Is your wood-burning fireplace ready for winter?

Erin Ward
Erin Ward
Published on December 3, 2018

 Winter brings images of getting cozy in front of a crackling fire. Whether your image also includes a steaming cup of cocoa or a glass of crisp Chardonnay, it’s definitely something to look forward to.

A house fire most likely doesn’t factor into your dreams of hearthside dreams. But the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) lists fireplaces as one of the top 10 causes of house fires.

Make fireplace maintenance a priority before touching a match to even one piece of kindling.

Inspect the fireplace and chimney

 You may only need to have the chimney swept. Or, you may need additional maintenance work before your first fire of the season.

While it’s always best to hire a pro to inspect and clean the chimney (we’ll get into the how-tos of that in a minute), many homeowners prefer to perform their own inspections. If you are among them, keep the following in mind:

  • Begin your inspection inside the home, at the fireplace, checking for cracks in the firebox. Use a flashlight to shine up the flue to check there as well.
  • Open and close the damper to ensure it is in working condition. Then, check the metal for signs of damage. Keep in mind that “replacing a damper is not a do-it-yourself job; if the damper is in bad shape, hire a professional to replace it,” according to the pros at Better Homes & Gardens.
  • You’ll also need to check the exterior of the chimney for cracks. If you find them, consult with a licensed mason. If, on the other hand, you find faulty flashing, call a roofer.

We can’t recommend that you drag out the ladder to climb on the roof to inspect the rest of the chimney. It’s always best to hire a professional rather than risking bodily injury.

Call in the chimney sweep

Most experts recommend a professional clean of your chimneys about once a year (or every 80 fires). The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers advice on how to hire a chimney sweep. Also, be sure to check reviews on Yelp.com and similar review sites.

Additional safety precautions

  • Cut away tree branches that hang over the chimney.
  • If you suspect critters have settled in the chimney, call animal control.
  • Ensure your smoke detectors are working properly and consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • Keep the little ones and pets at least three feet from the fireplace and always supervise them while a fire is burning.
  • The same goes for holiday décor – three feet from the fireplace to be safe.
  • Don’t burn wrapping paper in the fireplace.
  • Use only seasoned firewood.
  • Don’t forget to clean out the ashes about once a week, or whenever they’re about an inch thick. Allow the ashes to cool completely before disposing of them.If you’re up for it, why not store those ashes in a bucket until summer? They make a delicious treat for flower and vegetable beds, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service.

Now all you need to do is stock up on firewood.

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