Prepare Your Fireplace by Cleaning the Chimney and Firebox
This is will be the biggest and most important step to prepare your fireplace for use. Burning fuel causes creosote to build up on the walls of a chimney flue. Creosote is a carbonized substance that is highly flammable. The more this builds up, the more likely it will catch fire.
If you’re handy and want to do this yourself, start by removing all items from your firebox and cover the fireplace opening with a plastic sheet, taking care to seal the edges securely. Next, get on your roof and locate your chimney. Carefully inspect the inside of the flue and note any places where there is a buildup of black material. This is creosote. Take care to put on safety items like gloves, goggles, and a respirator mask to protect yourself from toxic materials that get dislodged when cleaning.
Use a wire chimney brush to loosen this material and scrape it off the walls of the flue. The chimney brush should have extension tubes that allow you to lengthen the brush. Use these to continue brushing downward, scraping creosote along the way until you reach the bottom. Pull the brush up and inspect the flue again. If you still see dark areas, repeat the brushing process until the flue is clear.
The last step is to clear out the firebox of the dust and creosote that you scraped off. Use a shop vac for best results. If you have a fireplace cleanout, open that and clear out everything that collected inside.
If you don’t feel safe working on your roof or confident about your ability to clean your chimney, contact a professional to do it for you.
Install a Chimney Cap
If you have a chimney cap, be sure to remove it during cleaning and place it back once done. If you do not have a chimney cap, purchase and install one after cleaning the flue. Chimney caps protect your chimney by keeping animals and debris from falling inside your chimney. This will cause a blockage, which might result in a fire.
Prepare Your Fireplace by Checking for Broken Seals
When not using your chimney, close the damper to prevent cold air from entering your home. If there isn’t a proper seal in place, air can still travel in, and if you rely on other forms of heat such as gas or electricity, your heating bills will increase.
After cleaning the firebox, do a full inspection of the damper and make sure that it seals correctly. If there are issues with it closing, or any noticeable damage or warping, call a professional to make repairs or replace it. This is an integral part of your fireplace and it needs to be operational.
Repair Damaged Brick to Prepare Your Fireplace
Prepare your fireplace by fully inspecting the bricks or stones that make up your chimney. If any loose components are found, have them repaired. The bricks, especially those at the top of the chimney, protect the flue tiles. Any damage to the flue will prevent the chimney from working as designed and is a fire hazard.
Use Proper Firewood
Store-bought firewood has been properly seasoned, meaning that it has been left to dry for an adequate amount of time. If you plan on cutting your firewood, however, don’t think that you can go from cutting to burning in a single season. Freshly cut wood needs to dry for 6 months to a year before it can be used. Burning wood with too much moisture content promotes an accelerated build-up of creosote which has been established to be hazardous. If you cut your own wood, anything you cut should be used for the next season.
Test Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Place smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the same room as your fireplace and put fresh batteries in them. Test all the detectors in your home to make sure that they are working. A smoke detector will alert you to a chimney fire and give you time to gather your family and leave the home.
What to do if a Chimney Fire Occurs
Prepare your fireplace using the steps above to help prevent a chimney fire. Chimney fires are hard to detect visually because your view is obstructed. Thick black smoke coming from your chimney is an indicator, but so is a roaring sound coming from inside.
If you suspect that there’s a fire inside the chimney, first use a fire extinguisher and then seal the opening to the firebox as best you can to deplete the fire of oxygen. Evacuate your family and call the fire department. Do not attempt to spray water into the opening of the chimney. Water causes a lot of smoke and may cause the flue tiles to crack, allowing the fire to spread beyond the chimney. If the fire has spread to the roof, you are putting yourself in danger by staying in the home.
Always be mindful when using your fireplace and keep safety first. Never underestimate the speed at which a fire can happen. For true peace of mind, hire an inspector to check your fireplace and a chimney sweep to professionally clean it before your first fire of the season.