eldridge says the screens serve one other use, too: “The display screen additionally acts as a spark arrester, containing any embers which occur to make all of it the way in which up the chimney to the highest.”

A small, cast-iron door, referred to as a damper, is put in simply over the hearth, resulting in the chimney, and is operated by an connected deal with. It is closed whereas the hearth isn’t in use and opened when a fireplace is lit. It will also be used to manage how a lot air flows via the firebox to feed the hearth, which helps regulate how intensely the hearth burns. It’s frequent for fireplaces to have a display screen or mesh guard, which retains embers from popping into the room when a fireplace is burning. Sometimes fireplaces have glass doorways, which must be left open when the hearth is burning, however which could be closed when the hearth is decreased to embers or when there isn’t any hearth burning, to cut back undesirable airflow up the chimney.

Many fireplaces can even have a raised hearth grate, which elevates the hearth to permit higher airflow and combustion, and an ash-dump door on the ground of the firebox, each made from cast-iron. The ash dump permits chilly ash to be swept right into a chamber beneath the firebox, often into an enclosed chamber within the hearth basis within the basement. There, the ash could be accessed by one other small, tight-fitting steel door, the place it may be eliminated with out getting the completed dwelling space soiled. 

While the masonry firebox is the most typical kind, some fireplaces are outfitted with particular steel inserts to permit for extra environment friendly, cleaner burning of wooden. Many occasions inserts embody followers which flow into air from the dwelling space across the exterior of a sealed firebox, making the hearth a extra environment friendly heater of dwelling areas. This makes a wood-burning hearth work extra like a wooden range.

Before lighting a fireplace, the damper is opened to permit smoke and combustion gases to flee. Once the hearth is lit, the extraordinarily sizzling combustion gases start to stand up the chimney by convection. At the identical time, the hearth is drawing air from the house for combustion. As the flame stabilizes, the recent, lethal combustion gases proceed to be drawn up and out of the highest of the chimney, drawing recent air in for combustion on the identical time.

Once the hearth dies and the ashes are fully chilly, the damper is closed to keep away from undesirable lack of warmth from the house. Then the ashes could be cleaned from the firebox or delivered to the ash dump via a door within the flooring of a masonry hearth.

CSIA’s Eldridge says, “Generally talking, an open hearth isn’t an environment friendly house heater, attributable to the truth that the chimney attracts not solely the recent combustion gases up and out of the house, however conditioned air from the house as effectively.” Much make-up air is frigid air drawn in via cracks and gaps within the residence, making the home really feel chilly and drafty. Installing a pipe between the outside and the hearth to herald make-up air instantly avoids each the discomfort of air-infiltration via cracks and gaps and the potential hazard of backdrafting attributable to inadequate accessible combustion air.

Fireplaces could be made considerably safer and extra environment friendly by putting in glass doorways. This provides a layer of safety whereas additionally extra rigorously controlling airflow to the hearth. However, even a fire with glass doorways has pretty poor heating effectivity. Installing a high-efficiency, EPA accepted, steel hearth insert makes the hearth behave extra like a woodstove. This approach, a fire could be transformed to turn into a cleaner, extra environment friendly supply of warmth than a conventional hearth and might save the house owner cash on heating payments.

Remove ash from the firebox both through the ash dump or straight from the firebox as soon as the hearth is totally out and the ashes are chilly. The ash could be sprinkled on flower beds as a very good supply of plant vitamins.

Sweeping the chimney and performing an annual inspection is a very powerful a part of sustaining your hearth and chimney. Over time, the chimney can turn into coated with soot and creosote, that are byproducts of fires that aren’t burning effectively. Once the coating builds up sufficient, it may well probably catch hearth in what is named a harmful “chimney hearth.”  Eldridge explains why a chimney hearth could be so damaging: “While the firebox is constructed with firebrick and meant for direct contact with hearth, every thing above the damper is designed to resist solely sizzling smoke and gases from the hearth, not hearth itself, so a chimney hearth may cause severe injury.” The chimney must be swept when creosote build-up is 1/Eight-inch or extra and on the finish of the season. The sweeping must be finished earlier than summer season, as a result of humidity within the air can mix with creosote to kind acids which might injury masonry and end in robust odors.  

When the chimney is cleaned, a drop fabric is laid down on the fireplace and into the room. A respirator is worn to guard the sweep from respiratory the soot and creosote mud, which could be dangerous to their well being. Then steel or plastic chimney brushes and instruments are used, together with a vacuum system, to brush the soot and creosote off of the inside partitions of the chimney and the damper ledge. The chimney cap can also be inspected and cleaned of creosote. Occasionally, a chemical cleaner could also be used.

At the identical time the chimney and fireside are cleaned,  they’re inspected to make sure there are not any severe cracks within the firebox, chimney or liner, no unfastened or lacking bricks or mortar, that the damper is positioned and dealing appropriately, that the chimney cap is in good restore, and that the chimney is structurally sound.

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