Have you ever thought about how your fireplace and chimney work? Sure, you may know how to light kindling and logs to create a cozy fire for all to gather and snuggle around. However, if you don’t have a grasp on how your fireplace actually functions, you may not be keeping up on routine maintenance needed or be aware of warning signs when they occur. The following is a primer in fireplaces and chimneys basics to help you from creating an unsafe situation in the heart of your home.
Hearth: By definition, this is the flat panel area extending in front of the fireplace. However, it’s common that the decorative surround of the fireplace is also referred to as the hearth. This can include the mantel, apron, and other ornamental features. This area should should be kept clear of debris, decorations, and other flammable items when the fireplace is in use.
Fuel Source: In addition to your fireplace being the visual centerpiece of your home, it may also be what heats your home. To do so, you would typically burn gas, electric, or wood.
- Gas is virtually hands-free, low maintenance, and can be turned on with the flick of a switch, with many units allowing you to adjust the temperature. This convenient, fuel-efficient option runs off of propane or natural gas, depending on what is available in your home.
- Electric fireplaces are more similar to space heaters, in that they run on electricity, require no chimney or venting, and can be adjusted to specific temperatures. The flame won’t look similar to those of wood burning or gas fireplaces, but they are easy to move and maintenance is low.
- Wood is higher maintenance, requiring you to have logs and kindling on hand and start your fires manually. Because creosote, a highly flammable byproduct of wood fires, can build up in chimney, regular chimney maintenance will be required.
Firebox: The area that houses the heat element. For wood-burning fireplaces, there may be an ash pit connected to the hearth to collect the debris. If not, ash should be removed once completely cool and kept in a metal container at least 10-feet away from your home. To make sure ashes are not hot, pour water over the top before throwing them away.
Doors and Mesh Gates: The barriers to help protect sparks, debris, and embers from escaping and potentially igniting surfaces in your home. Doors should be open when starting a fire and kept closed to contain the fire or help keep outside air from entering the home when the fireplace is not in use. If you want to keep the doors open while a fire is in progress, close the mesh gates for safety.
Flue: While some fireplace/chimneys are flue-less or vent-free, a flue is the opening by which combustion gases created by fire can escape. When the gas is carried out, fresh air is replaced through natural drafts or ventilation, depending on the type of fireplace you have. Your flue should be checked annually by a professional to make sure it is working properly, efficiently, and safely.
Chimney: The entire structure encasing the flue. Some are constructed of brick, creating an unlined flue, while others are lined by concrete or metal.
Chimney Cap: Attached to the top of the chimney, the cap helps to improve ventilation as well as keep out weather, environmental debris, and outdoor animals. Different fire and chimney types require different caps. Work with a professional to make sure the correct cover is installed.
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