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Full Chimney Maintenance Guide - Prepare Before Winter

Now is the perfect time of the year to prepare your fireplace for winter. Proper maintenance of the fireplace, the chimney, and all the parts in-between are key steps in preventing fire hazards. This is true for any type of stove, including the relatively clean-burning gas stove. Book an inspection and a periodical sweeping of the chimney through the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Here is your guide to a safe operation of the fireplace.

Book a Periodical Inspection

chimney on a roof
Call a professional to inspect all the parts of your chimney before you light the first fire of the year. A professional should inspect your chimney once a year or once every 80 fires. Before the inspection, here is what you should check yourself:
  • Check for cracks in the masonry, but don't attempt to fix them. This will require specialty heat-resistant materials. 
  • See that the chimney cap is clean and that it can open and close freely.
  • Inspect your protective cap. It keeps birds, squirrels, bats, and other pests from entering the chimney. 
  • While on the roof, cut away any tree branches that are too close to the chimney opening.
  • Check that the damper opens fully. This video demonstrates how:

Minimizing Soot and Creosote

fire in a fireplace
Soot and creosote are the by-products that accumulate on the walls of the chimney as the smoke and vapor condense on their way up. If there is enough of it and the temperature is high enough, it can catch fire and can sometimes go unnoticed. Creosote buildup is the number one cause of chimney fires. How do we keep it at bay?
Burn only wood that has dried thoroughly and make sure that the damper is fully open before you start the fire. You can also insulate the flue liner, which will diminish the condensing process. 
Another tip: don't let the fire die off slowly for the night. Extinguish with a fire picker and sprinkle baking soda over the top. Let the coal cool down for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably 8. 
To prevent foul odors from the chimney in the summertime, sweep it after the last fire and deodorize with baking soda.

Additional Safety Tips

cleaning a fireplace
  • When the fire died down completely, shovel the ashes into a sealed metal container. Don't keep them on a wooden deck or near flammable materials. Coals can remain hot for up to 3 days!
  • Make sure to only use fully dried wood.
  • Have a fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector on every floor. Keep a fire extinguisher near every fireplace.
  • Install a screen in front of the fireplace.
  • Keep the hearth clutter-free. Don't let the ashes accumulate over an inch thick, and scrub soot away from the masonry.
  • Here's how to set up a clean fire: 
H/T: BobVila.
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