The Ultimate Guide to Using Your Fireplace Properly & Efficiently
Even if you grew up with a fireplace in your home, there’s always more to learn about how to properly use, maintain, and enjoy your fireplace. You likely have questions about how to get the most heat and efficiency from your fireplace, how to know if it’s safe to use your fireplace, how to improve draft, etc. Well, we’re here to help.
Here at CSIA, we believe that the more homeowners know about fireplaces, the more empowered they’ll be to safely use them. That’s why we put together this Ultimate Guide to Using Your Fireplace.
In it, we’ll cover:
- Common questions around chimney and fireplace use and maintenance
- Tips on using and maintaining your wood-burning fireplace, stove, or insert
- Tips on using and maintaining your gas-fired fireplace, stove, or insert
Let’s dive in.
How Do I Know if It’s Safe to Use My Fireplace?
How do you know if it’s safe to use your fireplace? Is there a way to check if your chimney is working? And what should you look for in your chimney before you light the first fire of the season?
The best way to know if your chimney is working and if it’s safe to use your fireplace is to schedule an annual inspection.
During a chimney inspection, a chimney professional will evaluate your chimney and hearth appliance – top to bottom – and check for:
- Structural integrity
- Signs of damage, wear and tear, and improper installation that could threaten safe use (like cracked flue tiles, pilot light issues, broken dampers, incorrect clearance from combustibles, etc.)
- Dust, soot, and creosote buildup that could cause performance issues or cause a chimney fire
- Missing components (like chimney caps and chase covers) and signs of a chimney leak
- And more
Inspections typically take no more than an hour, and at the end of that time, you’ll have a comprehensive report detailing the condition of your chimney and hearth appliance. You’ll know if it’s safe for continued use or if there’s something you need to do first – like have the chimney swept or the damper repaired.
An inspection is great because it’s affordable, it’s informative, and it takes the guesswork out of the equation. No wondering if your fireplace, insert, or stove is safe to fire up on the first cold night. Just total peace of mind.
How Do I Know if My Chimney Is Bad?
This is another question that’s best answered with a chimney inspection. When you get the eyes of a pro on your chimney system, you’ll know if something isn’t right with your chimney because they’ll tell you.
That said, there are some signs you can keep an eye out for that could signal your chimney is damaged or has other issues that need to be addressed.
Look for things like:
- Rust in your firebox or down the sides of your chimney
- Discoloration or vegetation growth on your chimney
- Pieces of flue tile or spalling brick in your firebox
- Brick deterioration or spalling on your chimney’s exterior
- Failing mortar on your chimney’s exterior or in your firebox
- Pooling water in your fireplace
- Missing chimney cap
- Water stains near your chimney and fireplace
- Cracks in your chimney crown or rust on your chase cover
- Smoke pouring into your home when you light a fire in your fireplace
- Changes in performance issues with your fireplace, insert, or stove
- Smelly odors coming from your fireplace
- Popping, cracking, or other loud sounds coming from your chimney when in use
- Difficulty getting and keeping a good fire burning in your hearth appliance
- Soot or creosote falling down into your fireplace
If you notice these things or anything else that just doesn’t seem right, give a CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweep® a call. You can find one in your local area right here.
How Can I Tell if My Chimney Needs Cleaning?
You may be able to tell if your chimney needs cleaning by looking up inside the flue with a flashlight. Here at CSIA, we recommend that chimneys be cleaned when an 1/8” of soot buildup is present or when any amount of glazed creosote is present.
Why do soot and creosote need to be removed?
Soot can be dangerous because it’s a lung irritant and it can make a mess if it gets into your home, but creosote is the biggest concern. Creosote is highly flammable – it’s basically composed of unburned wood particulates – and it can easily cause a chimney fire that destroys your flue liner and spreads to other areas of your home.
On top of that, creosote is a carcinogenic, it’s smelly (especially when mixed with the humidity that comes with the summer months in some parts of the country), and it’s corrosive and damaging to the chimney system.
Do I Need to Sweep My Chimney Every Year?
Not all chimneys need to be cleaned every year. Some chimneys will accumulate soot and creosote buildup faster than others, depending on how often the appliance is used, the type of wood burned, the efficiency level of the appliance, and other factors.
During a chimney inspection, a Certified Chimney Sweep® will tell you if your chimney needs to be swept or if you can go another year.
How Do I Know if My Damper Is Closed?
The damper is the metal door that closes off your chimney flue above the fireplace. The whole point of the damper is to keep outside air from entering your home when your fireplace is not in use and to allow smoke to exit through the chimney when your fireplace is in use.
