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Cold comfort: Make sure your fireplace or wood stove is ready for the big chill

A Slayton gas fireplace by Kozy Heat uses glass media. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

A Slayton gas fireplace by Kozy Heat uses glass media. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Although the Albuquerque area has enjoyed warm temperatures lately, freezing weather is not too far away.

That means sweaters, scarves, hot chocolate and a way to keep homes warm and cozy. Although many households use a furnace to heat their space, fireplaces and wood-burning and pellet stoves can be used as secondary heat sources and to create a cozy ambience. There are steps homeowners can take to prepare their fireplaces or stoves for the cold days ahead.

Tracy Miller, head salesman at Dreamstyle Remodeling, said one of the most important things is timing.

A variety of Blaze King wood stoves at Dreamstyle Remodeling are ready to take the chill out of frigid fall and winter evenings. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

A variety of Blaze King wood stoves at Dreamstyle Remodeling are ready to take the chill out of frigid fall and winter evenings. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Take care of stuff now before you really, really need it (fireplace or stove),” he said. “Don’t wait.”

Jim Lyle, owner of Mountain West Sales, said the first thing anyone with a fireplace should do is have their chimney cleaned by a professional.

“The rule of thumb is that if you burned a cord of wood, it’s time to get it cleaned,” he said. “It won’t work as well and it’s also a hazard if creosote is built up in there.”

Creosote is a highly combustible substance that builds up in a chimney after repeated use. For a pellet stove, he said it should be cleaned every time a ton of pellets is burned.

In addition, Miller said owners of wood and pellet stoves should make sure the gaskets on the doors are air tight. Without properly working gaskets, Miller said smoke will enter the home.

“Also make sure there are no loose pipes and the fan is working,” Miller said. “With a fireplace, you want to make sure the doors are closing properly.”

Lyle said before the first use of the season, homeowners need to give their stoves a complete cleaning, which is outlined in the owner’s manual.

“You have a cleaning you do every two or three days,” he said. “But this is much more detailed and thorough.”

Lyle said bricks inside wood stoves should have no cracks or not be crumbling and that owners should inspect fireplaces for cracks.

“It’s also a good time to check your wood,” he said. “It should be properly seasoned, not wet at all and not fresh.”

He said wood takes eight months to a year to season. As for the type of wood to burn, Miller said it’s ideal to use hardwoods, like oak, which can be difficult to get in New Mexico.

He said most people will be able to purchase juniper or cedar, which will work, but homeowners should stay away from pine.

Safety experts recommend having fireplaces and stoves inspected before use. This is an Alpha gas fireplace by Kozy Heat at Dreamstyle Remodeling. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Safety experts recommend having fireplaces and stoves inspected before use. This is an Alpha gas fireplace by Kozy Heat at Dreamstyle Remodeling. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Once residents get their fires going, there are safety precautions they should take, said Albuquerque Fire Department spokeswoman Melissa Romero.

She recommends getting fireplaces, pellet and wood-burning stoves inspected by a certified technician to make sure they are working properly.

“And be sure to use only wood in there or pellets,” she said. “Don’t burn clothing or other items in there.”

She said all units should have either a door or screen to prevent ashes from flying into a room. Stoves and fireplaces, Romero said, should be cleaned often, with old ashes scooped out and placed inside a metal container that is stored outside away from any flammable or combustible material.

She said it’s also a good time to change the batteries in smoke detectors and review the family evacuation plan.

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