It is fall in Sonoma County and with the holidays fast approaching, the drop in temperature will soon do the same. A wood-burning fireplace is such a cozy addition to a house and can be a popular tool to heat a house during the colder months of the year. We will see spare the air days in our future, but many homeowners still own and use a wood-burning fireplace and should understand the importance of maintaining it.

Your wood-burning fireplace needs continual maintenance for it to function well and safely. According to spokeswoman Susan McKelvey for the National Fire Protection Association, half of all U.S. home heating fires take place between December and February. “Make sure your heating systems are cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional,” McKelvey says.

If your home has a wood-burning fireplace and you plan on using it in the winter months, consider following these tips to maintain it.

Clean Fireplace Interior

Wood-burning fireplaces can produce pollutants into the air of your home that creates a buildup of dust, ash, and creosote, which might cause fires. Creosote is a highly flammable tar-like substance that gathers inside the chimney. It is important to keep an eye out for a buildup of soot that is highly flammable and needs to be cleaned from the chimney regularly.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends homeowners to clean their chimneys at least once a year, close to the beginning of winter, to get rid of soot and debris. Director of sales and marketing for the National Fireplace Institute, Rich Sedgwick says, “For serious wood burners, chimney cleaning must be done as needed to avoid chimney fires. The venting systems may need to be cleaned as often as once a month”.

Cap Your Fireplace

Using a wire mesh cap, cover the top of the chimney to ensure birds, squirrels, rain, and other debris do not enter. If you have trees surrounding your house, animals could likely mistake your chimney for another tree and you could find yourself with nests inside your chimney. This is a step that some homeowners will opt-in for, especially since a good quality chimney cap is only around $80.

Check Your Chimney’s Damper

Directly above your fireplace right before the flue is a removable plate called a damper. For it to work correctly, there shouldn’t be any debris in the way preventing it from opening and closing. This element of your fireplace must work properly to ensure safety. If the damper is stuck shut, smoke will quickly fill your home and your fireplace is not safe to use.

Check for Smoke

Blockages in your chimney caused by leaves and animal nests can create blockages that don’t allow for smoke to get out the proper way causing smoke to fill your house. An unclean chimney, soot buildup, or wood that is not burning all the way can also cause smoke from your fireplace. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, check that your chimney vent opens and install carbon monoxide alarms in your house.

Burn the Correct Wood

Hardwoods like maple, oak, ash, and birch are the best kind of wood to burn in your fireplace. They burn longer, hotter and have less sap, which leads to less of a buildup of creosote. Any untreated wood is okay to burn but make sure it has less than 20% moisture content. You can dry out wood by cutting it, splitting it, and stacking it.