Hopefully, you haven’t fired up the fireplace without first having it checked out.  Wood burning fireplaces are designed to furnish years of comfort and leisure.  However, there are several things to consider to be sure your fireplace works properly. 

Fireplaces require preventive maintenance, such as being inspected and cleaned annually.  Chimney sweeps inspect and clean the chimney as necessary by removing creosote and leaves, branches, or nests.   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that about seven per cent of home fires are caused by creosote buildup.

Creosote is a flammable substance that is hard, dark, and crust-like. It is produced during incomplete combustion of wood.   An accumulation of creosote can cause a dangerous chimney fire, so it must be removed.  Burning dry hardwoods that contain lower moisture content will minimize creosote.  A hot fire produces less creosote than smoldering woods. Increase the air supply if necessary so that wood burns more completely.  Wood that has been dried and seasoned for about six months is best to burn.  It is darker and will have cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood, according to tips from the EPA. 

Common sense tips on use of a wood fireplace include:

  • Make sure area around fireplace is clear of potentially flammable materials, i.e., newspapers, books and furniture.  A good rule of thumb is to keep such items at least two feet away.
  •  Be sure the damper is open prior to starting a fire.
  • Do not use flammable fluids to start a fire.
  •  Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home.
  •  Use a fireplace grate.
  •  Always use a screen around fireplace to keep sparks from flying out.
  •  Clean out ashes from previous fires.  Do not leave smoking embers unattended.
  •  Damper should be left open until ashes are completely cooled down.
  •  Never put wrapping paper, plastic items, or other things in the fire that could create toxic chemicals in the smoke.
  •  Use proper fireplace tools when rearranging partially burning wood.
  •  Be sure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house. 

The U.S. Fire Administration and some fire department chiefs recommends  building a “romantic fire” rather than a “roaring blaze” to keep the fireplace from being overloaded and building up too much heat.   Their experts also advise parents to warn children about the dangers of fire.   Never leave children unattended when you have a fire burning in the fireplace.  When you go out to get wood for your fireplace, wear gloves .  (There  may be critters such as scorpions lurking in the wood!)

Chimney caps are fitted with wire mesh sides to cover the hole at the top of the chimney and are ideal for keeping birds, animals, rain and debris from entering the fireplace.  (It might also pose a problem for Santa!)  Always replace or repair a damaged or missing cap.

Stack firewood at least 30′ from the house.  Also be sure that your roof is free of pine needles, leaves, and any branches that might hang over the chimney.  Fireplaces are great sources of comfort and relaxation; however, they must be properly used and maintained in order to keep your family safe.