As the weather gets colder, there’s nothing cozier than curling up in front of your fireplace on a winter evening. With the window coverings pulled tightly shut and the doors locked for the night, it’s a feeling that’s hard to duplicate.
Whether you just moved into a home with a fireplace or have had one that’s never been used, there’s never been a better time to learn about fireplace safety. Despite its beautiful appearance and cozy atmosphere, having a fire indoors is something that should always be done with great care. A poorly tended chimney or unattended fire can quickly spiral out of control, leading to a blaze that can destroy your home and others nearby.
However, with these handy tips, you can set up a safe fireplace routine, giving you the freedom to relax in front of your nightly fires without having to worry about your safety.
- Clean your chimney
A clean fireplace is a safe fireplace. If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you need to ensure that your chimney is inspected yearly and cleaned whenever necessary. The primary focus of most chimney cleaners is creosote, a natural by-product of wood burning. As it accumulates in your chimney, it begins to restrict airflow. Since creosote is dangerously flammable, it increases your risk of a chimney fire the more it accumulates.
A little creosote is fine and can be easily brushed away, but if you let more than a year go by without cleaning your chimney, it can build up and harden until it’s almost impossible to remove.
- Sweep out ash regularly
In addition to cleaning your chimney, you must ensure that you’re removing ashes from the firebox regularly. Coals have been known to start fires up to three days after they’ve been put out, so wait at least 3 days before sweeping up after a fire. Make sure to always use a broom and dustpan, and never a vacuum. If you’re worried about breathing in ash, wear a mask.
- Choose the right firewood
When you’re buying firewood, make sure you check it carefully to ensure that it’s dry and well-seasoned. If you burn wet or green wood, it will produce excess smoke and lead to a faster build-up of creosote in your chimney.
In addition to cutting or buying dry wood, make sure that whatever wood you burn is local. If you’re purchasing wood from outside of your neighbourhood, it can spread pests like the emerald ash borer or termites.
You should also avoid wood that’s been treated or seasoned with chemicals, like pressure-treated wood or plywood. It’s tempting to want to reuse these scraps, especially if you’re going through a renovation, but they are best thrown out.
- Always use safety precautions
There are many precautions can take to make your fireplace safer. The most obvious is a fire screen that keeps people, pets, and children away from the heat of the flames. These can be useful even if you have a gas fireplace, as the glass covering can get very hot and can easily cause a burn on contact.
In addition to using a screen, you should ensure that you have a fire extinguisher handy to tamp out blazes that get too large or sparks that hit your flooring and threaten to ignite.
When you start using your fireplace regularly, make sure that you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors installed throughout your house. These can be purchased at most hardware stores, and are essential to ensuring that your family is protected. Test them monthly, and change out their batteries every year.
- Keep the fireplace clear of obstructions
Anything in front and on either side of your fireplace should be moved a safe distance away, to keep them safe from errant sparks. Don’t let flowing window coverings or soft flooring anywhere near your fireplace.
Instead, ensure everything within a few feet of the fireplace is fire resistant. You can even find non-flammable rugs at some fireplace supply stores, which offer a soft surface that can’t be damaged by sparks.
- Don’t use your fireplace as a furnace
Despite its warmth, your fireplace should never be used as a furnace. It’s ideal for smaller fires that burn for less than five hours. Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure the fireplace door is shut securely and the coals are burning out before you leave the house.