Like every other appliance, wood burning fireplaces come with common concerns and issues that need to be taken into account, and problems that need to be dealt with promptly. Here are the top 10:
#1 Lack of maintenance, cleaning, and inspections.
No matter the age of your wood burning fireplace, it’s vital that you keep up with annual inspections and service. If every homeowner made maintenance, regular cleanings, and annual inspections a priority for their wood burning fireplace, the number of chimney fires would drop exponentially, and there would be very few issues.
Annual maintenance and service will help prevent problems with your wood burning appliance and allow you to address issues while they’re still small, so you can safely enjoy the warmth it provides. If you’re considering having a wood burning fireplace installed, consider the amount of maintenance required, and make sure it’s manageable for you before you purchase. A wood burning fireplace can greatly enhance your home life, but if it’s not properly cared for, it can be dangerous.
#2 Opening the damper/proper operation.
When we get calls because a wood burning fireplace isn’t working, the most common reason is that the homeowner doesn’t understand the function of the fireplace damper or how to open it. If the damper — the metal plate between the fireplace and chimney — is closed, smoke will have no way of exiting the home, and it will appear as if your fireplace isn’t working.
Before you light a fire in your fireplace, take a look up into the chimney and make sure you can see all the way up to the top. If you can’t, your damper is closed and needs to be opened before you build the fire. If you’re unsure of how to open your damper, check out these tips. If you still need assistance, just give us a call.
#3 Improper installation of the fireplace.
Every factory-built or prefab fireplace has specific manufacturer’s instructions for proper installation that must be followed to the letter. If your wood burning fireplace isn’t working and you did the installation yourself, there’s a good chance that installation is behind the performance or safety problem you’re experiencing. The best thing to do is to schedule an inspection with a qualified chimney sweep and have the installation checked. And always, always, always leave installation to certified and experienced chimney professionals who know what they’re doing.
#4 Water in the fireplace.
Water is, by far, the most damaging thing your fireplace comes into contact with. Unfortunately, leaks are pretty common, especially if annual maintenance is skipped, flashing is damaged, or the chimney is missing a cap. The good news is that chimney leaks and water damage can be prevented by taking some simple steps:
Have a big, outside mount chimney cap installed.
Make sure flashing is installed properly and in good condition.
Waterproof the brick of your chimney with a siloxane-based sealant.
#5 Improper repairs by unqualified contractors.
If the wrong person is doing the work, repairs could end up making even more problems for you. That’s why it’s important to always call a qualified, certified, and experienced chimney sweep when scheduling annual inspections, maintenance, and repairs. This will save you time and money, and give you the confidence to use your fireplace, without worrying about poor repair work causing efficiency, structural, or safety problems.
#6 Burning green wood or trash in the fireplace.
Wood burning fireplaces are made to burn — you guessed it — wood. But many homeowners burn trash and other materials in their fireplaces. If you’re guilty of throwing used gift wrap and other paper products in your fireplace, it’s time to start recycling those things and investing in quality wood.
The wood you burn in your fireplace should have a moisture content of about 10-20%. Wood with a higher moisture content is known as “green wood,” and is not ideal for fire building. This type of wood will always produce more smoke and make it seem like you have a fireplace performance problem, and will also lead to creosote production, which brings us to our next common issue.
#7 Creosote buildup.
Creosote is a highly flammable substance that results when unburned wood particles settle on the flue walls inside the chimney. The problem with creosote isn’t just that it’s damaging to the chimney itself, but that it can easily be ignited during the regular use of your fireplace. In fact, the majority of chimney fires are the result of creosote re-igniting. The best way to avoid this is to:
Schedule annual inspections and routine cleanings.
Only burn wood that’s properly seasoned.
#8 Improper wood storage.
Another common issue with wood burning fireplaces has to do with the storage of the wood itself. Many homeowners keep their wood outside, uncovered, which allows bugs and even termites to get into the wood pile. When this happens, you end up bringing those insects into the home with you when you get fuel for your fire, which can be a serious problem — especially if those insects are termites.
A regular wood burning fireplace is an energy boss in the house. Considering the amount of fuel you put in, you get very little heat out of the fireplace, and end up losing a lot of the heated air that you paid for with your HVAC system up through the chimney.
While modern wood fireplaces and inserts are typically highly-efficient, the reality is that most traditional wood fireplaces are only about 20% efficient, and waste a good deal of energy and money.
#10 Potential for house fires.
Finally, wood burning fireplaces can be dangerous because there is always the potential for a house fire. Does that mean a house fire is inevitable? Absolutely not. As we mentioned at the very start of this post, scheduling annual inspections and routine service and cleanings can significantly reduce your risk of a house fire, so you can enjoy your fireplace responsibly. You have the power — you just have to make it a priority.
Have questions about wood burning fireplaces or issues you can’t seem to resolve? Call Ashbusters Chimney Service to schedule an appointment today.