8 Things to Understand about Having a Wood-Burning Fireplace

Many older homes are still equipped with their original, wood-burning fireplaces. This fixture adds charm while also promising a heat source during a winter power outage.

But wood fireplaces also require extra maintenance and proper safety practices. If you have a wood-burning fireplace in your house, you should know exactly what to expect.

  1. You need all the right parts.

Operating a wood-burning fireplace is more complex than simply flipping a switch and enjoying the heat. You need all the right parts for safety and comfort, including:

  • Grate: This is the ribbed, metal stand on the bottom of the fireplace that holds your wood. Placing wood on a fireplace grate instead of on the ground ensures better oxygen for a hotter, longer-lasting heat source.
  • Guard: The fireplace guard is typically made of metal with glass windows. It covers the opening of your fireplace, so you can enjoy a fire without worrying about flying embers.
  • Poker Set: This does not refer to colorful plastic chips and cards, but rather a set of long iron poles that can be used to stoke and maintain a burning fire.
  • Alarms: If you’ve properly cared for and maintained your fireplace, you should not be concerned about it starting a house fire. However, accidents happen, and having a working fire alarm in the same room as your fireplace could save lives.
  • Chimney Cap: Install a wire mesh cap at the top of your chimney that allows proper airflow but prevents debris and animals from getting inside.

These parts are just the basics, but you might need more to operate a clean, safe wood fire. You can contact a fireplace parts provider or chimney sweep for further recommendations.

  1. They’re really not that efficient.

Many homeowners believe that having a wood-burning fireplace means they can save on heating costs in the winter. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most wood-burning fireplaces are energy hogs, using only 15 percent of the energy burned for heat. Gas or electric fireplaces are much more efficient.

Not all heat is lost, however, and you can maximize the warmth you feel from the fire by circulating the air in the room. Turn your ceiling fans to run clockwise on a low speed. This redirects the warm air that collects at the ceiling (since warm air rises) towards your living space.

  1. Don’t store wood near your house.

Wood stacks make a tempting home for critters, spiders, and insects like termites. You’re likely to have a pest infestation inside your house if you stack firewood against the siding. Instead, stack it in a covered space at least 50 feet from your home.

Along with storing your wood in the right place, try to choose firewood that burns for a long time with less smoke. Oak is best because it’s hard and dense, containing very little moisture. Pine is an affordable option, but it’s not recommended because it’s green and will smoke considerably.

  1. You should have it cleaned and maintained once a year.

Call a chimney sweep or fireplace specialist once a year to clean and maintain your fireplace. This is essential if you want to prevent smoke or fires inside your home. Over time, a fireplace builds up soot and creosote in the chimney. On occasion, animals or birds may build a nest or get stuck inside the chimney as well.

Any of these problems can prevent smoke from venting properly, so it ends up inside your house. This is a huge safety hazard and can cause irreparable damage to your home. Proper care and yearly maintenance will prevent this dangerous and expensive problem.

  1. Exterior influences are a factor.

Tree limbs, roof shingles, and loose or cracked chimney bricks can also inhibit your chimney’s ability to vent properly.

At least once a year, and after every serious storm, check the area around the chimney for damage. Trim back tree limbs as well to eliminate a tree fire or blocked airflow.

  1. Your insurance rates will rise.

Because wood fireplaces must be properly maintained and cared for to work properly, insurance companies see them as a serious threat. Therefore, a wood-burning fireplace typically adds about $100 per year to your insurance premium, which is worthwhile if you love your fireplace, but you should be aware of the expense.

  1. You don’t have to keep a wood fireplace.

Some people love their wood-burning fireplaces, but if you’re not one of them, don’t worry – you don’t have to keep it. A wood fireplace can easily be converted to a gas or electric unit with a simple insert. It’s a moderately-priced upgrade, but when you consider the savings on your insurance premium and yearly maintain, it’s a bargain!

  1. You can’t beat that cozy feeling.

But then again, you really can’t compare the feeling of sitting next to a live, burning fireplace. It makes long winters seem warm, cozy, and absolutely wonderful!