So I've never had anything besides a clean natural gas "simulated" fireplace. but i just got a home with what looks like a good old fashioned log burner. I havent even peeked inside yet, but my first concern is how messy is it? I'll probably have hardwood floors in the room, how do you clean that ash up? Just get a shovel out? I wont use it all the time (well, maybe not?)
Also, what should I inspect on the chimney so that I don't vent any superheated gases and burn the place down?
We've lived with a wood-burning fireplace for almost 23 years and used it every winter. Our suggestion is to contact a reliable chimney-sweep and have the fireplace cleaned and inspected immediately. We've had ours cleaned and inspected at least every three years, and I believe that the regular routine cleaning/insepction has helped prevent problems.
Maybe some of the firefighter posters have other great ideas.
As far as cleaning the ashes, we lay down some damp newspaper around the hearth and on the floor, and then line a really large trash bag with damp newspaper. This helps trap the ash and dust while you are cleaning. Instead of using one of those rinky-dink shovels that comes with the fireplace poker set, we scoop ashes out with a plain ol' dust pan. Makes for a much faster clean up.