Fireplace Safety Tips for Winter
The flickering glow of a well-maintained fireplace has such a comforting way of bringing families together. But warm and comfortable as they may seem, fireplaces are home amenities that need to be taken seriously. Without proper care and maintenance, these otherwise safe spaces to warm up on a cold winter night can evolve into a fire risk for your home. So, make sure you get the most of your fireplace this season and cozy up in comfort knowing you and your fireplace are safe.
Start With a Chimney Sweep and Visual Inspection
At least once a year, before the weather cools, hire a professional chimney sweep to clear the chimney of buildup and to check your bricks, cap and other materials for safety. Take care of any repairs before building your first fire. If you burn more than three chords of wood annually (one chord of wood is equivalent to a 4 feet x 4 feet x 8 feet pile of firewood), you’ll need at least two sweeps per year. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
Keep the damper closed when not using the fireplace. To help retain those hard-earned heating dollars, be sure the damper closes tightly when the fireplace is dormant. If you plan on replacing the damper, consider investing in one that closes at the top of the chimney, as this type tends to offer more reliable moisture seal to the elements outside than those that close at the base of the flue.
Build a better fire. First, always make sure your damper moves freely and is open before starting a fire. When laying the firewood, use dry, cured hardwoods like oak, elm or maple. These will burn cleaner and longer than softwoods like pine, spruce and cedar. Some experts recommend that you hold a lit twisted piece of newspaper in the chimney to get warm air rising before lighting the kindling in your fire. Remember — never use liquid fire starters indoors.
Manufactured logs and kindling are also an option. Not only are they convenient, but they emit lower rates of pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because they burn very hot, they should only be used one at a time.
Inspect the structure. If it’s been awhile since your chimney sweep stopped by, do a quick walk around yourself, looking for structural integrity both inside and out of the fireplace. Be sure the mortar and bricks are in good shape.
Check the flue. You should be able to see daylight when you look up your flue. If not, there may be combustible material at the top, like a bird’s nest or leaves. Have the sweep inspect the issue.
Reduce creosote build-up. Creos-what? Creosote is that tar-like, flaky stuff that can lead to chimney fires. One of the easiest ways to reduce this buildup is to avoid green or wet wood. Also, building smaller fires can help since they produce less smoke, and in turn, less creosote.
Burn a chimney cleaning log. Manufactured chimney “sweeping” logs that have chemicals in them to reduce certain types of creosote can help. Just remember that none of these replace the need for an annual chimney cleaning. The resulting peace of mind when you’re cuddled up by the fire is worth it — promise!
Burn Your Firewood Wisely
Burning wood in your fireplace seems pretty simple, but it’s wise to know what type of wood you’re using and the firewood’s history, too. Use well-seasoned wood and be mindful not to burn garbage. Your chimney will be happier for it. Here are a few other things to think about when using your fireplace this season:
Use your fireplace tools. Standard fireplace tools consist of a poker, tongs, a broom and shovel. You may want to add a dust scoop and a good pair of gloves to your collection. These tools are there for your protection, but they only help you if they’re used consistently and correctly.
Practice smart hearth habits. Use a spark screen on top of the fireplace to keep burning embers from escaping up the chimney and a grate or glass doors on the front to keep sparks inside the wood box. A non-flammable rug adds even more protection for your floor.
Be earth-friendly. Avoid burning treated wood, plastic or garbage, which can release harmful toxins. And check to see if your state has no burn days or other environmental restrictions for wood-burning fireplaces or stoves.
Check your smoke detectors. Regularly checking your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is important. Why not tie that check into your first fire of the season maintenance routine?
Keep fire extinguishers handy. Be sure to have a few fully charged, annually-inspected fire extinguishers nearby and in plain sight. Store them near doorways leading into the area with the fireplace. Also, keep one near the fireplace itself, taking care to locate it in an area that will stay cool, even when the fire’s burning brightly. Make sure adults know where these are and that they know how to use them.
By keeping these fireplace safety tips top of mind, you’re ready to fire up your fireplace and make warm, cozy memories all winter long. Because some types of fireplaces pose unique risks, they may require an additional policy to cover them completely. So check in with your agent to ensure you have coverage that fits your home’s unique needs. With these helpful tips, we hope you have a happy and safe season around the hearth.