There are few things as enjoyable as a nice wood fire in the fireplace on a cold day during the holiday season. The warmth of the fire on your hands and feet. The pops and crackles. The beauty of the orange glow. For many there is a feeling of nostalgia, memories of sitting with family and friends around the fireplace on a snowy day.
However nice a fire may be, you must never overlook the safety and care needed. As you are getting your fireplace going, please keep in mind these tips.
- If you have not already done so, have your chimney check by a professional. Chimneys should be checked annually for creosote build-up. A chimney and hearth specialist can not only clean your chimney, but check for any damage that might have been sustained during the off-season. They can also check for nests or other blockages which could hinder the proper working of the fireplace or even be the cause of a chimney fire.
- Clear the area around the fireplace of anything flammable. This includes magazines, books, newspapers, clothing or other such items. Even when being careful, an ember or spark at just the wrong time can ignite, catching you unaware.
- Clean out ashes from previous fires. Although some ash is fine, the wood needs good air flow all around for optimum performance. Ash that is piled up to the wood grate prevents air from flowing underneath the logs. This can increase smoke levels from the fire.
- Use seasoned (dry and well-aged) wood. Wood that is damp or green increases smoke which contributes to creosote build-up in the chimney.
- Check to make sure the damper and flue are open and unobstructed. These should remain open until the fire, including live embers, have stopped burning completely. This will ensure smoke leaves the house through the chimney, minimizing smoke entering the room.
- When building the fire, start with newspaper, kindling, and smaller pieces of wood. This will help to warm up the chimney, which is necessary for proper drafting.
- After you have started your fire, add larger pieces of wood carefully.
- Use fireplace tools to maintain your fire. These tools, such as a poker, tongs, shovel and broom, help to handle the logs as well as keep your hearth clear of debris.
- ALWAYS use a fireplace screen while the fire is burning. The screen serves two main purposes: 1) keeping the fire in the fireplace, and 2) keeping everything, and everyone, out of the fireplace. This keeps embers which become air borne from leaving the fireplace. It also keeps children and pets from getting into the fireplace.
- NEVER leave a fire unattended. Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Although this has become more common, many homes still do not have functioning detectors for smoke or carbon monoxide. If you do have them, be sure to test them regularly (at least monthly is advisable) and replace the batteries at least once a year.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
- If children are often present in the home, teach them fire safety and communicate early about the potential danger of fires.
As you enjoy your fireplace this holiday season and throughout the winter months, keep these tips in mind. This will add to your enjoyment for years to come!