How to Maintain Your Fireplace.
The air is crisp, the nights are cool. What better way to complete the cozy picture than to build a roaring fire in the hearth?
If you haven't given it a thought - or a cleaning - since last winter, now is the perfect time to come clean.
Newer fireplaces are better than traditional open hearths at controlling air-flow and providing heat efficiently.
But whatever its age, a professional chimney inspection and cleaning each year is a must to keep soot and creosote from building up and leading to a chimney fire.
If the fireplace is a major source of heat, have it inspected more frequently.
Avoid burning resinous woods such as pine (which leaves creosote in the flue) or evergreen boughs and large quantities of paper, which can flare up and quickly get out of control.
Here's how to get your hearth and home ready for the crackling nights ahead.
Grab a flashlight and see whether anything is blocking the chimney.
Animals sometimes take up residence in the warm confines of a chimney
left idle for months.
Falling leaves also tend to build up in the chimney. If you see a blockage, call to arrange a professional chimney inspection and cleaning. (You really can't do this one yourself.)
Now you're ready to start firing up for those cozy nights ahead.
With a few caveats, naturally, to help ensure your hearth is churning out heat that's as healthy as possible for your family.
That warm fire crackling in the hearth creates smoke that contains carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.
These toxins can adversely affect anyone who has
asthma or other breathing problems. The cleanest choice is to switch
from a wood-burning to a gas fireplace if possible.
There are new gas-fueled hearths that look as though they're burning real firewood. Some self-contained units can even fit into existing masonry fireplaces.
Wood-burning fireplace inserts certified by the EPA are also available in sizes and styles that can fit into an existing masonry fireplace.
The fire is visible through the screen - a
definite aesthetic plus - and it provides excellent heat output and very
little of that dirty smoke you'd prefer your family avoid breathing.
For those who eschew the gas-fueled fireplace, composition logs -such as Duraflame and Presto - are the next best thing.
These composition logs produce up to 50 percent less smoke and pollutants when burned than wood does.
And if you're a purist who simply cannot fathom fall without the earthy aroma of a fine wood fire? Well, at least learn to light it the most effective way possible.
All firewood is not created equal. It pays to know your firewood when you're stocking up this fall.
Here's a look at a few of the most popular types available:
plastics, rubber, painted or treated wood, particle board, plywood,
coal, charcoal briquettes and colored paper produce toxic fumes - the
kind that can harm your lungs and clog your flue.
Start with a small, hot fire. You can create such a fire by crumpling a few pages of newspaper, add some small pieces of softwood kindling such as pine or fir, then lighting it.
Add bigger kindling a few pieces at a time as the fire grows.
Placed close enough to keep each other to keep them hot, but with enough room for
oxygen to circulate. The idea is to create a small, hot fire first, which keeps the dirty smoke to a minimum.
Simply put: Where there's smoke, there's a bad fire. Excess smoke is a good indicator that your fire wasn't lit properly or isn't burning correctly.
How to tell? Walk outside your home and take a look at your chimney about a half-hour after lighting a fire.
A good fire will give off only a thin wisp of white steam. If you see the dark, smoky variety, come inside and adjust your dampers or air inlets to let in more air.
About the Author
Tara Aronson is a native Californian. Having grown up in San Diego, she studied journalism and Spanish to pursue a career in newspaper writing. Tara, whose three children - Chris, Lyndsay, and Payne - are the light of her life, now lives and writes in Los Angeles. She also regularly appears on television news programs throughout the U.S.