Written by Chris Majerle, PCAM on October 15, 2020

Community Management Edition

October. Crisp, cool nights are a prelude to cozy winter evenings by the fire. However, there is more to know than you might think about using a wood-burning fireplace. Put safety first!

The first and foremost concern is keeping the chimney clean. As wood burns, it can deposit creosote, a flammable tar, on the walls of the flue pipe. If it gets hot enough, these deposits will burn and a chimney fire is not unlike popping the window out of a jet plane. They’ll suck things out of the room and right up the chimney. Then, they are likely to catch the house on fire as they heat to very high temperatures.

Pine, like your Christmas Tree, puts off excessive amounts of creosote—never burn pine. Your best firewood is oak or cherry, aged for 6 months to a year. These very dry hardwoods minimize creosote formation.

Even when you burn the right wood and keep the fires at optimal temps, you will get deposits on your chimney liner or flue. Generally, for between $150 and $250, you can hire a company that will sweep the chimney clean, contain the soot so it doesn’t spread all over your home, and inspect the chimney flue, cap, and damper for cracks and malfunctions. (Repairs would cost extra, of course.) Typically, it is recommended that you clean the chimney after 1-2 cords of wood. A cord is 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long. If you use your fireplace for a couple of hours, 2-3 times a week during the winter, you will probably burn close to a cord. So, plan to clean the chimney every 2-3 years. Expert management is the proactive way to use your fireplace safely.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America has an excellent Homeowner-Resources section on its website. The site includes information on how to hire the right chimney sweep, how to get a fire going without smoking-up your room and more information on cleaning your dryer vents and caring for your gas fireplace and your oil-fired furnace.

Be a responsible community member. Protect your family AND your neighbors.