Fireplace Maintenance 101 – Keeping Your Home Safe from Mishaps

Most homeowners don’t give a thought to how their chimney and fireplace actually work. You know that lighting a fire can keep your home warm and your energy costs down, but understanding how the units work and how to keep them regularly maintained is a great way to keep things safe and stop accidents from happening before they occur.

Let’s talk about the basics of fireplace and chimney maintenance.

What Makes Up A Fireplace?


By definition, a hearth is a flat space in front of a fireplace. However, some people define the decorative space around the fireplace as a “hearth”. This includes things like the mantel, apron, and other decorative features. It is important to keep everything in the hearth free of debris, decorative materials, and anything flammable when the fireplace is in use.

Fuel Source:

In order to heat your home, a fireplace needs a fuel source. Fuel can include a source like wood, gas, or electricity, and each has different uses.

  • Gas is low maintenance and can be turned on by flipping a switch. Gas fireplaces typically let you adjust the temperature of the unit to keep your home to the temperature that you prefer. This option runs off propane or natural gas.
  • Electric fireplaces run like a space heater and require no chimney or venting and can also be adjusted to specific temperatures. These units are low maintenance and are great for small spaces or rented apartments.
  • Wood tends to be higher maintenance requiring logs and kindling ready to start the fire. You also need regular maintenance in your fireplace and chimney due to creosote, a byproduct of wood fires, which can be highly flammable.


A firebox is the part of the fireplace that houses the heating element. This can be an ash pit in a wood-burning fireplace connected to the hearth to catch any falling debris or embers. If there isn’t one present in your unit, it’s important to sweep out the ash once everything has cooled completely. Ash should be kept in a metal container at least 10-feet away from your home.

Doors and Mesh Gates:

These are the barriers that keep embers and sparks from hitting surfaces in your home and starting a fire. Fireplace doors should be open when you are starting a fire and closed to keep the fire contained. If you want to keep these doors open while the fire is going, use the mesh doors for protection.


The flue is used to allow gasses to escape the fireplace. Some fireplaces/chimneys are flue or vent free, so don’t be alarmed if your fireplace has no ventilation. When gas is carried out, fresh air is replaced through natural drafts. It is important to have the flue checked by a professional on an annual basis to make sure it is working properly – keeping your home safe.


This is the structure that holds the flue. Some are brick, while others are lined with concrete or metal.

Chimney Cap:

A chimney cap sits on top of the chimney and helps improve ventilation. It will also keep out weather and debris from falling down into the chimney, and making its way into your home. Different fire and chimney types require different caps, so it is important to have a professional check to ensure there is a correct cover installed.

Regular Chimney and Fireplace Maintenance is Important

In addition to understanding the parts of a fireplace and what they do, troubleshooting problems as they appear and getting regular maintenance is important to keeping your home safe from unexpected fires. If you notice any of the following, immediately stop using your fireplace and contact a professional to diagnose the problem.

  • Smoke filling the room instead of escaping through the chimney
  • Have white stains or rust appeared on the bricks of the chimney? This can be an indication that too much moisture is present. This can become a mold problem if left untreated.
  • Aging bricks can lead to sealant problems, which can start to disintegrate if not treated properly.

All of these issues can be prevented with regular fireplace maintenance. At McMahon Services, we offer free estimates to our customers in Chicago, Des Plains, Evanston, Oak Park, and the surrounding areas. Our full-service fire damage and restoration team is ready to assist 24/7 – call today for more information or to schedule your estimate.