Get Your Fireplace Ready to Enjoy Safely this Winter

jessica-johnston-Jqyn5QAxJOY-unsplashThere’s nothing like cozying up to a glowing fireplace on a winter evening. For a gathering of friends and family sharing delicious food, festive music and warm conversation or for quiet time with a cup of cocoa and a good book, a crackling fire sets the scene.

But whether yours is a wood-burning or gas-burning fireplace, each works safest and best with proper maintenance and care. So before you light a match or ignite the pilot light, consider the following:

Gas Fireplaces

A gas fireplace provides the comfort and style of a wood-burning unit but requires far less maintenance. Even so, it is best to have your gas fireplace inspected and adjusted by a professional fireplace technician.  A skilled fireplace technician checks to be sure all parts are intact, the ignition is working well, any ventilation pathways are clear, and the heat output is correct.  It is suggested for improving performance and efficiency, maintaining value, and increasing the longevity of your gas hearth product the following items should be addressed every two years by a skilled fireplace technician:

  • Check gas lines and pressure.
  • Inspect valve function.
  • Clean the burner and the control compartment, the pilot assembly, the fan and related air circulation passages.
  • Ensure that the vents are unobstructed and able to do their job.
  • Remove and clean the fireplace glass.
  • Add new glowing ember and check the logs for CORRECT placement.

Your gas fireplace should never produce a gas odor (different from a burning smell).  If you smell gas, immediately turn off the gas and report the problem to the gas company.

Wood-Burning Fireplaces

For a lot of people, nothing beats the glow, radiance, and attractiveness of a wood fire. Not to mention that burning wood may be a good financial decision, because wood may be abundant and easy to access on your land or property. Wood is a renewable local fuel source, but it is still a good idea to use and burn wood responsibly and safely.

Inspect and Maintain: Hiring a professional chimney sweep at least once every one to five years (depending on how often you use your fireplace) is the best way to ensure your chimney is safe to use. Flammable by-products from your wood fire build up inside the chimney, so it’s important to have those cleaned out to prevent them from catching fire. A chimney sweep can also inspect your chimney cap to be sure it is intact, keeping out moisture and debris.

Wood Fires

When it’s time to make the first fire of the season, clean the firebox of any ashes from last year and dust that has accumulated during the off-season. Check that your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working order.

A well-fitting screen will help contain sparks and embers and keep pets and small children safe. Fires should always be built on andirons or grate to protect the fireplace floor. Air flow under the grate also helps produce an efficient fire.

Seasoned hardwood is the best fuel for a wood fireplace. It burns hotter than green wood, helping to minimize dangerous creosote buildup. Pine logs take much longer to dry and contain more sap than hardwood, and opinions are mixed on whether it is advisable to burn them in a fireplace at all.

  • Stick to seasoned, dry wood. Giving your wood time to dry (also known as seasoning) will allow any natural moisture found in it to evaporate. This makes it easier to burn. In order to properly season wood, you should split logs as soon as possible and stack them in a dry spot for 6-18 months. Be sure you don’t burn painted or chemically treated wood because this can produce dangerous and highly polluting fumes.
  • Burn Smarter: Wood burns differently depending on whether it is a soft or hard wood. To start a fire, or for a shorter burning fire, choose a soft wood such as pine or poplar. For a longer burning fire, or for greater sustained heat, choose a hard wood such as fir, oak or maple.

er leave a fire unattended for an extended period of time, and always ensure the fire is put out when you are finished enjoying it. To properly extinguish a fire in a wood-burning fireplace, begin by using your fireplace poker or shovel to spread out the wood and embers into a flattened mound. After the flames die out, cover the cooling wood and embers with a few scoops of ash. Once the fire is completely extinguished, you can sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the wood to ensure no embers are burning.

Susan Sudbrink works in Marketing and Business Development for The Hearth Shoppe – A Division of Erv Smith Services, Inc., a member of the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association. Blogs are often submitted by members of the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association. For more information, please call 715-835-2526 or email

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