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How to Get Your Chimney Ready for Use in Winter

Relaxing in front of a fire is an enjoyable experience as long as it’s safe. Read this guide to prevent hazards and ensure that your chimney is in good working condition this winter.

Fireplace in a modern home iStock

Are you eager to light the fire and get cozy on a cold winter’s night? Not so fast. Using your fireplace could put you in grave danger if your chimney is dirty or otherwise compromised. So, to remain safe, here are some ways to get your chimney ready for use this winter.

Start With the Fireplace

The chimney is where the smoke exits your house from the fire burning in your fireplace. But the fireplace is where all the action starts. Before you gather the firewood and get ready to hunker down, take a moment to review how to make your fireplace clean, debris free, and ready for winter.

Plenty of soot and ash may have accumulated from previous fires, and it’s a good idea to sweep the ashes from the fireplace, leaving about an inch to insulate embers. If the interior walls are filthy, it’s a good idea to clean the brick. In preparing your fireplace for winter, be sure to keep flammable objects away and consider installing a glass covering.

Choose the Right Type of Firewood

When using a wood-burning fireplace, it’s important to choose the right kind of wood. While it may be tempting to purchase bargain firewood, this can do more damage than it’s worth. Low-quality woods that aren’t dense or seasoned can produce a lot of creosote quickly. Some of the best woods to burn in your fireplace include American beech, red or white oak, shagbark hickory, sugar maple, and white ash.

Is Water Present?

It is not a good sign if you have water in your fireplace. A mildew odor or wet-looking fireplace are telltale signs. Mold can also start to build up in your chimney.

Moisture usually develops when your chimney doesn’t have a cap. Cracks, deteriorating mortar, and bad flashing can also let water get into the chimney. To prevent moisture from getting into the chimney, it’s ideal to get a chimney cap and ensure the flashing isn’t damaged or missing.

Are Strange Odors Lingering?

If the odor you smell doesn’t seem like mildew from a moisture issue, its source may be just as problematic. For example, birds, squirrels, or other critters may get into your chimney and nest there.

Other possible odors include that of creosote buildup, which is reminiscent of the smell of an old barbecue pit, and decomposing leaves, which can generate an odor that smells like rot in your fireplace. Before using your chimney this winter, have it inspected and make sure it’s free of creosote buildup, pests, leaves, and other debris.

Check Your Trees

Good chimney maintenance includes checking the trees on your property. Why? Because trees can cause many problems with your chimney. Limbs that hang above your roof can serve as highways for pests to drop into your chimney and enter your home. Tree branches can also block the airflow to your chimney, effectively locking smoke and carcinogens inside your home. Obstructed airflow can also lead to an accumulation of carbon monoxide in your home, with potentially lethal results.

Limbs and branches can also create airflow issues in the form of drafting. This is a problem in which the chimney doesn’t allow enough air to feed the fire in your fireplace. If you notice that your trees are interfering with your chimney, contact a tree company to trim the branches before you start using your fireplace in the winter.

Is Your Chimney Leaning or Cracking?

When you examine your chimney, do you notice that it has large cracks or seems to be leaning? If yes to either, your chimney needs a checkup. Sometimes a tilting or cracked chimney may indicate problems with your house’s foundation, in which case a building contractor would have to be called in.

Make Sure Your Carbon Monoxide Detector is Ready

Problems with your fireplace can cause a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide. This is a harmful gas known as the silent killer because it can fill a room undetected, resulting in tragedy. To minimize risk, it’s a good idea to install the best carbon monoxide detector you can find and ensure that it works properly this winter.

Get a Certified Professional Chimney Sweep

While there are a few things you can do yourself to winterize your fireplace, you should get the help of chimney cleaning professional. Cleaning chimneys involves risk. If you don’t have chimney cleaning experience, it’s best to get the help of a professional chimney sweep.

A good way to get find a certified professional chimney cleaner is to search the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s website and look at online reviews of local businesses. You can expect to pay $129 to $377, but rates will vary based on location and your chimney’s condition.

FAQs About Prepping Chimneys for Winter Use

Can I clean my own chimney?

While it may be tempting to perform chimney cleaning all by yourself, it may not be the best idea. Improper technique can result in a dangerous or even deadly outcome. As part of your fireplace maintenance, you should hire a professional to clean your chimney.

Is it a good idea to use a creosote sweeping log?

Creosote logs help chemically reduce the creosote buildup in a chimney. But they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for professional chimney cleaning.

Should I get regular maintenance on my chimney?

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, it is ideal to get chimney maintenance at least once a year.