Before you light a fire in your fireplace, use these tips to perform proper fireplace and chimney maintenance and safety so you can sit back and enjoy the warmth.
Fireplaces are front and center during December in most cold-weather climates. With the rising prices of natural gas and electric heating, wood burning fireplaces are great ways to help keep your home cozy and comfortable while adding a festive glow during the holidays. Before you throw some logs onto the fire, make sure your fireplace and chimney are ready to be used this winter. Here are some things you should do:
- Have your fireplace chimney cleaned and inspected. According to the National Fire Protection Association, annual inspections provide early detection of problems that could cause fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, or structural deterioration. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces be swept at 1/8” of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. If you aren’t sure whether your chimney needs cleaning, ask a certified professional for guidance. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Get your fireplace clean and ready for its starring role this season. Remove smoke and soot stains from the fireplace surround and chimney facing by spraying the surface with water followed by scrubbing with a mixture of all-purpose cleaner and water. You can also try a mixture of vinegar and water. For marble and stone surfaces, follow the water with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water. Clean glass fireplace doors with a vinegar and water solution, adding some ashes from the fireplace to gently scrub the glass.
- Never hang or drape garlands, Christmas stockings, or other holiday decorations near the fireplace opening or where sparks or embers could ignite them. If you have any doubt about whether your stockings or decorations are too close to the flames, take down the decorations before lighting a fire. Keep Christmas trees well away from fireplaces, too.
- Check the flue damper to make sure it’s operating properly and that it opens and closes easily. Be sure the fireplace flue is open before you light a fire, and close it when the fireplace is not in use to conserve energy.
- Stock up on kindling and firewood. Store firewood off the ground in a dry location, or cover it with a sturdy tarp.
- Give your outdated fireplace a facelift with a new mantle or a new coat of paint before the holidays begin.
- Add a chimney cap to help prevent rain, snow, birds, and debris from entering your fireplace. If you already have a cap, inspect it to see if to see if it needs to be repaired or replaced before winter weather sets in.
- Seal any air leaks with fire resistant materials like sheet metal or sheetrock.
- For your safety, invest in a set of tools that are specifically designed for use in the fireplace. Make sure your fire screen is sturdy and secure.
- Have a metal container with a lid that can be tightly sealed available for safe ash disposal. (Always make sure that ashes are completely cooled before disposing.)
- Keep a working fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it. Check all the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home to make sure they are working and have fresh batteries.
- Brush up on your fire-building skills. Start with crumpled paper on the bottom, then place kindling on top of and behind the paper. After making sure the flue is open, light the newspaper and kindling with a long fireplace lighter, then add several pieces of firewood in a triangle shape. Take care not to snuff out the flames with the logs. As the kindling flame catches the logs, observe to make sure the logs light properly and that the chimney is drawing well and smoke isn’t entering the room. Never leave a burning fire unattended.
With a little advance preparation, your home’s fireplace will be ready for your family and friends to safely gather around it and make memories during the holidays. Whether you’re enjoying a warm cup of wassail, singing Christmas carols, roasting marshmallows, or winding down after a long day of shopping, take some time this busy season to enjoy the simple pleasures of putting your feet up in front of a roaring fire and slowing down for a few minutes.