A closed or broken damper is one of the leading causes of smoky fireplaces, so if you light a fire in your fireplace and smoke comes pouring into your home, the damper is the first thing you’ll want to check.
You can check to make sure it’s fully open by looking up into your fireplace with a flashlight. If you can see all the way up the flue to the top of the chimney, then the damper is open. If you can’t, it’s closed.
Chimney dampers are typically easy to open and close, but because of where some of the handles are located, it’s always best to double check that your damper is opened before you light a fire in the fireplace.
We show you how to open and close the different types of dampers – including top-sealing dampers – in the video below. Check it out.
Can I Leave the Flue Open Overnight?
What happens if you leave the flue open overnight? Well, you’ll be letting all that warmth you created exit through the chimney and all the cool air from outside enter your home. That’s why it’s always best to close the damper whenever your fireplace is not in use.
How long after a fire should you wait to close the damper?
The damper should be kept open until your fire has completely died out, and there are no longer any embers and glowing logs. And keep in mind, if you have a throat damper that must be closed by reaching into the fireplace, wear a protective mitt to protect you against burns.
Do I Need to Open a Window When Using My Fireplace?
As older homes are made tighter to improve energy efficiency and many newer homes are being built tighter for that same reason, in some cases, there’s inefficient air to allow the fireplace to operate properly.
In these cases, opening a window slightly may alleviate the issue of smoke spilling into the home through the fireplace opening.
How Do I Improve Chimney Draft?
When a fireplace chimney is full of hot air, it pulls air in through the firebox. This pulling effect is called draft, and it works the same as the pressure in a water hose. The only difference between the air pressure in your chimney and the pressure in a water hose is that the air pressure in your chimney is negative and the water pressure in a hose is positive – think of using a straw to drink instead of using it to blow bubbles.
Proper draft is needed to swiftly move the smoke up the chimney and out of your home, but there are some things that can negatively impact draft, like the temperature differences between the inside and outside of the chimney, leaky ducts, the tightness of the home, and the height of the chimney, to name a few.
Additionally, just like how a water hose can be kinked or plugged, the airflow in your chimney can have a restriction that slows down the smoke flowing up the chimney.
Poor flow in a chimney can result from excessive creosote deposits, closed or plugged dampers, improper chimney and fireplace construction, structural damage, or even a dirty chimney cap. In fact, having a dirty, plugged-up chimney cap at the end of your chimney is like having a closed nozzle at the end of a hose.
Draft is different from flow – draft is really about suction, while flow is about velocity – but both can affect fireplace performance and the ability of your chimney to remove smoke from your home. Check out the video below for more on how draft and flow work in the chimney system.
So, how do you increase draft and flow in your chimney?
While a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® can evaluate your chimney and recommend any corrective action needed for proper draft and flow, there are a couple of things you can do to improve draft and flow as well:
- Keep your chimney clean and free of excessive creosote and soot buildup.
- Burn hotter fires. Hotter air is lighter, so it has more pull. You can burn hotter fires by using properly seasoned (dry) softwood when you build your fire.
- Make sure your chimney liner is properly sized for your appliance and free of damaged areas that could cause friction.
- Increase the height of your chimney (except when the chimney is already so tall that frictional forces negate the effect of the extra height). Given the same amount of pressure, a larger pipe can carry a greater volume of water than a smaller one. The same is true for chimneys – with the same amount of draft (pressure), a larger flue will exhaust more smoke from your fireplace than a smaller one.
Do I Need a Chimney Liner?
In the 1940s and again in the 1980s, masonry chimneys were tested by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) for durability, due to rising concerns about their performance and safety. The tests revealed that unlined chimneys were so unsafe that researchers characterized building a chimney without a liner as “little less than criminal.”
So, what is a chimney liner and why is it so important that you have one?
A flue liner in a masonry chimney is defined as “a clay, ceramic, or metal conduit installed inside of a chimney, intended to contain the combustion products, direct them to the outside atmosphere, and protect the chimney walls from heat and corrosion.”
Although building codes vary from one state or locality to another, the installation of flue lining has been recommended since the early part of this century, and indeed, most fire codes now mandate liners.
Chimney liners serve three main functions:
- To protect the house by preventing heat transfer to combustibles. In the NBS tests mentioned above, unlined chimneys allowed heat to move through the chimney so rapidly that adjacent woodwork caught fire in only 3 ½ hours. Simply having a well-maintained and properly installed chimney liner can prevent this heat transfer and reduce your fire risk.
- To protect the masonry from the corrosive byproducts of combustion. In the NBS tests, it was also determined that if the flue gases were allowed to penetrate the brick and mortar of the chimney, the result would be a reduction in the useable life of the chimney. Here’s why: Flue gases are acidic in nature and literally eat away at the mortar joints from inside the chimney. As the mortar joints erode, heat transfers more rapidly to nearby combustibles and dangerous gases (such as carbon monoxide) can leak into the living areas of the home.
