Whether you moved in last week or have lived in your home for years, the fireplace can be intimidating. After all, it’s not something we think about that often, aside from a few holiday fires, and it’s not exactly the easiest thing to do on your home maintenance list.
However, ignoring your fireplace is not the answer. In fact, a forgotten home could have serious consequences when it comes to the safety of your family. Although it is not pleasant to think about, home fires do happen.
Rather than risk it, why not arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible? We have insider knowledge on fireplace basics that everyone should know. Please read them and bookmark them for later. We promise you won’t regret it.
1. Know your type of fireplace
Whether you realize it or not, not all fireplaces are created equal. Knowing what type you have is essential to properly maintaining your home. There are three main types:
Single wall metal: Single wall metal chimneys appear to take the form of a thin metal tube protruding from the roof with a circular top. This type is commonly found in older homes as newer building codes have favored masonry.
Brickwork: These are your standard brick fireplaces and are currently considered the safest. Masonry fireplaces often come with a pre-installed liner to ensure proper ventilation.
Prefabricated Metal: This type is also commonly known as “factory built” and is primarily used for commercial structures.
2. Keep an eye on your bricks
Did you know that the brick you used to build your fireplace is not the same brick you used to build the rest of your house? Specifically dedicated firebricks are designed to withstand much higher temperatures than standard versions, often up to 3000 degrees F.
In addition to the bricks, the type of mortar used is also critical. High temperature cement is the safest option when it comes to holding the chimney together.
But, it is not always a guarantee that firebrick was used in the construction of his fireplace. Homeowners should watch out for their crumbling bricks and mortar, as they will likely need to be chiseled out and replaced with more appropriate materials.
3. Check your chimney
The chimney is a ventilation system. It is a tube inside the chimney lining that allows smoke and other gases that accumulate during the course of the fire to escape safely from your home.
Just like when you feel your nose getting stuffy and you know a cold is coming, a malfunctioning fireplace has warning signs. If you feel like your living room gets unusually smoky during a fire or you find water droplets in your chimney, it may be time to clean the chimney to clear it of debris.
A note on fire safety: always make sure the fireplace is open before starting a fire. Doing so will ensure that the smoke from the flames can properly exit your home and that you and your family can enjoy its warmth safely.
4. Consider getting a fireplace surround
Chimney liners protect your home from the heat and flammable materials produced by a fire. In unlined fireplaces, the heat from a fire can build up too quickly and cause nearby belongings to catch fire. Liners provide an additional barrier.
There are three types of fireplace liners to choose from. Clay tile liners work best on open fireplaces. Metal siding, which is typically used when doing extensive repairs to existing structures. Finally, rhythm cast liners are the most customizable and are a cement unit designed to fit the unique shape of your fireplace.
When it comes time to buy a liner, size is often the most important factor. A properly sized liner will allow combustible materials to safely exit your home. However, if it is too large or small, there is a greater chance of carbon monoxide buildup.
5. Invest in a chimney cap
You know those little luxuries that seem unnecessary at first, but once you start using them they quickly become totally essential? That distinction is usually reserved for TV remotes or lawn mowers, but we’d like to point out that a chimney cap is in the same category.
Essentially, a chimney cap is exactly what it sounds like. It is a vented piece of metal that sits inside the top of the chimney and prevents unwanted materials from entering the chimney, while allowing smoke to escape.
It prevents heavy rain from seeping into your chimney and causing leaks and prevents animals from nesting inside your chimney during the colder months.
6. Learn to light a fire
How difficult can a fire be? All you need is some wood and a lighter, right? It turns out that there are a few key components of a proper fire that will keep your home safe and warm.
First of all, there is the wood. You always want to use dry wood when making a fire. You’ll also want to start your fire with smaller pieces of wood, also known as kindling, before moving on to larger, thicker logs.
Then there is the accelerant. You never want to put flammable liquids like gasoline in a home fireplace. Instead, you can use prepackaged fire starters or small pieces of newspaper to fan the flames.
7. Inspect your chimney annually
Most people think that they only need to worry about conducting home inspections when preparing to put their home on the market. But for some of your home’s components, including fireplaces, an annual inspection makes a lot more sense.
Here’s the deal: Most chimney problems start out small: a small tear in the lining that allows a number of harmful gases to trace into your home, or a small crack in your chimney that grows at a minuscule rate.
While these things may not seem like a big deal right away, if you wait decades to deal with them, you may find yourself with a big problem and an even bigger repair bill. Scheduling an annual inspection can help you catch problems early.
8. Hire a qualified chimney sweep
In addition to being inspected, your chimney should also be cleaned once a year. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the height and fragility of your fireplace make it difficult to add to your to-do list. Instead, hire a professional.
As always, when hiring for a job, you want to make sure your chimney sweep comes with glowing references. However, you’ll also want to check that he or she has adequate insurance. Doing so could save you financial responsibility in the event of a fall or other work-related accident.
If you’re not sure where to start, the National Chimney Sweep Guide is a good place to start. It will help you determine how to find a qualified professional.
9. Always clean your home
For many, the fireplace marks the focal point of the living room. As such, the mantle and hearth are obvious choices when it comes to placing décor items. But while Christmas stockings and family photos may look great, they become dangerous once there’s a fire on the doorstep.
Think about it: It goes without saying that fires reach impressive temperatures. In fact, the average home fire registers around 1,100 degrees F. Even with the help of a chimney guard, there’s no way to really guarantee that one of those random scorching sparks won’t be dislodged from the rest. If that happens, you don’t want your decor items to catch fire.
So the best thing to do is just move them around. Before you start a fire in the hearth, just grab all those trinkets and move them out of harm’s way. Trust us, you’ll rest easier knowing you’ve done everything you can to prevent a potential tragedy.
10. Buy suitable detectors
By now, everyone should have at least one smoke detector in their home. In the event of a fire, a working smoke detector will detect smoke in the air and sound an alarm to warn residents of the home. If you’re looking for a new one on the market, look for a version that automatically calls your local fire department and, if you live in an apartment complex, see if your detector is programmed to activate the building’s sprinkler system.
Carbon monoxide detectors can be even more critical to your safety. Unlike smoke, which can be seen and smelled in the air, carbon monoxide has no odor. However, it can be deadly if allowed to build up in your home over time.
Of course, once you have the right detectors, it’s critical to routinely ensure they’re working properly. You should test and replace the batteries in your detectors at least once every six months. If your location adheres to daylight saving time, change the clocks as a reminder.
When it comes to roof maintenance, the chimney is often seen as an afterthought. Although we may only use our fireplaces during the winter month, a healthy home is essential to keeping our families safe all year long. In light of that goal, we have some fireplace basics every homeowner should know. Whether you’re new to ownership or have been in the game for years, check them out. Security is a great equalizer.
Do you have any fireplace tips to share? Is there a question you need answered? Let us know in the comments below.