Prepare Your Fireplace for Winter Weather — Your Fall Flue-To-Do List
If your home has a fireplace, the soft crackling of fallen leaves under your feet may remind you of spending toasty evenings watching the flames.
That crackling should also remind you about the cinders, ash, and soot that you promised back in the spring to clean up before the fall arrived. Don’t you love the chores brought about by the change of seasons?
All kidding aside, fall really is the best time to get your chimney flue and fireplace or wood-burning stove ready for use for winter weather. The best place to begin is cleaning your flue to prevent possible chimney fires and to inspect it for damage. Wood fires leave a combination of soot, ash, tree resins, and creosote coating the sides of your chimney. Over time, a thick coating can turn into a dangerous fuel that could easily cause a chimney fire. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, chimney fires burn hot enough (2000°F) to destroy lining metal, crack out brick, and spread rapidly into a home’s attic and roof.
Now is the time to have your chimney inspected by a “professional chimney sweep.” Trained chimney sweeps can tell you about your fireplace or wood-burning stove’s performance and what you can do to get the most heat out of it safely. Chimney flues should be inspected once a year.
Meanwhile, there are a few things you can do yourself:
- Make sure that the chimney cap is the right kind and can be properly fastened into place. Chimney caps keep out debris as well as animals.
- Keep the area around your fireplace or wood-burning stove clean.
- Remove fire ash regularly.
- Use a metal mesh screen in front of the fireplace to catch sparks.
- To reduce creosote buildup in the flue, be sure your fireplace or wood-burning stove has both an adequate draw and that the flue dampers are open.
Design flaws can also effect the air supply to your fireplace. For example, having a furnace return vent in the same room as the fireplace will pull air into the furnace and create negative pressure in the room. If you have a fire burning, the furnace will be sucking air out of the room and rob the fireplace of airflow. A temporary fix is to seal off the return air vent with plastic sheeting. While that may temporarily even-out the air draw for the fireplace, it suggests that a fresh air supply should be installed.
Finally, inspect your fuel. Use wood that has dried and seasoned for about one year. Wet fuel that burns poorly will increase the likelihood of creosote buildup on the chimney flue walls.
What about if you don’t want to have a fire burning? In that case, fireplace and chimneys are in a position to waste a lot of your home’s heat. While many traditional fireplaces have built-in dampers (also called “throat dampers “) at the mouth of the flue, a 1990 study by Energy Options Northwest (now Atmosphere Inc.) showed that fireplace dampers had a leakage area that “averaged about 30 square inches when closed.” Or to put it simply, it’s like leaving a 6 inch by 5 inch window open all the time.
Fortunately, there are alternatives. You can install a chimney-top damper that fully seals your chimney. It looks much like a hatch and uses a heat-resistant gasket. Another solution is to use an inflatable fireplace damper balloon that gets stuffed inside the chimney to reduce drafts.
Whether or not you like to have a crackling fire to curl by in the winter, your fireplace or wood-burning stove should keep you warm and make your home feel comfortable. Maintained correctly and carefully, they can safely prevent your heating dollars from going up in smoke.
Fireplace image courtesy of o0karen0o.