Safety is important whenever you build a fire, and it’s just as important with your outdoor fireplace as with any indoor fireplace. The same is true for fireplace maintenance. Here are some tips on maintaining your outdoor fireplace; tips that are relevant no matter what type of outdoor fireplace it may be.
Do Outdoor Fireplaces Need as Much Maintenance as Interior Ones?
The answer may surprise you. Yes, absolutely! Outdoor fireplaces require the same - and in some cases more - maintenance than interior ones. Just because a fireplace is located outdoors doesn’t reduce any risks associated with poor maintenance. Many outdoor fireplaces are in close proximity to the home, if not directly adjacent to it. If you leave your outdoor fireplace in disrepair, it increases your risks of fire and damage.
What If You Don’t Use It Often?
Even if you don’t use your outdoor fireplace frequently, unused fireplaces or flues on your property should always be maintained. Outdoor fireplaces have unique challenges from additional weathering and debris build up. Even if you never plan to use it again, poor maintenance can make an outdoor fireplace an eyesore. What was once a benefit to your home’s value can, over time, become a detriment as well as a hazard.
Cleaning Your Outdoor Fireplace
Wood Outdoor Fireplace
Whenever you use your outdoor fireplace, always clean out the ashes and anything combusted. Because they are exposed to more of the elements, outdoor fireplaces are more likely to develop mold or mildew issues that need cleaning. These issues need to be taken care of regularly so they don’t grow out of control. Be sure to burn safe materials in your wood outdoor fireplace. As with indoor fireplaces, you’ll need to keep an eye on outdoor fireplaces and watch for creosote build-up.
Don’t forget to care for your wood as well as the wood outdoor fireplace. Proper wood storage is important and will prolong the life and quality of your firewood. Stacking it up against your outdoor fireplace may seem convenient, but the wood can trap moisture which can cause pest infestation or deterioration of the stone, brick, and masonry of your outdoor fireplace or chimney.
Gas Outdoor Fireplace
While you won’t have to worry about ash, there are still cleaning requirements for the proper maintenance of gas outdoor fireplaces. Proper ventilation is also a very important factor. Exhaust fans need to be kept free of debris buildup. Outdoor gas fireplaces can run into trouble with ventilation issues of any kind which means it’s critical to avoid blockages.
In addition, you’ll need to make sure to check your user manual to ensure you’re cleaning any internal fake logs and components appropriately. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines will help to reduce the risk of malfunction.
Maintain Proper Ventilation
Regardless of the type of outdoor fireplace you have, make sure the flue is always clear of twigs, birds and other potential obstructions. The chances of uninvited guests making themselves at home in your outdoor fireplace are greatly increased due to the accessibility and convenience, not to mention the sturdy construction. Critters are smart shelter seekers!
You may not realize it but air quality, puff-backs or other issues are not isolated to indoor fireplaces, they’re just as possible with outdoor fireplaces as well. Poor ventilation can also make it nearly impossible to maintain a proper flame. Without a proper flame, excess smoke can occur. Another factor of an improper flame is lack of heat and therefore lack of smoke rising. If smoke can’t flow upwards, it will flow back out through the firebox and into your seating area or party.
Outdoor Fireplace Safety Tips
Keep Growth Far Away
A safety hazard unique to outdoor fireplaces is nature itself. Grass, weeds, leaning trees or low-hanging branches are all unique risks to outdoor fireplaces. The flora and fauna aren’t things you have to take into consideration with your indoor fireplace - other than a fast-growing Philodendron or frolicking Fido. However, with outdoor fireplaces it’s important that you don’t let overgrowth create a fire hazard.
Weeds and vines grow quickly. If it has been a few weeks since you used your outdoor fireplace, the speed at which they can creep up and into the chimney may surprise you. Make grooming the area around your outdoor fireplace part of your regular yard and lawn maintenance to avoid dangerous overgrowth.
You Still Need a Fireplace Screen
You know that in your home fireplace screens protect you from sparks and accidental fires. With outdoor fireplaces, sparks are just as much of a risk – sometimes more. Wind can unpredictably blow sparks onto nearby furniture or landscaping. It’s important never to use an outdoor fireplace without a fireplace screen.
No Unattended Flames
Fires are unpredictable by nature, and all the nature that is around an outdoor fireplace can increase the unpredictability. A sudden breeze can send sparks flying to nearby grass, leaves, or patio furniture starting an unwanted and destructive fire that could quickly destroy your yard and even your nearby home. For this reason, it is important to never leave your outdoor fireplace if there’s an active flame.
Similarly, just like indoor fireplaces and campfires, when you are done, the fire in an outdoor fireplace needs to be completely extinguished before you can consider it out. Smoldering embers can stay hot all night long. Burying hot coals doesn’t put them out; it simply insulates them and allows them to remain hot – and therefore potentially hazardous – for many hours.
Outdoor fireplaces can bring many hours of enjoyment. They are perfect for entertaining, cooking over, or simply relaxing by. They can create a focal point for an outdoor living area or be a hub of evening gatherings. They can extend your “patio season” into the fall by providing a source of warmth on chilly evenings. Just remember to properly extinguish the fire and coals before leaving the area or turning in for the night. Also, make maintenance part of the normal routine for your outdoor fireplace to extend its life and ensure the safety of your home and property.
Summer is a Great Season for Wood Stove Maintenance – Call Doctor Flue!
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