As the weather gets colder and your fireplace becomes more than a decorative focal point, be sure it’s up for the task of keeping your family warm and toasty – and safe. Our list will help.
First, make sure your fireplace is properly maintained and ready for winter.
5 questions to ask
- Is your fireplace/chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional at least once a year?
- Is your wood well-seasoned – stored outdoors for at least 6 months?
- Do you look for signs of creosote or soot buildup? Creosote is a dark substance that can accumulate if wood isn’t burning completely. It’s a highly flammable fuel and can burn at about 2000°F. Soot, which can also be flammable, is softer than creosote. Both should be cleaned out of the chimney regularly.
- Has your chimney cap been inspected regularly or on a routine basis?
- Do you regularly clean the fireplace interior, including the floor?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you’re in good shape. Next, let’s talk about various types of wood.
What kind of wood is best?
Consider what type of fire you want so that you can select the right type of wood.
If the fire is more for aesthetics, cottonwood, maple and elm are good choices.
Is your fireplace being used more for heat? Oak or ash may be a better fit, since they’re heavier and burn hotter.
- Avoid using wood from recently cut trees. They contain high levels of moisture, which can lead to more smoke and deposits forming inside the chimney. Beware of synthetic logs, which can burn unevenly and produce high levels of carbon monoxide.
- Wood should be seasoned and dry – appear darker, have cracks at the ends, and will sound hollow when hit against another piece of wood.
How to safely build a fire
- Make sure the area surrounding the fireplace is free of flammable objects.
- Open the chimney flue prior to starting the fire to let fresh air feed the flames and allow smoke to exit. Close the flue once the fire is put out.
- Have a metal container handy when removing and storing hot ashes. Store it outside at a safe distance from your home, since embers and ashes can stay hot for awhile.
- Start your fire with newspaper, dry kindling or organic fire starters. Never use gasoline, kerosene or charcoal starter.
- Set up a stainless steel liner to help keep the fire and ashes contained.
- Install heat-proof glass doors to keep live embers from escaping the fireplace.
When applying these fireplace safety tips, remember to be extra cautious during the holidays. Keep decorations and stockings a safe distance away from a fire and don’t ever use your fireplace to burn Christmas trees or wrapping paper. Pine boughs and paper burn intensely and can lead to a roof or chimney fire.
Lastly, share these safety tips with your loved ones and enjoy!