Your fireplace: Everything you need to stay warm, cozy and safe this winter
As winter’s icy embrace draws closer, there’s one surefire way to beat back the cold: a seat in front of a roaring fireplace. And while warming yourself in front of the flames is one of winter’s favorite rituals, managing a fireplace requires a lot of knowledge and attention to detail. To stay cozy and safe this winter season, we cover everything you need to know to maintain your home’s warming hearth.
Before starting that first fire of the season, give a proper cleaning to the firebox, removing any ash, dirt or dust that might have gathered during the spring and summer. Next, open the damper, which should have remained closed when the fireplace wasn’t in use. Using a flashlight, shine a light through the open damper to make sure there are no obstructions in the chimney, such as clumps of leaves or sticks. Tiny critters can even take residence in chimneys during the off months, so watch out!
Keep things clean and tidy
During the months you use your fireplace, you’ll want to make sure you clean the firebox (the area where the logs actually burn) at least once a week. Clean away excess ash, although be sure to leave about an inch of ash to help insulate coals and allow them to heat faster. To clean the exterior slate of the fireplace, you can wash, dry and coat the surface with lemon oil every six weeks. And to clean the exterior brick, spring for dedicated brick cleaner from a local fireplace shop.
Get the wood out
To achieve that ideal, crackling fireplace, you need to stock it with the right wood. The ideal firewood should be dry and seasoned six to 12 months after splitting, registering less than 20% moisture with a meter. You’ll want to opt for hardwoods, like oak and orchard, that dry slower than softwoods like pine and fir.
Become a smoke connoisseur
Though it may seem counterintuitive, smoke is actually not a sign of a healthy fire. As a general rule, the darker the smoke, the more pollutants being burned, so if you’re burning good, clean wood, your chimney should only be producing thin wisps of white steam. If you’re burning clean wood and you’re still seeing smoke, one option is to adjust your dampers or air inlets to let in more air.
First off, make sure to have your wood-burning fireplace or chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep at least once a year. Throughout the year, always employ a guard in front of the fireplace, and make sure combustibles like carpet, drapes and furniture are a safe distance away from the hearth. And if you haven’t already, make sure all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are installed, and the batteries are up to date.
Explore your alternatives
While a lot of people love the idea of a wood fireplace, they don’t always love the smoke, dust and ash they can create. One alternative is to swap out traditional firewood for a chemical equivalent like Duraflame, which produces up to 50% less smoke and pollutants than wood. Another simple fix is to make the switch to a gas fireplace, which can burn gas-powered flames behind faux or replica blocks of wood. Gas units can be connected to existing gas lines, and there are even self-contained units that can fit into existing masonry.