Prepare Your Wood-Burning Fireplace for Winter

Before you light up those logs this winter, make sure you properly prepare your wood-burning fireplace.


On a chilly winter night, nothing beats a warm fire. However, before you turn on your wood-burning fireplace this season, be sure it is properly prepared. You could end up causing serious damage to your chimney and property if you don’t.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), one of the top causes of house fires caused by home heating equipment is failure to clean chimneys properly. Creosote, a highly combustible residue that builds up in the flue that lines the chimney, is the principal cause of chimney fires. A chimney fire might start if the internal flue temperature rises too high or if sparks contact the creosote. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests that householders sweep their chimneys at least once a year, at the start of the winter season, to remove creosote and other debris.

Here’s how to get your wood-burning fireplace ready for the winter.

Clean Up the Fireplace

It’s time to wipe out the hearth or fireplace floor if mounds of ash and residue remain.

Use a shovel to scoop up any remaining wood chips or logs before vacuuming the ash. Keeping your wood-burning fireplace clean of ash improves airflow and reduces allergens and aromas from the charred wood fibers, resulting in a better burn.

It’s tempting to reach for your vacuum cleaner. When cleaning a wood-burning fireplace, however, you should only use an ash vacuum. Anything else will release those little ash particles into the atmosphere. Although there is no risk of fire when vacuuming ash from the previous season, there is a risk when vacuuming hot ash.

Examine the Chimney

Examine the construction of the chimney in addition to cleaning it. Creosote accumulation, cracked or missing flue tiles, exterior masonry cracks, missing bricks, and damage to the chimney cap or roof are all things that a qualified chimney sweep checks for. It’s also crucial to check the damper that regulates airflow into and out of the chimney to make sure it opens and closes smoothly.

Also, inspect the mesh screen and fireplace doors for any gaps. You risk serious damage to your chimney and home if any of these concerns are not properly treated.

Sweep the Walls Down

Learning how to sweep your own chimney can save you time if you burn a lot in the winter. That way, you won’t have to wait for a professional appointment all of the time. You will, of course, save money.

Because you’ll be working from the top down, you’ll need to be able to safely access your roof. Remove the cap and connect the chimney cleaning brush to the end of one extension rod with the fireplace door closed and damper open. Push the brush down into the flue, scrubbing up and down as you go. Scrub the sides as you add extension rods until you reach the bottom.

Examine the inside of the chimney with a powerful flashlight. If creosote (the black/brown residue that can be crusty and flaky, tar-like, or even shiny and solidified) is still visible, continue the operation until all creosote has been removed.

Chimney Cap and Screen Inspection and Installation

Chimney caps, which are commonly constructed of steel or copper mesh, are protective covers that fit over the top of your chimney. A cap sits on top of the mesh ring, protecting your chimney from rain and downdrafts.

Moisture and animals getting into the chimney, missing guards, and rust are all common issues. If you already have a cap, check to see if it’s in good condition. If you need a replacement, take accurate measurements of your chimney so that you can purchase a cap that fits properly.

Tools and Techniques

Use just an ash vacuum: The stainless steel Plow & Hearth Heavy-Duty, Heat-Resistant Fireplace Warm Ash Vacuum includes a metal lined hose and can handle ash up to 140 degrees F.

Purchase the appropriate brush by inspecting your chimney and determining which brush is best for you. For a clay flue liner, use a metal-bristle brush, and for a metal liner, use a brush with plastic bristles. Make sure the brush has enough cleaning rods to cover the full chimney length.

Tarps, sheets, and duct tape: When sweeping the chimney, duct tape poly sheeting over the wood-burning fireplace and insert the ash vacuum line to prevent ash from drifting into the home. Duct tape the area around the fireplace.

Put on the appropriate attire: Wear old clothes because you’ll become dirty. Wear a mask to avoid inhaling ash or soot, and don’t forget your goggles and gloves. To illuminate your path, use a headlight flashlight.

Scratch the surface of the flue with a metal poker to see how much creosote has built up. You can do the chimney sweep yourself if the scratch is under 1/8-inch deep. You have considerable creosote buildup if it’s darker or has a glossy, tar-like look.

It’s time to enlist the help of experts.

Call in the pros if creosote accumulation is thicker than 1/8 inch, you can’t reach all regions of the flue, you can’t get to the cap due to the pitch and height of your roof, the bricks and mortar are severely damaged, or you’ve never had the chimney thoroughly inspected. Before you light your first fire of the season, have a certified chimney sweep inspect your chimney for deterioration and venting issues, assess its condition, and make any necessary repairs. For more information on How To Prepare Your Wood-Burning Fireplace for Winter visit

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