- To provide a correctly sized flue for optimum appliance efficiency. Modern woodstoves and gas or oil furnaces require a correctly sized flue to perform properly. The chimney is responsible for not only allowing the byproducts of combustion a passage out of the house, but the draft generated by the chimney also supplies the combustion air to the appliance. An incorrectly sized liner can reduce draft and lead to excessive creosote buildup in wood-burning appliances and carbon monoxide production with conventional fuels.
There are different types of chimney liners out there. Here’s a quick rundown of each and their advantages and disadvantages:
#1 Clay tile liners are the most common type of masonry chimney liners.
Advantages: These liners are inexpensive, readily available, and perform quite well for open fireplace chimneys that are properly maintained.
Disadvantages: These liners cannot rapidly absorb and evenly distribute heat during the rapid temperature rise that occurs during a chimney fire. What this means is that the flue tiles will crack and split apart in a chimney fire, allowing heat to transfer to nearby combustibles. (Check out the video below to see how quickly this can happen.) The second disadvantage is that flue tiles liners cannot adequately contain the liquid combustion byproducts produced by modern gas appliances, and therefore, can’t be used to vent newer gas stoves, fireplaces, or inserts.
#2 Metal chimney liners, usually of stainless steel or aluminum, are primarily used to upgrade and repair existing chimneys.
Advantages: If properly installed and maintained, metal chimney liners are extremely safe and durable. Stainless steel is suitable for wood-burning, gas, and oil-fired appliances, while aluminum is an inexpensive alternative for certain medium-efficiency gas applications only. It is usually required that high-temperature insulation be used in conjunction with metal liners for safety and performance considerations.
Disadvantages: Metal liners are considerably more expensive than clay flue liners.
#3 Cast-in-place chimney liners are lightweight, cement-like products that are installed inside the chimney to form a smooth, seamless, insulated passageway for flue gases.
Advantages: Cast-in-place liners can improve the structural integrity of aging chimneys and are permanent liners suitable for all fuels.
Disadvantages: These liners can be challenging to install and cost can be a deterrent.
How to Properly Use Your Wood-burning Fireplaces, Woodstoves, and Inserts
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, stove, or insert, you’re in luck. These appliances can provide a great deal of heat and comfort on cold days and nights – even when you lose power and can’t rely on your furnace to heat the space. Another perk of having one of these fireplaces, stoves, or inserts is that fuel is always affordable and plentiful. And of course, nothing beats the crackle and flame of a real wood fire.
But how do you get the most from your wood-burning appliance? What’s the best way to build a fire? What type of firewood should you use? We’re here to answer these questions and more and make enjoying your wood-burning fireplace, stove, or insert a breeze. Let’s get started.
Tips for Building a Fire
#1 What type of firewood should I use? Can I burn softwood in my fireplace?
A good fire starts with good wood. When you purchase firewood, you’ll want to split it and use a moisture meter to check the moisture content inside the wood. Seasoned wood – wood that will make a good fire, put out a lot of heat, and create little creosote – will have a moisture content around 15-25%.
Watch the video below for a quick explanation of why the moisture content of your firewood is so important.
You can burn both softwood and hardwood in your fireplace, insert, or stove – but you should know the differences and when one is preferred over the other.
In general, softwoods (pine, cedar, redwood, spruce, douglas fir) are easier to split, they dry faster, and they’re easier to light and get going – but they’re lighter, so you’ll need more soft wood than you would hardwood to get the same amount of heat. Hardwoods (beech, hickory, mahogany, maple, oak, teak, walnut) are denser, so you’ll get more heat per volume.
For more firewood tips (including how to store your firewood), check out our Ultimate Guide to Firewood.
#2 What’s the best way to build a fire?
The best fire to burn in your fireplace or woodstove is what we call a top-down burn. What makes top-down fires great is that they warm your flue up faster, so that by the time your fire is really blazing, your flue is primed and ready to swiftly move the smoke up and out of the chimney. So, when you build a top-down fire, it’s easier to start your fire and there’s less smoke. A win-win.
But it does go against what most of us have been taught. So, forget what you know and give the top-down method a try.
Here’s how to build a top-down fire:
Step 1: Separate your firewood by size.
Step 2: Start by placing the largest pieces of wood in the bottom of your fireplace or woodstove, with the ends facing the front and back. Placing the wood with the ends at the front and back allows the air to mix well with the fuel, instead of only hitting the broad side of the wood as it would if it were placed parallel to the fireplace or stove opening.
