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5 Tips for Winter Fireplace & Chimney Care

Keeping your chimney and fireplace safe and in good condition during the winter burning season isn’t difficult. Here are five fireplace and chimney care tips you can use every winter.

prime chimney, rochester Ny1. Solve backdraft problems

Because of the drastically different temperatures between the heavy, cold outside air and the warmer, lighter air inside your flue when a fire is burning, backdrafts of smoke and carbon monoxide can occur.

Holding a lit rolled-up newspaper inside the flue beyond the damper usually will heat the flue air enough to allow smoke to travel up it easily. Also: if your house is particularly air-tight, sufficient air may not be available to create a proper draft. Crack a window or two.

2. Watch for masonry damage and chimney leaks

During our cold New York winters, the bricks and mortar of chimneys can crack and allow melting snow and rain inside. Once there, the moisture will freeze and expand and can lead to more damage.

Be aware of these signs of damage and leaks:

  • Crumbling mortar joints/loose bricks
  • Strong musty odors coming from the fireplace when it’s not in use
  • Areas of dampness on the ceiling or walls near the fireplace
  • Water inside the firebox

Contact a local CSIA-certified chimney sweep or chimney repair company if you notice these or other signs of a leaky chimney or damaged masonry.

3. Clean the fireplace

Ash buildup can be corrosive to log grates and other metals inside your firebox as well as the masonry itself. It’s okay to leave a little ash coating (about 1 inch) for insulation; the rest should be scooped out.

It’s a good idea periodically to clean the entire firebox – remove all ash and wood particles, scrape off built-up creosote and soot and clean the surfaces with a good household cleaner. Note that when vacuuming or shoveling ashes, you should wear a mouth and nose cover. If you’re reading this in 2021, you likely have something like that around the house already.

4. Watch for flue obstructions

chimney debris, buffalo nyIn cold weather, certain birds, squirrels, raccoons and other critters head to chimneys for warmth. Occasionally, these animals die in the chimney and create an obstruction. In addition, small animals during the spring like to build their nests in chimneys – and they don’t remove the material when they leave.

Finally, an accumulation of tree debris such as leaves, twigs and falling fruit also can create blockages in chimneys and cause smoke to draft sluggishly. If you’re having drafting issues that weren’t solved by the suggestions in #1 above, call out a professional chimney sweep for a chimney inspection and cleaning.

5. Install a chimney cap

If your chimney doesn’t have a full-width chimney cap, have one installed. This component will keep debris, animals and damaging water out of your flue. Chimney caps also protect the concrete chimney crown from winter damage.

After winter is over

When you’re finished using your fireplace for the season, it’s a good time to schedule a complete fireplace and chimney inspection and a thorough chimney cleaning. Any needed repairs can be made at this time.

However, if you notice signs of damage or malfunction in the middle of winter, get a chimney technician out to your home immediately. Don’t wait for spring.

Felgemacher Masonry & Chimney of Buffalo and Rochester, NY, provides certified chimney sweep, chimney inspection, fireplace inspection and chimney and fireplace repair services year-round. Put 65+ years of experience to work for you. Call (716) 907-4914 in Buffalo or (585) 308-4914 in and around Rochester.