Fireplace safety — what to do

Tips for taking care of gas and wood-burning fireplaces

With the arrival of the winter months, fireplaces are back in business. But before you fire them up, there are a few things you may want to do first.

Because creosote can build up in the chimney of your wood-burning fireplace, A-1 Quality Chimney Cleaning and Repair’s manager, Bob Dobson-Smith, recommends an annual cleaning.

Aside from helping to avoid chimney fires from the creosote build-up, a cleaning will clear up loose bits of cement, which can stop the damper from working properly, he says.

“Also you can get smells or odors, when you have a foggy cool day,” says Dobson-Smith. “You can have a pungent odor coming down the chimney from the buildup that is there.”

But the most important thing a person can do, according to Dobson-Smith, is make sure they have a cap and screen on their chimney top.

“This really prevents a lot of problems in regards to wildlife nesting inside the chimney,” says Dobson-Smith.

To get your fireplace ready, Dobson-Smith suggests starting by checking the cap and screen covering on the top of your chimney is in good working condition. Next you open up the damper, to check if air is going up the chimney.

“You simply blow onto the floor of the fireplace and then you can see the air going up if you have a flashlight,” says Dobson-Smith. “You can see the little dust particles going up the chimney.”

If the air is not traveling up the chimney, it means there could be an obstruction in the form of a nest or you need to adjust the air levels in the room by opening a window, he says.

To do the actual cleaning of the chimney you’ll need extendable brushes, and start scraping the walls from the bottom up. The goal is to scour the walls enough to bring down any loose cement, soot or creosote.

Finally Dobson-Smith says to check the damper itself to see if its opening and closing properly and then clean the firebox as much as you can.

But what if your fireplace is gas? What do you need to do to get it ready for winter?

While gas-burning fireplaces don’t require the same type of maintenance as their wood-burning cousins, they can be quite dangerous if not serviced properly.

The biggest danger with gas-burning fireplaces is a gas leak, which can lead to death from inhaling toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, sulfur or carbon dioxide, or by causing an explosion.

Unlike wood-burning fireplaces, gas-burning fireplace servicing is something that should be left to the professionals.

“A wood fireplace, it really is just a cleaning,” says Colin Hamilton, owner of Gasfitter.ca. “But a gas fireplace, the servicing of that is actually a cleaning and checking of all pipes and valves for leaks.”

A servicing starts with a flue gas analysis test, which gives a digital print out of any harmful gases that may be inside your system, says Hamilton.

“We also check the pilot light, making sure it’s burning clean,” says Hamilton. “Making sure there are no gas leaks in any of the pipe assembly or the gas valve leading up to the flame.”

They also check the furnace, specifically the filter, to make sure it’s working properly.

All the air in your house is being run through this filter, so this is a crucial step in the service.

Besides this, they follow all the regular steps of cleaning a typical fireplace, like checking the damper, screen and cap, and cleaning the chimney itself.

Hamilton equates servicing of your gas-burning fireplace to changing the oil in your car.

“It helps it run more efficiently and smoother,” says Hamilton. “So it takes less energy to run and it consumes less electricity and gas also.”


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Posted: Jan 5 2012 6:58 pm
Filed in: Home
Edition: Toronto
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