As winter approaches, cold nights make a fireplace a welcome addition to your home. Following a few simple guidelines can keep your fireplace safe for you and your family.

  • Always visually inspect the firebox and flue damper before starting a fire

Damaged firebricks or missing mortar can trap embers that could ignite adjacent wood framing. The damper should operate smoothly and open fully to provide adequate flow of exhaust gasses. If the damper is damaged or does not function, contact a chimney repair contractor before using the fireplace. If you see a heavy buildup of black, soot-like material when you look up into the flue, contact a chimney sweep to clean the fireplace and flue.

  • If you just bought your home, check the top of the chimney for a cap

Sometimes homeowners install caps at the top of fireplace chimneys to keep rain, debris and pests out of the chimney during summer. Using a fireplace with a cap in place is dangerous and can cause considerable damage and injury. These caps can normally be seen from the ground but if you are not sure, contact a chimney contractor.

  • Open the damper fully before starting a fire

The damper should be kept open until the ashes are completely cool. This will avert the build-up of poisonous gases, especially while the family is sleeping.

  • Never use gasoline, charcoal lighter or other fuel to light a fire

Vapors produced by these products can explode. Never keep flammable fuels near a fire or in a room with an operating fireplace or wood stove. Vapors can travel the length of a room and explode.

  • If you have gas log starter, use a low flameĀ 

Adding a lot of heat quickly can crack cold firebricks and mortar creating gaps in the firebox. If you have a gas starter or your fireplace uses gas logs, consider installation of an interlock that will prevent the gas from being turned until the flue damper is open.

  • If you are burning wood, only seasoned hardwoods should be used

Wood should be dried at least 6 months to reduce the risk of flying embers. Soft woods such as pine should not be used in a fireplace. These woods contain high amounts of sap that, when burned, can adhere to the interior walls of your chimney (commonly called creosote). If the right conditions occur, these deposits can ignite resulting in a house fire.

  • Don’t overload the fireplace

Too much wood can produce a fire that is hot enough to damage the chimney lining or ignite the adjacent roof framing. Larger fires can also increase creosote build-up in your chimney that will require more frequent cleaning.

  • Always use a screen or guard when the fireplace is in use

You can prevent errant embers from shooting out of the fireplace with a mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors. A guard in front of the fireplace is especially important when the room is unoccupied for any amount of time.