Hints and Tips: Summer Maintenance of Your Fireplace

fireplace.co.uk Hints and Tips: Summer Maintenance of Your Fireplace 

The warm temperatures of summer are just round the corner and approaching fast. As we enter the late spring and early summer months the majority of fireplaces, solid fuel, wood burning, or gas fires and stoves lie dormant until the colder autumn and winter months are upon us again When we have to master the thirty second dash from car to front door, head down, half stooping, half running in a futile attempt to protect ourselves from the cold, driving sleet, and rain before closing the door leaving the inclement weather firmly shutout behind us.  Where we can finally succumb to the seductive heat, security, and incomparable sense of luxury only a roaring fire offers on a cold, dark winter’s night!  

Article Summer maintaince welcoming fire

The spring and summer seasons are not the time to heed the old adage out of sight out of mind when applied to the fireplace or stove. This time of year provides the ideal opportunity, when the fireplace or stove is unused, and idle to carry out any essential and necessary cleaning, and maintenance tasks to keep us safe and get the best out of our fireplaces and stoves.     


Open Fireplaces

Solid fuel appliances including wood burning fireplaces, and inserts should have their fireboxes and grates cleaned. Vacuum or use a dustpan and brush to sweep up the ashes. Remove any creosote or soot build up on the walls or firebricks lining  the firebox and the lower parts of the chimney. A torch and a small hand held mirror may be useful when cleaning the lower part of the chimney or flue and will also allow you to inspect and clean the throat, the lower part of the chimney and any damper plate which may or may not be fitted. We recommend you wear gloves and a face mask when carrying out this work to help protect your hands and lungs from any ash dust or soot along with safety glasses.   

Check any firebricks for cracks and signs of damage. Small cracks and chips can easily be repaired and patched with fire cement more significant damage may require the replacement of the complete fire brick. Don’t worry they are moderately inexpensive and easy to fit (link to man & spares).. .Any gaps between the fireback and fire surround should be plugged with fireproof rope or string as this will allow for the natural expansion and contraction between the two surfaces which is inevitable from the heat of the fire whilst keeping the firebox sealed. Unfortunately, fire grates or fire baskets are consumable items and may need replacing from time to time   You can improve the longevity of your grate or fire basket by burning the right fuels in your fireplace and if burning solid fuels other than wood as your chosen fuel  do not let the ash build up underneath the grate and control the draft or draw through the fire to prevent burning a fire too hot. Finally to protect your fireplace and grate only use recommended fuels.      


 Stoves and Fireplace Inserts 

If you are one of the many people thousands of people who have opted for a wood burning or multi-fuel stove to provide an economical and esoterically pleasing way to heat your home there are like an open fireplace a number of summer maintenance jobs you need to carry out to keep your stove in tip top condition and ready for the colder weather. After cleaning out the firebox in a similar way to an open fire using either a vacuum cleaner or dustpan and brush examine any fire bricks which may be present and carry out appropriate repairs using fire cement or replace any badly broken bricks (see above). Next you need to examine the baffles, or catalytic combustor, if fitted and in the case of the latter replace if necessary. Remember the catalytic element, like the grate of any type of stove or open fire is a consumable part and will require replacing from time to time.  

You will also need to check the door gaskets of your stove or fireplace insert. to ensure they remain airtight.  A simple way to test the door gasket is the paper test. Take a piece of paper or a £5-00 note and shut it in the door of the stove between the gasket and the stove aperture. The seal should be so tight that it is impossible to pull the paper or £5-00 out whilst the door remains shut. Replace the gaskets if needed. Again they are very cheap to buy and easy to fit and your efforts will be rewarded with a smoke free, and safe home whilst enjoying a more efficient and controllable burn cycle within the stove.

Stove flue pipes are subjected to very high temperatures and need to be inspected. Make sure your stove pipe is in good repair particularly where it joins the register plate and at the stove outlet. If there are any signs of corrosion replace the flue.

