With the cold weather and the holidays upon us nothing beats the warm crackle and glow of a wood fire in a fireplace inside your home. Before you light your fireplace make sure you take a few moments to maintain it, ensuring that is operates in the safest manner possible.
Before lighting a fire, this year make sure you take the time to check that the fireplace and surrounding areas are safe. Start by making sure that you have a screen to place in front of an open fireplace to keep embers from popping out and causing fires. Next, be sure to move highly flammable and loose items that may fall in or catch on fire (blankets, dried plants, or rugs). Next, before starting a fire check the inside of the fireplace for any left-over ash, remove any that are in the fireplace. After you have cleaned out the ash have a professional come and evaluate your fireplace for any damage and to clean your chimney.
Sweeping the chimney and performing an annual inspection is the most important part of maintaining your fireplace and chimney. Over time, the chimney can become coated with soot and creosote, which are byproducts of fires that aren’t burning efficiently. Once the coating builds up enough, it can potentially catch fire in what is known as a dangerous “chimney fire.” Ashley Eldridge, a veteran chimney sweep and director of education at the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)explains why a chimney fire can be so destructive: “While the firebox is builtwith firebrick and intended for direct contact with fire, everything above the damper is designed to withstand only hot smoke and gases from the fire, not fire itself, so a chimney fire can cause serious damage.” The chimney should be swept when creosote build-up is 1/8-inch or more and at the end of the season.The sweeping should be done before summer, because humidity in the air can combine with creosote to form acids which can damage masonry and result in strong odors.
After having your chimney cleaned make sure to install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors or replace the batteries in any throughout your home. Wood burning fireplaces can also negatively affect indoor air quality. According to Burn Wise, a program of the US Environmental Protection Agency, “Smoke may smell good, but it’s not good for you.” Any smoke escaping from the firebox into the room means the fireplace isn’t operating properly.Also, since fires consume a large volume of air as they burn, it’s possible to create negative pressure in the home as air from outside is drawn indoors to replace the air consumed by the fire. If that “make-up” air is drawn back in through the flues of gas- or oil-burning furnaces and water heaters, it can also draw deadly flue gases, like carbon monoxide, back into the home. This is called “backdrafting” and is one reason all homes should be outfitted with working, well-maintained smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
Once you have taken the steps listed above it is now time to light that fire and cozy up on the couch!