Step 3: Stack 4-5 slightly smaller levels of wood on top of the first layer. Continue stacking your wood, using gradually smaller pieces of wood with each layer, until your wood is stacked to about ½ the height of the fireplace.
Step 4: At this point, begin placing your kindling (the smallest pieces of wood and sticks). Then, at the very top, add your tinder (wood shavings). If you want to cheat a little, you can add a crumpled piece of newspaper on top. When you’re done, the stack should not go above the fireplace opening.
Step 5: Light your fire at the top, NOT at the bottom. If you light it at the bottom, the fire gets a slower start, which leads to a colder flue and a smokier home. Lighting the fire at the top, where you have the tinder and kindling, will get the fire going faster, spread the fire to the larger logs at the bottom, and prime the flue at the same time. The shavings at the top should be small enough to light with a single match.
This method is a “light it and you’re done” method, which means no more worrying about larger pieces of wood falling on the struggling new fire. It’s also a cleaner burning fire, which means you’ll get very little smoke.
To see what a top-down fire looks like, check out this video.
#3 How much wood is too much wood? Can a fire be too big for a fireplace?
When building a fire, you never want the wood to fill the whole fireplace. There should be space between the wood and each of the fireplace walls, and your firewood should never be stacked to the top of the fireplace opening.
While you may think, the bigger the fire, the better, a fire can be too big for the fireplace. Your chimney is not made to have the direct heat of the flames inside of it, so you don’t want to build your fire so big that the flames are going up into the chimney. Instead, you should be able to see the tips of the flames in your fireplace.
#4 Are accelerants like lighter fluid bad for the chimney?
The answer is yes –accelerants are bad for the chimney! You do not ever want to use any type of accelerant to start a fire in your fireplace or woodstove. Fireplaces, stoves, and their venting systems are not designed to have any sort of gasoline, kerosene, or petroleum-based oil products in them. Lighter fluids and the like create an uncontrollable burn, which is dangerous and can also be very damaging to your heating appliance and chimney.
#5 Are Duraflame logs bad?
Duraflame logs are okay to use in your fireplace and are CSIA Accepted Products when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You should not, however, use a Duraflame log in a woodstove. For more information on Duraflame products and their use, check out their website or email email@example.com.
Tips on Safely Putting Out a Fire in Your Fireplace
#1 How long does a fire last in a fireplace?
Depending on the fire you’ve built and the appliance you’re using, your fire may burn anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 7+ hours. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions so you know how many consecutive hours your particular appliance is designed to be used.
#2 Can you go to bed with embers in the fireplace or with a fire in the fireplace?
You should never go to bed with a fire or burning embers still in the fireplace. For your safety, your fireplace or stove should never be left unattended. So, before you go to bed or leave the house, always fully extinguish the fire first.
#3 How do you safely put out a fire in your fireplace? Can you pour water in a fireplace?
So, it’s getting late and you’re ready to hit the sack, but the fire’s still going in the woodburning fireplace. How do you safely put it out?
Let’s first talk about what you should NOT do.
Do NOT pour water in your fireplace. When that water hits the logs, it will create a cool shell on top of the logs in the fireplace, but it won’t fully saturate and extinguish the fire. Plus, this meeting of water and heat could cause the wood to dangerously pop and will create steam that could easily burn you and others close to the fireplace.
Now, what SHOULD you do?
To put out a fire in your fireplace, spread out what’s left of the embers and logs using a poker, and pour some baking soda over the embers and wood until the fire is sufficiently smothered and extinguished. If you don’t have any baking soda handy, flour can work as well.
Ash Removal – When & How Should You Remove Ash from Your Fireplace or Woodstove?
#1 How often should you clean the ashes from your fireplace? Should you remove ash after every fire?
When you burn wood in your fireplace or stove, there’s one thing you can be sure of: you’ll be left with ash. The volume of ash left behind will depend on the species of wood used – for example, softwoods weigh less and typically generate more ash than hardwoods – but no matter what type of wood you burn, there will always be ash left behind in the combustion chamber.
You may be tempted to remove ash after every fire you burn, but wait… It’s not a good idea to remove all the ash from the fireplace or woodstove every time you build a fire.
- A little bit of ash can make it easier to get the fire going. If you leave a 1-inch layer of ash on the floor of the firebox during the regular heating season, it will make it much easier for you to build a fire and keep it going because the hot coals will nestle into the ash and add more heat to the fuel, reflecting the heat back into the fire.
- Leaving a small layer of ash provides protection to the floor of the firebox. By insulating the fireplace, the ash acts as a protective barrier between the high heat of the fire and the firebox floor.
