Keep Your Fireplace Safe This Winter

Fireplaces are designed to provide a safe source of heat all winter long. Older homes or poorly maintained fireplaces can be hazardous though. From house fires to smoke inhalation, the potential dangers are a major threat. We’ve created a great list of tips to keep you and your family safe and warm this season:

Start outside…

It’s unlikely you spend a ton of time on your roof or around the chimney, so unfortunately issues can arise without you knowing. Your chimney cap plays a very important role in deterring animals from building nests, and rain or snow from coming inside – so be sure this cap is present, intact and in good working condition before you spark your first fire of the season. The cap also prevents burning embers from floating up out of the chimney onto your roof or yard. If you’re going to do the check-up yourself, BE CAREFUL and follow our ladder safety guidelines. But when in doubt, always call a professional.

For a more thorough checklist on your chimney’s exterior, visit our friends at HouseLogic.com for more information.

Interior inspection next…

Similarly to the exterior inspection, you must break out the flashlight and do a thorough inspection of the fireplace and interior of the chimney itself before you start the first fire of the season. Signs of moisture, animals or damage to the interior walls need to be addressed immediately. If your flue damper and cap are working properly, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any of these problems. The flue damper must be closed and SEALED when the fireplace is not in use or you risk losing a lot of heat from your home – talk about high utility bills!

Once you’ve given yourself the go-ahead…

Now that you’ve deemed the fireplace and chimney to be in safe working condition, it’s important to have a few daily/weekly maintenance tricks up your sleeve to avoid a mess or burns, but more importantly, fire hazards:

 

  • Be sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working. These are of the utmost importance during the winter months when you’re unlikely to open a window for 3+ months while simultaneously burning a fire almost daily.
  • If you don’t already have one, invest in a great set of fireplace tools. This should include at least a broom, shovel, tongs and iron poker. These tools are meant to keep you and your family safe from accidental burns, as well as keeping the fire under control and the area clean. Check Amazon for an affordable set – these make a great gift for new homeowners, and Christmas is just around the corner!
  • In addition to the tools, make sure you have a screen! We all know that listening to the snap, crackle and pop of a fireplace can be soothing, but having a spark or ember pop onto your living room rug… it goes without saying that this can be disastrous. 
  • Never assume the ashes are cool. Always give the fireplace 24 hours to cool after you’ve put out the last fire. Embers can smolder underneath, and sweeping those up can be a fire hazard.
  • If you’re cleaning the surrounding brick, or if your fireplace has glass doors… common sense should tell you to use cleaner specifically formulated for fire places. Spraying extremely flammable or toxic chemicals into a fire is not worth it. Visit our friends at Real Simple for more information on how to speed clean your fireplace.

A few common sense no-nos…

  • Never leave the fire unattended – if you need to leave the house, be sure to put the fire out completely.
  • Never let children or pets near the fire.
  • Don’t burn garbage, even paper products. 
  • Don’t burn your Christmas tree.
  • Don’t spray gasoline, kerosene or any other type of accelerant. Dry wood, kindling and fireplace specific ignition logs are all you need.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the house in case of emergency.
  • Keep any flammable objects or furniture at least 2-3 feet away from the fireplace. This includes Christmas stockings! 
  • Do not close the damper until you are SURE the fire is not expelling any more smoke. Smoke inhalation is a silent killer.

The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association created a wonderful fact sheet you cant print and keep in your home to refer back to. Stay safe this winter, and all year long!

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