With Winter around the corner, now is probably a good time to get that fireplace in shape for this season of sitting by the fire with a good book, spouse or significant other.
Even with our mild winters here in the Dallas Fort Worth area, the Chimney Safety Institute recommends that homeowners who light fires in their fireplaces three or more times a week during the heating season should have their chimneys inspected and cleaned once a year.
If unseasoned wood is burned in the fireplace, twice-a-year cleaning and inspection may be necessary, because unseasoned wood usually burns at a lower temperature than seasoned wood, causing more smoke and therefore more creosote.
Some people assume that because they don’t have fires continuously during the winter, they don’t have to worry too much about creosote buildup. This may be far from the truth. The colder the flue, the greater the condensation, so creosote buildup is the greatest at the beginning of a fire, in the time before the flue has fully heated up.
Fall is the perfect time to start prepping your fireplace for winter. Whether it’s wood-burning, gas or electric, on top of having a professional chimney sweep come out, here are inspecting and cleaning tips to get your fireplace in shape before the winter temperatures hit.
Cleaning a Wood Burning Fireplace
A wood-burning fireplace is by far the dirtiest fireplace there is. With the comfort and coziness of real wood burning comes soot, smoke, dirt, dust, debris — even critters! Plus, it also requires constant maintenance throughout the winter — removing ashes and adding new wood.
Here’s how to prepare and clean your wood-burning fireplace:
1. Give the exterior and interior a good once-over. Take note of any damage and missing or broken parts. Look outside at the exterior of your chimney. Any cracks will need to be repaired.
2. Check the flu for leaves, birds nests and other critters. Shine a flashlight up the chimney via a mirror. If you see anything odd, call a chimney sweep.
3. Assess how much cleaning is needed. If you have layers of ash that are one or more inches thick, you’re in for a dirty job. Cleaning a wood-burning fireplace is a messy task, so old clothing and rubber gloves are necessary. Place a protective drop cloth in front of the fireplace to protect your floors and carpeting from soot. Also, make sure to grab a shovel if your ash bed is high.
4. Remove the layers of ash and debris using a vacuum cleaner (or shovel if necessary). Put it all into a trash bag and place aside.
5. Scrub the fireplace. Using a scrub brush and a bucket full of soapy water, scrub the inside walls and floor of the fireplace. You can also use a mixture of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and water. TSP is a harsh chemical so it should only be used for ultra-dirty jobs. Be sure to wear extra protective gloves and eye protection when handling TSP.
Tip: Don’t scrub too hard on older brick. Doing this might cause it to crumble.
7. Clean fireplace accessories. Screens, fireplace tools and log beds also get dirty and need to be cleaned. You can clean glass screens with a household glass cleaner. Mesh screens can be vacuumed. Tools can be cleaned inside or outdoors; give them a once-over with the scrub brush and soapy water, then spray them off with a hose. If you clean the tools inside, rinse each tool with water in your utility sink or using the spray nozzle in your kitchen sink.
8. Clean your fireplace hearth with a duster or damp rag.
Cleaning a Gas Fireplace
Similar to the way a gas stove generates heat, a gas fireplace consists of an insert (which usually looks like a set of wood logs) and a pilot light that taps into your gas line. If this is the first time you’re using the fireplace since last winter, or the fireplace does not light after a few attempts, you may need to check to make sure the pilot light is lit. If not, light the pilot light.
Take these steps to clean and prepare your gas fireplace for winter:
1. Make sure the gas valve is turned off. Next, check again just to be sure.
2. Inspect for damage. Check the logs, lines, valves and other burner equipment to make sure there isn’t any damage, such as rust, flaking, or cracked or chipped logs.
3. Remove the gas log insert and dust it with a dry rag. You can also vacuum (using the crevice tool) it if there are nooks and crannies that you can’t reach with a rag. Another idea is to use a soft paint brush to brush away the dirt. Be gentle cleaning the insert, as the logs are usually fragile.
4. Use a vacuum to clean inside the fireplace, removing any dirt or spider webs that might have collected over the seasons. Place the insert carefully back inside the firebox.
5. Clean both sides of the glass with a window cleaner and then wipe the exterior with a damp cloth or a duster.
6. Take a look at the vents. If your gas fireplace is vented, use a flashlight to check (the vents are located at the top of the unit) and make sure there are no blockages. This is especially important because if there is something blocking the gas from escaping, dangerous carbon monoxide fumes could enter your home.
7. Test your fireplace to make sure that it is working properly. Turn the gas back on and light the pilot light. If the pilot light is out or the fireplace is not working properly, call a technician.
Cleaning an Electric Fireplace
Electric fireplaces are very easy to clean and maintain, which makes them appealing to homeowners. There’s no need to worry about logs or soot because freestanding electric fireplaces and electric fireplace inserts do not have actual flames. They run strictly on electricity, plugging right into your electrical outlet.
Take the following steps to prepare your electric fireplace for winter:
1. Check the electrical components (any wires or plugs) to ensure that they’re in good working order. If anything seems worn or frayed, consult a professional to replace or repair the damage.
2. Dust the interior and remove any debris that could become a fire hazard. Use a vacuum cleaner if necessary. Unused fireplaces get dusty just like every other surface in your home. If your fireplace has brass accents, clean those with soap and water or something acidic like a vinegar-and-salt mixture (you can even try mild Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce). Clean both sides of the glass enclosure with a glass cleaner of your choice, and dust electrical components gently.
3. Plug the fireplace in and test it to make sure that it is working properly. If not, investigate the problem by plugging another electrical item into the same outlet. If there is no power to that device, this might be an electrical issue and you’ll need to consult with an electrician.
Now, all you have to do is wait for the cold weather so you can curl up by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate!
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