Of course, you don’t want to leave ash in your fireplace too long. If the ash in your fireplace is so deep that it’s touching the bottom of your grate, it can cause the grate to burn out prematurely.
What about your woodstove?
Well, many long, narrow stoves that burn from the front to the back will benefit from the removal of the ash just inside the door. That ash is completely spent, so you can remove it and move the hot coals from the rear into the space you’ve cleared. That way, the fresh fuel will ignite quickly and easily with the incoming combustion air.
But keep in mind, if you leave a large amount of ash in your woodstove, it will reduce the volume of fuel that can be added to the firebox, resulting in smaller fires.
#2 When should you remove all the ash in your fireplace or woodstove?
You’ll want to remove all the ash in your fireplace or woodstove at the end of the heating season. Ash that’s left behind over the spring and summer months has the potential to draw moisture in – moisture that can damage metal components in the fireplace or stove. The alkaline nature of ash combined with moisture can be very destructive to both masonry fireplaces, factory-built fireplaces, woodstoves, and inserts.
#3 Is there a safe way to remove hot embers and ash from your fireplace or woodstove?
Here at CSIA, we recommend that you always wait to remove embers and ash until everything has had time to completely cool. That said, if you’re ever in a situation where you need to remove them before they’ve cooled, do so carefully using a sturdy fireplace shovel and a non-combustible container with a sealable lid.
Once your ashes and embers are contained, be sure to store them somewhere away from the home – never in a garage or near a deck – because there’s always the possibility that these could rekindle and reignite.
For more info on handling ash, check out the video below.
How Can I Make My Wood-burning Fireplace, Stove, or Insert More Efficient?
Everyone wants their fireplace to be more efficient – because increased efficiency means more heat, less fuel needed to obtain that heat, and fewer flammable creosote deposits. But how do you increase the efficiency of your woodstove, insert, or wood-burning fireplace?
Follow these tips:
#1 Follow your manufacturer’s instructions for use.
Each prefabricated fireplace, stove, and insert is designed and tested by the manufacturer to be used in specific ways and under specific conditions. And one of the easiest ways to ensure your fireplace, woodstove, or insert is operating at peak efficiency and safety is to follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and maintenance. So, read up on your appliance and use it as it was intended to be used.
#2 Burn only properly seasoned wood.
When you burn wet wood in your appliance, heat output will suffer, appliance performance will suffer, and you’ll see greater smoke and creosote production. That’s because, to get the fire going, your appliance will have to remove all that moisture – resulting in wasted BTUs and a lot of smoke and particulates.
If you want your fireplace, stove, or insert to provide lots of heat and little smoke, the best thing to do is burn only dry, properly seasoned wood. The moisture content of your firewood should be somewhere between 10-25%, no more.
For tips on choosing and storing firewood, check out the Ultimate Guide to Firewood.
#3 Build a fire that’s just the right size.
If the fire is too big for your fireplace, stove, or insert, your chimney will have a hard time removing the smoke created by the fire, and you’ll see a decline in appliance performance.
So, how big should your fire be for optimal efficiency and performance? Well, when you’re finished building your fire, there should still be space between the firebox walls and the wood. Additionally, you should never stack wood higher than your fireplace opening.
Once the fire is lit and going strong, you should still be able to see the tips of the flames through the fireplace opening. If the flames are going up into the chimney, you’ve built a fire that is too big.
#4 Build a top-down fire and preheat the flue.
Earlier we talked about how to build a top-down fire. Not only are these types of fires easier to get going, but they’re also better for appliance performance and efficiency. Usually, the dirtiest part of the burn is in the beginning stages of the fire, but when you get the fire blazing as quickly as possible, you reduce the amount of unspent fuel that can cling to the interior of the flue or exit the chimney. That means less wasted wood, less smoke, and less creosote buildup.
Building a top-down fire will also work to preheat the flue before the fire really gets going, which again:
- reduces the amount of smoke coming into your living space
- reduces the amount of creosote settling on your flue walls
- and makes it easier for the appliance to operate at peak levels
You can also preheat your flue the old-fashioned way – roll up a piece of newspaper, light the end, and hold it up inside of your flue for a moment or two.
#5 Leave a little ash in your firebox.
Leaving a little ash in your firebox can also boost efficiency by insulating the fireplace and encouraging the hot coals to reflect their heat back into the fire instead of into the fireplace floor.
#6 Consider an upgrade.
If you feel like you’re doing all the right things, but your fireplace or stove just isn’t as efficient as you’d like, consider an upgrade. Newer woodstoves, inserts, and fireplaces are much more efficient than traditional open hearth masonry fireplaces and woodstoves of old. Many have great EPA ratings and provide cleaner burns, which means more heat, less smoke, and a guilt-free fireside experience.
