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MAINTENANCE : Suggestions for Safe and Cozy Hearth and Home

January 22, 1994|Associated Press

Here are tips to keep your fireplace and chimney in good working order:

* Inspect the inside of your fireplace with a flashlight for loose bricks or gaps in the mortar. Also check the outside of the chimney also. If it passes through the house, inspect it wherever it's visible--usually in the attic. Check for problems at least once a year and after earthquakes. Repair any defects.

* With the damper open, you should be able to look up the chimney and see daylight. If you can't, there may be an obstruction such as a bird nest that needs to be removed.

* Have the chimney cleaned once a year--more often if you use it frequently or if you burn softwood. Creosote, a sticky black residue created by burning wood, is carried by the smoke and deposited in the chimney. It reduces the ability of the flue to draw off smoke. Because it is flammable, it can also cause a chimney fire. Call a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney.

* Make sure a fireplace is equipped with andirons or a grate to permit air to flow beneath the blaze and a screen or glass doors to contain sparks.

* Check the damper. This is the movable plate in the top of the fireplace that's kept open when a fire is burning; it's kept closed when there is no fire to minimize loss of room heat. If it's stiff, spray its hinge or pivot points with a silicone lubricant and work the handle until it moves freely. If it doesn't close completely, use a putty knife to remove deposits around it. If there are still gaps when it's shut, fill the spaces with furnace cement.

* Once a year, clean the walls of the firebox with a dry bristle brush or the dusting attachment of the vacuum cleaner. (Be sure to wash and dry the attachment before using it on any other surface.) To remove heavy soot and grime, shave two 6 1/2-ounce bars of naphtha soap into a Dutch oven or stockpot. Pour in 3 quarts of hot water and heat until the soap dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Then stir in 1 1/2 pounds of powdered pumice and 1 1/2 cups of household ammonia until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Brush the cleaner on with a paintbrush and let it stand about an hour. Then scrub off the mixture with a stiff brush and soap or liquid detergent. Rinse with a sponge and clear water.

* Remove ashes as soon as they're cold to prevent them from being spread throughout the house. One way to keep dust from rising is to sprinkle moist tea leaves over the ashes. Then, with the damper closed, gently sweep up as much as possible into a dustpan. To make the job easier, spread aluminum foil beneath the grate; when the ashes are cold, gather up the foil and discard it.

* Clean the fireplace and hearth at least once a week during the months that you use it.

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