With winter on the way, it’s time to get everything ready before the cold weather hits. It’s important to prepare your fireplace for winter after being out of use for a while. Fireplaces are a beautiful way to heat your home in the winter but before you light up a gas or wood-burning fireplace for the first time this season, there are a few maintenance tasks you should attend to.
At Living Fires, we want everyone to be able to enjoy using their fireplace so here are some steps we recommend you follow to make sure your fireplace is safe and ready to go.
1. SWEEP THE CHIMNEY
We would recommend you get your chimney swept at least once a year even if no repairs are needed, this is to remove any leftover soot and debris. It is important to make sure it has been professionally swept before the winter season as built-up soot, creosote, and other debris can put you at risk of a chimney fire once the fire is being used again. A chimney sweep can also alert you to any damage to the chimney.
2. NOTE ANYTHING ABNORMAL
Whilst getting your chimney swept your chimney sweep should be able to highlight any safety-related issues they notice however, without doing a full inspection some issues may be missed. This can be avoided by being vigilant and knowing what to look out for. An odd smell or a new draft where there hasn’t been before could be a sign that something inside the fireplace has changed, and is worth getting checked to be safe.
3. CHECK FOR DAMAGE
Homeowners should ideally check their chimney for damage every year or so. You are looking see if any damage has occurred both internally and externally to the structure of the fireplace and chimney. This is essential, cracks or lose joints can happen. The outside of the chimney can sustain damage from the weather including loose bricks, damaged mortar or detachment, it’s important to check that your chimney is securely attached to your house. These issues can interfere with chimney function, so if you notice them, be sure to get them fixed before winter.
4. INSPECT THE SEAL
Inspect your fireplace to make sure the seal (sometimes called a gasket, this typically looks like a piece of rope) on the door is in good condition. It’s important to maintain a good seal around the fire to help keep smoke and gas out of your home and excess oxygen out of the fire area. If your fireplace has a gasket, you should inspect it once a year to make sure it is intact. You may need to replace this if it looks damaged.
5. CHECK THE CHIMNEY CAP
Chimneys should be capped properly to ensure no animals, rain, snow, leaves or debris can enter through the opening of the chimney. If your chimney is not capped it is advised you get one. If your cap is damaged or missing then make sure you replace it before winter arrives. Capping your chimney also stops heavy rain or snow coming in through the chimney top and affecting your fire.
6. TRIM TREES NEARBY THE CHIMNEY
Many homeowners in Scotland have large trees in their gardens that may grow to hang over their chimneys. Unfortunately, tree limbs are a fire hazard. They can also damage the chimney cap if they fall in a windstorm. When you check your chimney, you should also trim any tree limbs hanging nearby.
7. CHECK ALARMS
Functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential in seasons when you are using your fireplace and other heating systems. To keep everyone in your home safe, you should replace the batteries and run tests to ensure the alarms will work when you need them.
8. PREP AND STORE YOUR FUEL (FOR WOOD-BURINING AND MULTIFUEL FIRES)
When buying your logs ensure the logs are ready to burn, most will already be cut down to a standard size (around 25cm in length) this is fine for most fireplaces but if your fireplace or stove is a smaller size then you may need to cut logs down to fit. Once you’ve got your wood at home (either collected or delivered), stack the wood in your storage so the split-side is facing down and off the ground if it’s being stored outside. Make sure to cover the wood so it stays dry from rain or snow. Wet wood cannot be burnt.
Briquettes come ready to burn. Storage again is totally up to preference. Anything being stored outside should be adequately covered to stop it from getting wet as this will affect the efficiency of the fuel.
9. DUST OF THE FIRE GUARDS
Fire Guards and Spark Guards come in handy when using a fireplace. A spark guard is an external metal mesh screen (usually seen around open fires) that helps to contain any shooting embers coming into contact with furniture or carpets.
A Fireguard can be used to create an exclusion space around the fire, these are particularly helpful in homes with small children and animals as it keeps a safe distance away from the fire. The external parts of the fireplace will get hot and aren’t advisable to touch so creating that space around it is key to avoiding burns. You can read more about safety around the fire here and top tips for keeping your pets safe near the fire here.
10. CLEAR THE AREA AROUND THE FIREPLACE
It happens: When you don’t use your fireplace for a long time between seasons, clutter naturally tends to fill up the surrounding area unless you are diligent about keeping tidy. But when winter returns, you will need to clear the clutter so you can avoid fire hazards and more easily enjoy the flames. Be sure to move any items that may be subject to damage from intense heat too. As pretty as ornaments look around the fireplace, it’s important to remember that the area around the fireplace will be hot too so damage can occur to anything too close to the fireplace.
Double check the area around your fireplace before you light your first fire this winter, especially for anything that might be flammable or emit unpleasant odors when warm. Make sure any furniture or rugs are a safe distance away.
Relax and safely enjoy your fireplace this cold season, we look forward to seeing you for all your fireplace needs!