You’ll also find great features on newer appliances – like temperature control and blowers, for more evenly distributed heat throughout your space.
#7 Schedule routine inspections and cleanings.
Lastly, if you want your hearth appliance to continue operating at peak efficiency and safety levels, keep up with routine inspections and cleanings. Every wood-burning fireplace, stove, and insert should be inspected on an annual basis and swept as needed. Find a CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweep® for the job right here.
Own a woodstove? For a few quick tips on properly operating your woodstove at max efficiency and performance, check out this video from our Director of Education, Russ Dimmitt.
Creosote: What You Need to Know
What are creosote and soot and are they dangerous?
Creosote is a deposit made of unburned wood particles and it’s highly flammable. Creosote is dangerous because of its flammable, corrosive properties, and if it’s left to accumulate in your chimney, it can cause a chimney fire and cause damage to your flue liner.
Soot, a powder-like deposit resulting from woodburning, should also be routinely swept from your chimney. When soot is left to build up in the chimney and fireplace, it can cause staining on your home’s ceilings, floors, and walls and on your furniture and belongings. Plus, if it gets into your air supply, soot can be a lung irritant.
How do you reduce creosote and soot production and buildup?
While creosote is always a byproduct of wood combustion, there are some things you can do to reduce the amount of creosote that gets left behind in your chimney system.
- Burn only dry, properly seasoned wood in your fireplace, stove, or insert.
- Build a top-down fire that’s appropriately sized for your appliance and prime the flue.
- Keep your damper fully open when you have a fire going in your fireplace.
- Make sure your chimney is free of blockages, liner damage, and creosote and soot buildup before you light a fire in your fireplace.
- Use your fireplace, stove, or insert as designed.
Why is soot falling down the chimney?
Soot typically comes down through the chimney because of backdrafts and downdrafts. When today’s tight homes need makeup air, the easiest way to get it is often through the chimney. As air is pulled in, soot from the chimney comes in with it. The same thing can happen when a big gust of wind hits the chimney.
If you see creosote or soot falling down the chimney and into your fireplace, it’s definitely time for a good chimney cleaning.
How do you get rid of soot and creosote? Can you burn creosote out of the chimney?
We often get asked if creosote can be ‘burned out’ of the chimney. The answer is no. When you have an 1/8” buildup of creosote, you’ll need to schedule an appointment to have a chimney professional clean the chimney and remove that creosote and soot buildup.
If you have third-degree or glazed creosote in your chimney – the hard, shiny form of creosote – don’t wait for 1/8” buildup to schedule a sweeping. This form of creosote is highly flammable and needs to be removed right away.
Does burning aluminum cans or salt clean your chimney? Is it bad to burn aluminum cans or salt in your chimney?
There’s a myth out there that burning salt or aluminum cans in your chimney will clean it, but we’re here to bust that myth. If anything, they could actually be harmful to the chimney.
What makes people think either will work to clean the chimney?
Well, both myths are rooted in a bit of fact. The chemicals used in creosote removers are magnesium-based, and aluminum cans and some salts do in fact contain magnesium. Still, burning neither aluminum cans nor salt will clean your chimney.
And while we’re busting myths, burning potatoes in your chimney won’t clean it either! Save the potatoes for the air fryer.
Are Chimney Sweeping Logs Okay to Use in a Wood-burning Fireplace, Stove, or Insert?
While there are products out there – like chimney sweeping logs – that can be used to make creosote flake and fall of your chimney walls or make creosote easier to brush off, they don’t actually remove the creosote from the system altogether.
So, while there’s no harm in using these sweeping logs, remember that they’re not a replacement for a professional chimney sweeping. You should still schedule annual inspections and chimney cleanings when needed.
Check out this video from our Director of Education for more information on why you need to have your chimney swept on a routine basis, even if you use chimney sweeping logs.
Additional Safety Tips for Burning Wood
Before we wrap and move onto gas fireplaces and hearth appliances, let’s cover a few more safety tips for wood burners.
- Schedule annual chimney inspections and cleanings as needed. Having a qualified professional look at and maintain your chimney reduces the risk of chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or chimney obstructions.
- Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of your chimney.
- Install a chimney cap to keep debris, rainwater, and animals out of your chimney.
- Properly store firewood and always season your firewood (or buy it seasoned).
- Keep your hearth area clear of combustible materials. Furniture should be at least 36” from your fireplace or woodstove.
- Use a fireplace screen to catch flying sparks that could ignite or burn holes in the carpet or flooring or injure pets and children.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home and check batteries in the spring and fall. The easiest way to remember is to check the batteries when you’re changing the clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
- Never leave a fire in your fireplace unattended and always supervise children and pets closely around woodstoves and fireplaces.
