Erin Doman on October 30, 2015 1 Comment Fireplaces, especially wood-burning fireplaces, are a great way to heat your home without spending too much on electricity. However, before you take your fireplace out of retirement for the winter, you have to make sure it is safe and ready to go. Did you know that fireplaces and chimneys are involved in about 42% of heating-related house fires? You have to be aware of how you can safely start using your fireplace in order to not become part of this statistic. Before it gets too cold out, it is important that you do some research on safety tips for fireplace preparation and fireplace use. Preparing Your Fireplace You want to make sure that your fireplace is ready to use safely. You can follow these tips to get your fireplace ready for use: Sweep the Chimney: You should hire a chimney sweep before you start using your fireplace at the beginning of winter. The National Fire Protection Association suggests that you have your chimney swept once a year to remove dangerous soot and debris. Note Any Abnormalities: While your professional chimney sweeper is over, make sure to let him or her know about any odd things you have noticed from your chimney. This could be an odd smell, a new draft or anything of the sort. Check for Damages: You need to check the chimney structure and lining for cracks, loose bricks, deterioration or missing mortar. You also want to take this time to make sure that your chimney is properly and securely attached to your house. Also, check for water damage, which can be harmful to the entire house. Inspect Gasket Material: Make sure to take care of the gasket sealing the door, the glass door itself, and the ash dump. It is important to inspect these pieces and replace them as necessary. If these aren’t working properly, your fire can get too much oxygen, which can create an over-fire condition. Clean the Blower: If your fireplace has a blower, make sure it is thoroughly cleaned. Most fireplace blowers don’t have a filter, so you have to clean it to prevent buildup. Inspect the Damper: The damper is a valve or plate that regulates air flow inside of your chimney. You want to make sure that it is working properly before you start using the fireplace. Cap the Chimney: Your chimney should be properly capped in order to keep birds, rain, squirrels, leaves and other debris from entering. Make sure you replace or repair a damaged or missing cap. Check the Alarms: It is very important that you make sure you replace the batteries of any smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. Be sure to test your alarms to make sure they are working properly. There may be a few other things you have to do, but these steps will help get you on the right track to a safe fireplace. Make sure you hire a professional to inspect your chimney because they will know exactly what to look for, and they will be able to keep your family and home as safe as possible. Be sure to ask these professionals about what warning signs to look for and for proper maintenance and usage tips. Using Your Fireplace Now that you know the fireplace is safe to use, you should also know how to safely operate it: Pick the Firewood: Make sure to burn dense, seasoned wood such as oak. You want to use wood that has been split and stored in a dry place for at least six months. Green wood and softwoods, such as pine, produce more creosote, which is a flammable by-product that can build up in your chimney and cause trouble later. Prepare the Firewood: If you are cutting your own firewood, you want to make sure to follow all of the right steps. You first have to split the wood into pieces that will fit into your fireplace or stove. Make sure the pieces are no larger than six inches in diameter to ensure they burn properly. Then stack the wood so the split-side is down and off of the ground. Make sure to cover the wood so it stays dry from rain or snow. Finally, store the wood for several months–it is recommended that you store softwood for a minimum of six months and you store hardwood for a minimum of 12 months. Test the Moisture: You can also buy a wood moisture meter to test the moisture of your firewood. If the wood is properly dried, it will have a moisture reading of 20% or less. Wood that is high in moisture will not burn well. Buy Local Wood: If you don’t plan on cutting your own wood, or don’t have the space to store wood for half a year to a year, try to buy local wood. This is useful because some states and cities have special ordinances in place about firewood. Use Just Enough: You don’t want to overload your chimney. Larger fires give off more smoke, which leads to more creosote buildup. Large, high heat fires can also crack the chimney lining. Build it Right: You need to know how to safely build a fire in your chimney. You want to put the logs towards the rear of the fireplace on a metal grate. You want to use kindling, not flammable liquids, to start the fire. You also want to make sure to start the fire with just kindling, and then add a few pieces of wood. You want the fire to have plenty of air, and you want there to be plenty of space between the logs as you add more. Use a Guard: You should also use a spark guard when you’re using your fireplace. A spark guard is just a mesh metal screen or glass fireplace door that stops embers from shooting out of the fireplace. Clear the Area: This one is obvious, but always be sure you move any flammable objects far away from your fireplace or wood stove. Circulate the Air: You can get the most out of your firewood by circulating the warm air in your home. You can do this by running ceiling fans clockwise on low speeds to redirect the warm air from the ceiling into the living space. These tips will help you keep the fire in the fireplace. Keep Safety in Mind No matter what time of year it is, you always need to remember to keep safety in mind. An unattended fire can easily get out of hand and cause devastating destruction, but following these fireplace preparation and safety tips will help you to be able to keep the activity as safe as possible. Make sure you have your fireplace inspected by a professional at least once a year. You want to be able to get the most use out of your fireplace as possible, and making sure it is properly inspected will allow you to do just that.