Winter weather can take a toll on your fireplace. Year-round maintenance and annual chimney inspections will help prevent wear and tear and keep your home warm.
Gaps in the mortar between your hearth and firebox can let smoke into your house. These gaps are caused by the expansion and contraction of materials and are normal, but they should be repaired as soon as possible. For professional help, contact Fireplace Repair.
Firebrick and refractory mortar are designed to withstand high temperatures, but this constant exposure takes its toll over time. Small cracks in the brick and mortar can be repaired using a special high-temperature caulk that is formulated to resist heat. This type of caulk also contains silica to prevent moisture penetration into the mortar joints.
When a fireplace is frequently used, expansion and contraction of the brick and mortar occur, especially in the mortar joints. When these cycles are not addressed, the cracks widen and deteriorate the mortar between bricks. Once the mortar between the bricks begins to deteriorate, water can enter the joint and cause more damage.
A qualified chimney sweep will inspect the fireplace and chimney before they are used. They will look for any cracks in the brick or mortar that require repointing, as well as check to make sure the damper works properly. They will also ensure the chimney is free of creosote buildup, which can cause a chimney fire.
Some minor repairs and modifications that can be done by a homeowner include replacing a damaged or worn-out fireplace brick panel, resetting loose or broken bricks, adding courses of brick to an uneven chimney, and repairing cracked or missing mortar in a brick fireplace wall. Some of these projects pose a fire safety risk and should only be attempted by a homeowner with some DIY experience.
When attempting any DIY fireplace project, homeowners should always exercise caution and wear safety equipment such as eye protection or a dust mask. It is also important to read any manufacturer’s instructions that come with any tools or products you will be using.
If you have a fireplace that is masonry in nature, make sure you are aware of the differences between a masonry fireplace and an insert fireplace. While there are advantages to both, it is important to know what kind of fireplace you have before you begin any improvements or repair work.
A masonry fireplace is built into the walls of a home and is typically made of firebricks with refractory mortar in between each brick. It is important to know this distinction because an unlabeled fireplace may have a gas insert instead of firebricks, which could present a fire safety hazard and must be addressed by a professional.
While fireplaces can add architectural charm to a home, they’re also important for heating it during the colder months. However, when problems arise within the chimney system, like condensation and leaking, the results can be serious.
Water condensation is a natural phenomenon that forms when water molecules cool down from the hot, liquid state into the cold, solid state. The cooling process is what makes it possible for dew drops to form on plant life, for example. Water condensation can occur inside the house, too. It can be caused by things such as plumbing leaks, a clogged dryer vent, or damp basements. A good way to reduce moisture in your home is to cover bare soil with a plastic vapour barrier, use a sump pump in the basement, and make sure gutters are working properly.
The amount of water vapour in the air also has an impact on condensation. This is why it’s important to use dry, seasoned firewood for your fireplace. Damp or fresh firewood contains a higher moisture content, which can lead to more water vapour in the flue during combustion. This leads to more condensation within the chimney.
Another factor that can cause condensation is the type of gas you use in your fireplace. Vent-free gas appliances, which are popular with many homeowners, can produce more water vapour than a traditional wood-burning fireplace. When this happens, it’s often a sign that there is a problem with the venting of the gas.
A common symptom of condensation is finding a white, foggy film on the inside of your fireplace glass. This can be a sign that you have a problem with the chimney’s flue gas, which could be contaminated by byproducts of combustion, such as sulphur.
A professional technician can test your gas fireplace to determine what is causing this issue. The technician may recommend installing a chimney liner to improve the chimney’s efficiency and prevent excessive condensation. Chimney liners isolate the chimney walls from the hot gases in the flue, which slows down the cooling of the walls and reduces condensation. The technician will also inspect the chimney’s crown, which is the surface at the top of the chimney, for cracks. Cracks in the chimney crown can allow water to seep through the flue lining into the chimney and damage your walls and ceiling.
Smoke in your fireplace can be a sign that there is something wrong with your chimney. During normal operation, fireplaces produce carbon monoxide, water vapour, smoke, and soot. These are all meant to be expelled from the fireplace, but if the draft is weak or the chimney is not working correctly, these substances can end up back in the home. This can lead to expensive water damage or even fire. A smoky fireplace can also be dangerous to your health, as wood smoke contains air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
If your fireplace is smoking and you can’t figure out what’s wrong, it’s a good idea to call a professional chimney sweep for an inspection. They can help pinpoint the problem and offer viable, long-term solutions.
The most common reason for a smoky fireplace is that you are using green or wet wood. This type of wood can have up to 25% moisture content and produce more smoke than seasoned logs that have been dried for several months. This problem can be corrected by removing the damper, allowing it to completely open before lighting a fire, and coating the damper hinge with a creeping lubricant such as WD-40.
Another common cause of smoky fireplaces is a low indoor-outdoor temperature differential. To improve drafting, make sure the fireplace is used only on warm days and that the fire is started after a rolled-up newspaper has been held in the flue for one to two minutes. This will increase the heat in the flue and help it rise more quickly.
In gas fireplaces, the simplest way to stop smoke from returning to the living area is to make sure the pilot light is lit and that it stays lit. If the pilot light turns on but then goes out, this is likely due to a faulty thermocouple, which converts heat into electricity to keep the gas valve open. Cleaning the thermocouple may fix this, but in some cases, a new thermopile is needed. A professional can replace it and return proper gas flow to your fireplace.
Although gas fireplaces have become safer in recent years with shut-off devices and oxygen depletion sensors, they are not immune to leaks. Gas leaks can be very dangerous, especially for children and elderly adults. Knowing the warning signs of a gas leak can help homeowners quickly get their home safe again.
A foul smell like rotten eggs is one of the most common indicators of a gas leak in a fireplace. If this odour is present in the house, turn off the gas fireplace immediately and open windows to air out the area. This should give you a few hours to call a professional to come and fix the issue.
If you hear a whistling or hissing sound near the fireplace or gas line, it is another good sign of a leak. The yellowing of plants or grass outside the home or around the gas line is also a symptom that there is a problem. Natural gas is strong enough to kill plants, so a buildup of it in the soil near the gas line is dangerous.
While there are some gas leaks that can be fixed by tightening the valve and lines, major leaks should be handled by a professional to avoid safety hazards in your home. A professional will test the thermocouple or thermopile (if your fireplace is newer and has one of these), make sure all wiring is secure, and check for a possible clog in the burner orifice.
If you suspect a gas leak, turn off the gas fireplace and all appliances that use gas. Call your PSE&G representative and don’t search for the source of the leaking gas, as this can expose you to it. In addition, do not smoke or use any electronic devices in the affected room, as these can spark an explosion. Finally, don’t leave the area until you’ve been reassured that it is safe to return.