How to Properly Use Your Gas Fireplaces, Stoves & Inserts
Gas fireplaces, stoves, and inserts have become incredibly popular through the years, and we know why. They’re easy to use, they’re efficient, they’re clean-burning, and they make great heating appliances for on-the-go folks who can’t be bothered with stacking and storing wood and building and stoking fires.
But while they do typically require less maintenance, there are still some things you need to know. Let’s cover some of the basics…
How Do You Use a Gas Fireplace?
The great thing about gas fireplaces, stoves, and inserts, is that they’re pretty easy to use. You don’t have to chop any wood or build a fire. You don’t have to load fuel. And when you’re ready to head to bed at the end of a long night, you don’t have to wait for the fire to die out or worry about extinguishing it. All you have to do is turn the appliance on or off.
The specifics here will vary from appliance to appliance, but typically, a gas fireplace, stove, or insert can be turned on/off with the simple touch of a button or flip of a switch. Sometimes these switches or buttons are located to one side of the fireplace, just outside the fireplace doors. Your gas appliance may also have a remote that allows you to turn the appliance on/off, control the heat, adjust the flame, and more.
For all the basics on operating your appliance, refer to the manual that came with your fireplace, stove, or insert. If you can’t find it, you may be able to find what you need on the manufacturer’s website – so do a quick online search.
How Do You Adjust the Heat Setting & Flame Height on a Gas Fireplace?
You may be able to adjust the heat setting and flame height for your gas fireplace, stove, or insert right from the remote control, if it came with one. If you don’t have a remote, there may be a concealed knob for each setting either in the front of the fireplace (look for a flap near the bottom of the fireplace facing) or beside the gas logs.
Again, refer to your manufacturer’s instructions. A lot of manufacturers will also have great videos on their website that can walk you through the different features of your particular fireplace, stove, and insert and how to use your appliance.
How Do You Turn the Pilot Light On?
Some gas fireplaces are designed to rely on a ‘standing’ or ‘continuous’ pilot light, which means the pilot light will stay on all year, even in the spring and summer when the fireplace isn’t being used. Other gas fireplaces are designed so that the pilot light will automatically light when the fireplace is turned on. And in still other cases, the pilot light may need to be turned off/on seasonally.
The best way to know which type of gas fireplace, stove, or insert you have is to check your manufacturer’s instructions. This is also where you’ll find detailed instructions on how to turn on the pilot light for your particular appliance if it is off and does not rely on automatic ignition.
Is the Pilot Light Supposed to Stay on in a Gas Fireplace?
It depends on the type of gas fireplace you have. Your particular appliance may be designed for a ‘standing’ or ‘continuous’ pilot light, which means you will leave the gas and pilot light on all year.
How do you know if you should leave the gas and pilot light on? Reach your manufacturer’s instructions. The manufacturer’s instructions serve as the Bible for your appliance, telling you everything you need to know about safe and proper use and operation.
And of course, if you schedule annual inspections and routine service with a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, they’ll be able to tell you what’s appropriate for your appliance and even take care of turning the pilot light on/off if needed as well.
Is It OK to Leave a Gas Fireplace on All Night?
We get the question ‘Is it safe to leave a gas fireplace on all night?’ a lot.
Here’s our answer: No matter what type of fuel your fireplace, stove, or insert burns, you should NEVER leave it unattended. That means, no leaving it on overnight.
With a gas appliance, you don’t have to worry about logs rolling out and causing a fire or smoke pouring into your home, but what you do have to worry about is carbon monoxide.
If something went wrong and your heating appliance started pushing carbon monoxide into your air supply instead of venting it up through the chimney, you might not hear the carbon monoxide detector if you were asleep.
And because carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, you could reach lethal levels of exposure without you even noticing anything was happening.
Carbon monoxide is deadly, so it’s not worth the risk. Always turn your gas fireplace, stove, or insert off before heading to bed.
How Can I Make My Gas Fireplace, Stove, or Insert More Efficient?
Gas fireplaces, stoves, and inserts are – by nature – more efficient than open hearth masonry fireplaces. And if you’re following manufacturer’s instructions for use, you should be getting a lot of good heat with minimal waste from your appliance.
But how do you boost your efficiency levels even more?
- Upgrade. If you have an older gas appliance and feel like it’s not as efficient as you’d like, it may be time for an upgrade. Newer appliances are more efficient than older gas appliances, and most have thermostats that make it easy to set and maintain the desired heat output for the space they’re in.