Finally clean the glass. Use a soft cloth and a propriety glass cleaning product . Never scrape the glass of a stove or fire insert as this will scratch it and compromise the strength and integrity of the glass.


Gas Fuelled Fireplaces and Inserts

There is obviously no ash with a gas fuelled fireplace or fire insert as they are fuelled by either natural or propane gas. The spring and summer period offers the opportunity to clean your gas appliance. To clean the glass make sure the gas valve is turned off and the glass is completely cool. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions to remove the glass assembly and lay it on a soft surface. Use a soft cloth to clean the glass with a propriety glass cleaner. Never use an abrasive cleaner as this will scratch and mist glass whilst weakening it and leaving prone to shatter when exposed to high heat.

Clean the inside of the fireplace or insert with a vacuum cleaner or soft brush removing any excess dust or dirt and inspect the appliance for any rust or damage.   

It is recommended that all gas appliances are annually checked and serviced by a Gas Safe Registered engineer  


Chimney and Flues.

A chimney or flue plays a vital and important role in the safe and efficient performance of any fireplace, stove or boiler. All combustible fuels release volatile and toxic gases throughout the burning cycle   It is one of the chimney’s roles to draw these potentially harmful gases up the chimney and release them out of harms way into the atmosphere (See Science of Fire for more detail). The other role of the chimney is to draw air into the fire supplying it with sufficient oxygen to allow the fuel to burn to efficiently. Please note  when a fire burns efficiently it also burns clean releasing only inert water and carbon dioxide as its waste products. A chimney that does not draw sufficiently resulting in poor and  inefficient fuel combustion may gum up with corrosive and highly inflammable creosotes increasing the risk of a chimney fire and allow smoke and lethal carbon monoxide to spill back into a room or home with fatal consequences .  Do ensure your chimney is well maintained and cleaned regularly.  

Every year thousands of chimney fires take place presenting the very real threat of escalating into a full blown house fire. Chimney fires are caused by poor chimney maintenance. It is vital, particularly if   bituminous house coal or wood has been used to fuel the fire that the chimney is swept at a minimum once a year and preferably twice a year. When wood or bituminous coal is burnt regularly it can lead to a build up of flammable creosotes within the chimney.  The summer time when the fireplace is not in use provides the ideal time to get the chimney swept by a reputable chimney sweep belonging to one of the recognised trade associations   It is also worth remembering that the summer time is often a quieter time for chimney sweeps and it may not be possible to find an available sweep during the busy times of winter and particularly the period immediately before Christmas.  Not only will the chimney sweep, sweep the chimney with a minimum of fuss and inconvenience, but the sweep will also examine and inspect the chimney to inform you of any further maintenance your chimney may require. Do remember to inform your chimney sweep of any problems you maybe experiencing such as poor or too much draft or draw through the chimney, or smoke spillage back into the room etc.  They may be able to offer a cheap and easy remedy.    

It is worth while visually inspecting the chimney stack. Preferably use binoculars to look for loose or in poor repair chimney pots, missing or loose mortar, and damaged or missing flashing, and tiles. Even if an old chimney stack leans it does not necessarily follow it is unstable but if you are concerned get the chimney stack inspected further by a structural engineer, surveyor or reputable builder. 

Chimneys of inglenook fireplaces are frequently capped with flagstones raised upon bricks to act as rain cap preventing rainwater from running down the large chimney flue into the fireplace. Different types of inserts or caps are available to assist the performance of the chimney or prevent rain from entering the flue and damaging the chimney lining or fire grate. Bird guards can be fitted to the top of the chimney to prevent birds from nesting either inside the chimney or on top of the pot and blocking the chimney. A spark arrestor should always be fitted to the chimney pot on any thatched property. It is also important that any such guards, caps and spark arrestors are properly maintained and cleaned on an annual basis to reduce the risk of fire or inadequate air flow through the chimney and smoke and carbon monoxide spilling back into the room or home. .   

It is recommended you install both Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms in any room where there is a solid fuel or gas appliance and do check they work weekly, they may just save your life.


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By Phil Cleaver


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