7 Safety Tips When Using Your Fireplace in the Winter
As old man winter approaches many homeowners across the country are looking forward to cozying up to the warmth of the hearth. But since you have a fireplace built into the wall of your home that can reach temperatures of over 1,100° F, consider these 7 safety tips when using your fireplace this winter to minimize the risk of a chimney fire.
Safety Tip #1: Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Improper care and maintenance of the fireplace and chimney can cause carbon monoxide, a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas to leak inside your home. The only way to detect this toxic gas known as the “silent killer” is with a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. You should install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor in your home. You can place them outside the bedrooms, in the kitchen and in the hallways. This will help keep your family safe, and you may even earn a discount on your home insurance policy. Also, remember to test your CO detectors regularly, and change the batteries at least once a year.
Safety Tip #2: What Not to Burn in a Fireplace
Avoid using soft, moist woods including Christmas trees in a fireplace because it can cause excessive smoke, odor problems and additional creosote buildup in the chimney and flue. It can also clog the chimney and ignite a fire. Only burn dry, seasoned hardwoods which has been cured for at least 6 months to a year. When storing firewood for your fireplace, keep it in a dry place away from rain and snow.
Safety Tip #3: Clean Your Fireplace and Chimney
Thoroughly cleaning your fireplace and chimney before using it for the winter will help minimize the risk of fire or injury. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends homeowners clean their chimneys at least once a year. If your fireplace hasn’t been used in a while, schedule a chimney sweep for a professional cleaning from the top of the crown to the bottom of the firebox. This way you can rest easy knowing that the fireplace is safe, and ready to be used all winter.
Safety Tip #4: Clear any Obstructions in the Chimney
Debris and obstructions that block your chimney like dead leaves, sticks, and birds’ nests should be removed before lighting your fireplace. Also, make sure to trim away any tree branches that are close to the chimney to help minimize fire hazards; low hanging branches which obstruct the chimney and vents can impede the escape of dangerous gases including carbon monoxide.
Safety Tip #5: Replace a Missing or Broken Chimney Cap
With the help of a friend or neighbor, carefully climb to the top of your chimney and inspect your chimney cap. If it is broken, damaged or missing, you should immediately have it replaced. A chimney cap is like a rain hat that helps prevent debris and small animals from clogging the chimney. It also keeps water out and away from the chimney which helps preserve the brick and mortar.
Safety Tip #6: Inspect for Leaks in the Chimney
Carefully inspect the chimney structure for cracks, loose bricks, leaks, excessive wear or missing mortar that can allow water to penetrate the chimney and soften the masonry. It is important to do this annually so minor leaks can be repaired before they escalate into more dangerous and expensive maintenance issues.
Safety Tip #7: Get an Annual Chimney Sweep and Safety Inspection
Whether you have a gas or wood burning fireplace or wood stove, fire safety experts recommend having the chimney inspected annually by a certified chimney sweep. Homeowners who use the fireplace often, especially during the cold months will want to schedule a chimney sweep and safety inspection at least once a year. Those who use their fireplaces only once in a while can have it inspected after every 100 uses or so. Scheduling an annual chimney sweep and safety inspection is a quick and affordable way to prevent both carbon monoxide poisoning and chimney fires.