A well-maintained fireplace can make your home warm and cozy. A poorly maintained fireplace can put you and your home in danger. Chimney fires are incredibly hazardous because your chimney is not built to contain fire above a certain temperature, meaning it can spread rapidly to other parts of your home. You can avoid chimney fires, smoke damage and deadly carbon monoxide poisoning with regular maintenance of your fireplace and chimney.

What is creosote?

One of the main culprits of chimney fires in a wood-burning fireplace is creosote. Creosote is a byproduct that builds up inside your chimney as a result of burning wood. It is highly flammable and can block airflow, sending smoke and carbon monoxide back into your home. Creosote forms in phases:

  1. Begins as a flaky deposit that can be easily brushed away.
  2. Turns into a tar-like deposit which can be difficult to remove.
  3. Becomes a hardened glaze and is very difficult to remove.

Professional inspection and repair

Your fireplace maintenance schedule should include regular professional inspections.  Chimney sweeps and installation and repair professionals will be highly trained in the construction and operation of different types of fireplaces. They will also have access to video inspection equipment to get a full picture of the health of your system. A professional will use video and visual inspections to:

  • Spot and repair damage – They will examine and repair all the masonry, brick, and metal components of your fireplace and chimney including the interior and exterior of your whole system, from firebox to the chimney cap
  • Find and clean creosote at all stages – Creosote in its third stage is very difficult to remove
  • Find and clear debris – They will clear sticks, leaves and dirt that have entered from the chimney
  • Repair a malfunctioning cap – A working chimney cap stops rain, snow, debris and animals from entering your home, so a broken cap can lead to both danger and massive inconvenience
  • Identify and repair exterior wear and cracks – Cracks can occur on the chimney and along the roofline, which can lead to water damage, mold in your walls and roof, and smoke seeping into your home

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, at minimum you should schedule an annual inspection and cleaning. You should also schedule an inspection if you purchase a new home with a fireplace or plan to make modifications to your chimney or fireplace. If your fireplace gets heavy use, schedule cleanings and inspections more frequently. Regular cleanings will not only keep you safe but also make your fireplace more pleasant and efficient.

DIY maintenance

Between professional inspections, you can do a lot to maintain your fireplace.

  • Burn only seasoned (dry) wood – Do not burn green wood or household trash as these contribute to excessive soot and creosote buildup
  • Keep a screen in front of your fireplace – This helps prevent ash and sparks from entering your living space
  • After each fire, thoroughly sweep out ash and debris after it has cooled
  • Use only specially formulated fireplace cleaners – Regular household cleaners can leave a flammable residue
  • Purchase and regularly test home carbon monoxide detectors – Even with regular maintenance and inspections, your fireplace can send smoke and carbon monoxide back into your home.