- Use and maintain the blower. If your gas appliance has a blower, make use of it! The blower can work to evenly distribute heat, so you can more efficiently heat your space. Of course, you’ll need to make sure your blower stays in great working order. You can easily do so simply by investing in annual inspections and routine service. Find a pro for the job right here.
Is It OK to Close the Glass Doors on a Gas Fireplace?
If there’s one thing we want you to take away from this fireplace guide, it’s that you should always refer to your appliance’s manual. Gas fireplaces are designed to be used in specific ways and tested under specific conditions. The easiest way to figure out what you should and shouldn’t do with your gas appliance is to refer to your manufacturer’s instructions or manual. If they recommend that you leave the fireplace doors open when your gas fireplace is in use, leave the fireplace doors open. If they recommend the doors be closed, keep them closed.
Does a Gas Fireplace Chimney Need to Be Cleaned?
A lot of people assume that because gas appliances burn cleaner than wood-burning appliances, their venting systems don’t need to be cleaned. But while soot and creosote are not really issues with gas appliances and chimneys, dust, pet hair, insects, and other debris can build up and cause performance problems in these systems.
Likewise, chimney blockages can still occur, and if the carbon monoxide produced by the appliance can’t swiftly vent through the chimney, you and your family could be exposed to this toxic gas.
So, it’s still important to have your gas fireplace chimney inspected annually and your gas fireplace cleaned as needed.
Watch this quick video to learn what types of things a CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweep® will check when they inspect your gas appliance.
What’s the Difference Between Yellow Flame & Blue Flame Gas Logs?
There are two basic types of gas logs currently on the market: yellow flame and blue flame.
Yellow flame logs require venting (hence why they’re often called ‘vented logs’), while blue flame logs may be approved for use without a venting system.
Here are some other differences…
Yellow flame logs:
- produce a very realistic and attractive fire (these are often mistaken for real wood fires)
- have a heat output comparable to a similarly sized wood fire
- generate soot and carbon, which gets deposited in the chimney and requires cleaning
Blue flame logs:
- burn hotter and cleaner than yellow flame logs, but are generally less attractive
- may be approved for installation in wood burning fireplaces with the damper closed OR in a separate firebox cabinet approved for installation without a chimney (these are called ‘unvented,’ ‘vent-free,’ or ‘ventless’ logs)
- may have some effects on the indoor air quality of the home when burned for prolonged periods
How Do I Know if My Gas Fireplace Is Leaking Carbon Monoxide?
CO gas is deadly, but it’s a natural byproduct of combustion. How do you know if your gas fireplace is leaking it into you air supply if it’s odorless, colorless, and tasteless? Here are a few tips:
- #1 Install carbon monoxide detectors. The best way to protect yourself against carbon monoxide poisoning is to invest in CO detectors. You should have one installed on every floor of your home and outside of all sleeping areas. That way, if carbon monoxide is getting into your home, you’ll be alerted to it and can get yourself and your loved ones out of the home and call the fire department. Note: Pay attention to local codes – in some areas, you may be required to have a carbon monoxide/smoke detector in every bedroom of your home.
- #2 Take a whiff. Although carbon monoxide itself is odorless, if you do notice odors – like a rotten egg or sulfur smell – coming from your gas appliance, this could be a sign that carbon monoxide and other byproducts are making their way into your air supply.
- #3 Look for moisture. If you see condensation on your fireplace or on windows in the room where your fireplace is located, this is a sign of a possible CO leak.
- #4 Watch for bubbles. If there are bubbles on the gas valve (which should be located near the controls) of your gas fireplace, that’s another sign of a potential carbon monoxide leak.
- #5 Pay attention to your pilot light. If your pilot light keeps blowing out, this could also be a sign of a CO issue.
- #6 Schedule annual fireplace inspections with a pro. One reason that annual inspections are recommended for all fireplaces, stoves, and inserts is that they allow trained professionals to get their eyes on the appliance and venting system at least once a year. When you have a pro looking at your gas fireplace, they’ll be checking for any signs of a carbon monoxide leak and any other operational or safety issues.
For more info on carbon monoxide, why it’s so dangerous, and how you can protect your family against the threat of CO poisoning, check out Carbon Monoxide & Your Home: What You Need to Know.
That’s a Wrap! Did We Miss Anything? Let Us Know
Well, we’ve crossed into novelette territory and we’re nearing novella length with this resource guide, so it’s time to wrap it. We hope you found this info helpful and that it makes enjoying your gas- or wood-burning fireplace a breeze.
If you have any other questions you’d like to see answered here in the guide, please let us know! Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Firewood to answer all your questions about what you can and cannot burn in your fireplace. We aim to provide you with comprehensive Homeowner Resources.