1. ARRANGE A YEARLY INSPECTION
All chimneys should be inspected and cleaned by a chimney cleaning professional at least once a year, or about once every 80 fires. A thorough cleaning will remove any buildup of creosote, an oily and highly flammable byproduct of burning wood, giving you a safer fireplace.
2. CHECK FOR CRACKS AND DAMAGE
Check for cracks and loose joints of the firebricks inside the fireplace, and check the exterior masonry for damage. Hire a professional mason to do any repairs—never try to repair firebrick with regular mortar, as the mixture cannot stand up to high heat.
3. INSPECT THE CHIMNEY CAP, FLUE AND DAMPER
Make sure the fireplace damper opens, closes and seals properly. It should move quite easily and be free of debris and ashes. For wood burning fireplaces it is recommended that you have it swept out at least once a year at the beginning of winter. Hiring a chimney sweep is the easiest and safest way to remove soot and debris from inside the chimney that could potentially cause a fire. Sweeping the chimney should be left to a professional, as having the appropriate tools and knowledge is necessary. Lastly, Confirm that the chimney cap is firmly attached and in good condition. The cap should include protective screening to keep birds, squirrels, bats, and other pests from entering the chimney.
4. CLEAR AWAY TREE LIMBS
While you are outside checking the chimney cap, prune any overhanging tree limbs that may be encroaching on the chimney. Not only do tree limbs present a fire hazard, they can also restrict the proper draft of the chimney and damage the cap.
5. CLEAR OUT ASHES
Clean out the firebox once a week, or whenever ash is more than an inch deep. Coals can remain hot for up to three days, so make sure everything is completely cold. Sweep or vacuum the cold ashes and dispose of them outside—wood ashes are perfect for garden beds and compost piles. If shoveling leftover ash into a bucket, you can avoid a cloud of ash by spraying it down with a little bit of water first.
6. CONSIDER HEATPROOF GLASS
Consider installing heatproof glass doors to improve the energy efficiency of your fireplace. Doors can also prevent sparks from escaping the fireplace and damaging the surrounding flooring. If your fireplace already has glass doors, clean them with a paper towel and glass fireplace door cleaner.
7. STORE WOOD OUTSIDE THE HOME
Stock up on good-quality firewood, and store it away from the house to avoid attracting pests. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and birch burn hotter and longer than soft woods like pine. You can also burn specially made fireplace logs, like Duraflame or Pres-to-Logs. Never burn treated or painted wood, which both produce dangerous fumes.
8. MAINTAIN YOUR GAS FIREPLACE
If you have a gas fireplace, check to make sure that the pilot light is on and the vents are all clear and working properly. Check the logs, liners, and burners for cracks, and replace any damaged components.
9. MAINTAIN YOUR ELECTRIC FIREPLACE
If you have an electric fireplace, check all the wires to make sure none are frayed or broken. Also, make sure that all connectors are securely fastened. Finally, be sure to vacuum and dust the fireplace on a regular basis.