Besides regular chimney maintenance and inspections, you can improve the safety and function of your wood burning fireplace by following these tips:
1. Burn only firewood or log starters. It might be tempting to burn wood from old crates and construction projects, but be aware that painted and treated wood can release toxic chemicals into your home and compromise air quality. Log starters can be used to get your fire going, but burn them just one at a time.
2. Use dry, cured wood. The best firewood has been split and dried for at least eight months. Cover the top of your firewood pile outdoors, but leave the sides open for optimal air flow. Hardwoods like hickory, oak, beech, maple, and ash burn the longest. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) says less dense woods such as spruce and white pine will burn quickly, so you’ll need to add wood more often than you will with denser woods. No matter what the species, make sure the wood you use is cured and sufficiently dry.
3. Let it build. The safest way to burn a fire is to build it slowly – adding more wood gradually as it warms up. Keep the fireplace flue open completely to increase draw in the early stages of a fire. Occasionally, burn the fire very hot with the flue/damper all the way open in order to minimize smoke and creosote buildup.
4. Close the flue when not in use. Be sure to close the flue or damper of your fireplace when not using it; this will prevent warm indoor air from escaping up your chimney. For a tighter closure, replace a poorly-sealed damper with a top-mounted model that also functions as a rain cap.
5. Install a chimney cap. If you don’t already have a chimney cap, have one installed. It will prevent debris, snow, rain, birds, and other animals from getting into your chimney. It will also reduce down drafts. Opt for a stainless steel cap, which is superior to galvanized metal and won’t rust.
6. Get your chimney cleaned regularly. If you burn more than three cords of wood per year, have your chimney swept and cleaned two times annually. (A cord is 4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft. of stacked wood.)
7. Install detectors. Install both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home near your fireplace as well as at the entrances of bedrooms.