Ready your hearth for the holidays
The holidays are just around the corner, and fireplaces across the nation will be glowing with warmth and light.
Whether you're expecting a visit from Santa or are just planning to spend a few cozy nights in front of the crackling flames, now is a good time to make sure that your fireplace and chimney are safe and operational throughout the holiday season.
First, thoroughly clean your chimney, which should be done once a year. In order to vent safely, chimney flues must be clean, unblocked and intact. Flammable residue in the flues can lead to fires in the chimney, and cracks or gaps in the flue can decrease the draft required both for combustion and to carry toxic gases away from your home.
A chimney cleaning should include the removal of accumulated -- and highly flammable -- creosote. Eliminating soot buildup is also paramount since as little as a quarter of an inch of soot can result in a significant difference in your chimney's performance.
While it's possible for you to clean your own chimney, it's a messy and time-consuming job. Professional chimney cleaners, or chimney sweeps, have the right tools to clean your chimney quickly and efficiently, and can also detect any needed repairs that you might miss.
You can find a certified chimney sweep at www.csia.org.
If you don't already have one, install a chimney cap. Chimney caps not only serve to keep out birds and small animals that may try to nest in your chimney, but also help to prevent water from getting in. Caps also prevent sparks from flying out onto your roof or into surrounding greenery -- potentially igniting a fire.
To keep your chimney as clean as possible throughout the season, select well-seasoned firewood. Non-seasoned (or green) wood tends to smoke more and burn less efficiently, and can leave significantly more resin and soot in your chimney.
Also, make sure to check your chimney damper to ensure that it seals tightly when it is closed, or you may be allowing heated air from your home to seep out through the chimney when it is not in use.
What if you have a gas fireplace? While these units may seem maintenance-free, owners of gas fireplaces aren't entirely off the hook. If you own a gas fireplace, you should gear up for the winter by making sure both the burner and pilot assembly are clean -- a professional chimney sweep can also help you with that.
Taking these steps will help to ensure that the time you spend around your fireplace this holiday season is safe and enjoyable.
For more home maintenance tips, visit www.nahb.org/forconsumers.
(Sharon Westerholm serves as executive officer of the Lake Region Builders Association.)