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Fall Fireplace Service can Prevent Winter Frustration

Here are a few tips so that you can enjoy a trouble-free fireplace season this year:

If your fireplace has louvers or grills on the front, it is a “circulating” fireplace, which means it is designed to circulate room air around the combustion area. This is true of both gas and wood fireplaces. Any home, but particularly a home with pets, will tend to gather “dust bunnies” in areas that are not vacuumed regularly. If you have a circulating fireplace and especially if your fireplace has a fan or blower kit, it will pull whatever is in the air – including dust - into that area. A shop vacuum or the hose extension on your regular vacuum will help clean out the area in front and behind the louvers or grills to prevent a colony of “dust bunnies” from accumulating and keep the fan from becoming too dusty to work properly.

If you have a remote control for your fireplace, remember to change the batteries in the transmitter (handheld) and the receiver, which is probably hidden in your fireplace somewhere (some receivers are 110v, so no batteries are needed, but they are not as common). If the batteries in your remote control are unusual, try your local drug store for a replacement - they tend to keep a wide variety of unusual small batteries for hearing aids and other medical devices.

Wood fireplaces: Just like masonry fireplaces, manufactured fireplace chimneys need to be swept regularly. If you use your fireplace quite a bit, your chimney should be swept once a year, perhaps more if you use unseasoned, “soft” woods like pine in your fireplace instead of seasoned hardwoods like oak or hickory. You can find a Certified chimney professional by going to the Chimney Safety Institute of America website.

Most manufactured wood burning fireplaces have what are called refractory firebrick panels in the sides and bottom to simulate the appearance of brick. These panels are generally ¾” thick or thicker and protect the sheet metal behind them from the high heat of a roaring fire. Small cracks are possible even in brand new firebrick panels, but they are normal and safe, but large cracks – larger than ¼” wide – should be repaired or the panel should be replaced. Many manufacturers have replacement panels available so that the new brick panel will match your existing panels. If you feel up to it, you may use a commercially available firebrick repair compound to fix minor cracks yourself.

If you have glass doors on your wood burning fireplaces, see the guidelines about glass, below.

Gas fireplaces: There are different sorts of gas fireplaces, and the guidelines for services are somewhat different or each type. If a model has a standing pilot - that is, a pilot light that stays on all the time - then the most important regular service item is the pilot assembly. Some units have an intermittent pilot that is on only when the unit is burning, some use electronic ignition to light the burner directly without a pilot system; these will not need service as often.

For the last two decades, all unvented gas fireplaces and gas logs have had an Oxygen Depletion Sensor pilot assembly to monitor safe operation of the appliance. This assembly should be cleaned every year to keep the system from becoming more sensitive and causing nuisance shutdowns. If you are particularly handy (you can change you own oil or spark plugs in the car or can sew with a machine), this is a good homeowner project. The goal is to clear out the accumulation of sediment in the tiny pilot orifice (where the gas comes out). A can of compressed air – like those used for keyboard cleaning – may be used with the included straw to direct air toward the orifice to clear it out (this must be done while the pilot is OFF). If the pilot assembly is at least five years old or if you are close to salt water, this might not be effective any more and you may need professional help!

Unvented logs are designed to burn very cleanly, so if there are any soot (black) deposits on your logs, stop using them immediately and make sure your logs and/or burner are set up correctly. If you are not absolutely sure that everything is correct, please stop using your fireplace until a professional technician can fix the situation.

Other fireplaces and gas logs need cleaning, too, but perhaps not as often, depending on how much they are used. Vented gas logs should be cleaned regular if there is any accumulation of soot; there are commercially available spray log cleaners for homeowners to use.

Direct vent gas fireplaces have a fixed glass panels that will likely need annual cleaning to stay clear. If the glass is collecting a black residue (soot), the fireplace should be adjusted to burn more cleanly. If the glass has a gray or white film, there are chemicals in the gas which produce the residue, which is completely normal. Do not using glass cleaners containing ammonia to clean your glass. Water and a soft cloth will sometimes suffice, adding a little vinegar to the water will help, but tough deposits may require special fireplace glass cleaner, available at you local fireplace store. Be sure to dry your glass completely and check for streaks and fingerprints before re-installing the glass!

Electric fireplaces don’t require much maintenance, but Fall is a good time to replace all of the light bulbs to reduce the likelihood of having one go out in the middle of fireplace season. Some newer electric fireplaces are illuminated entirely by LEDs, in which case, you don't even have to replace light bulbs. If you have a remote control, replace the batteries in that and you're done!

Whether you have a wood, gas or electric fireplace, if you have any questions or concerns about how to take care of your fireplace, most manufacturers have a website where you can download installation/operation manuals for current models. If your fireplace is older than two years old, your best source of information can be found by doing a “dealer” search on your fireplace manufacturer’s website. Any reputable fireplace dealer (like COASTROAD) will have factory-trained technicians to help you with you questions and to provide in-home service if necessary.

With a little attention to your fireplace now, you’ll be able to enjoy a trouble free burn season and get the most from your investment.

You can find a certified fireplace professional by going to the National Fireplace Institute website.

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About the Author

Tom Parks, COASTROAD Hearth & Patio
4733 Main Street
Shallotte, NC 28470

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