Tips for using your fireplace safely

It is officially winter, even though the temperature outside may say otherwise.  As it is Michigan, soon we will be ready to curl up in front of a roaring fire.  There’s nothing cozier, more relaxing or more romantic than a fire quietly roaring away in your fireplace especially during the holiday season.

125As beautiful and soothing as they are, fireplaces can be dangerous.  The National Fire Protection Association estimates that there will be 14,000 house fires this year started by fireplaces. Keep your fireplace burning bright and safe by following these simple guidelines to keep your wood fireplace burning brightly — and safely.

1.     You never want to leave your fireplace with an active fire unattended.

2.     Make sure the damper to the flue is open before you light your fire!  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a good to include in your regular routine so you never forget. The damper should remain open until the fire is completely extinguished, or you risk carbon monoxide production.  Close the damper when not using your wood fireplace.  This keeps the warm air from escaping through the chimney and will save you money in the long run.

3.     Keep flammable materials such as carpets, pillows, furniture or papers away from the fireplace area. Be sure the Christmas tree is not close enough to be ignited by a spark. Be especially careful of accidentally igniting holiday wrapping papers.

4.     Only burn properly seasoned wood or specially designed firelogs. Your best bets are woods like birch, oak, hickory, and maple that have been dried for at least a year.  If your wood is too green, you’ll have a harder time starting the fire and it will produce more smoke. Evergreens burn too rapidly and also contributes to creosote build-up according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).  Crates, lumber, construction scraps, painted wood, or other treated wood releases chemicals into your home, compromising air quality.  There are several businesses in the area that will provide cured wood.  You will want to cover your outdoor log pile leaving the sides open for air flow.

5.     Open a window just a bit to allow fresh air intake.  This can also help balance air pressure to keep your chimney drafting well – doing its job to keep smoke, carbon monoxide, and other toxic byproducts from infiltrating your living space.

6.     Be safe!  Make sure you have working smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and a fire extinguisher nearby.  Always use a screen around the fireplace to keep sparks from flying out and to protect children and adults from accidental clothing ignition.

individual-black-fireplace-tools7.     Use the proper tools.  At minimum, a poker is necessary to adjust the position of logs as the fire burns.  A broom and shovel are handy for keeping the firebox clean from excess ash.

8.     Start with some crumpled paper or a firestarter under a bit of kindling to get a small fire going.  (Don’t burn cardboard – it may seem innocent, but its glues and printing inks can release toxins when burned.) Then, add a single log and tend to the kindling to keep the fire burning until the log has caught.  You can add more fuel gradually, stacking the wood at 90 angles. To burn a fire safely, build it slowly, adding more wood as it heats. Keep the damper of your wood fireplace completely open to increase draw in the early stages. Burn the fire hot, at least occasionally—with the damper all the way open to help prevent smoke from lingering in the fireplace and creosote from developing.

9.     If it is very cold outside, you can help get the chimney drafting by using a rolled up sheet of newspaper as a torch – light the end and put the flame near the flue to warm the air and get it flowing upwards.

10.  Leaving some ash in the fireplace can provide a bedding for embers and keep your fire burning longer.  If you do remove old embers and ash, ALWAYS empty into a metal container and do not mix with other trash. Adding water is a good precautionary measure to ensure no hidden embers can later spark a new flame.  Ash and embers can remain warm for days after a fire seems to have burned out.

11.  Have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually (or at least every two years, if you only use your fireplace infrequently.)  Your chimney should be in good structural condition and free from soot and creosote buildup that can lead to chimney fires.

If you have any questions or concerns about your homes fireplace give us a call.

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