With cooler weather approaching there is nothing more enjoyable than warming yourself in front of a crackling fire. With this in mind, it is important to keep safety in the forefront before burning your wood or gas burning fireplace. Paying attention to a few basic maintenance issues before each heating season, will keep you enjoying your fireplace for many years to come while keeping your family and friends safe and comfortable.

More than one-third of Americans use Fireplaces and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in the home. Of these, appliances used as primary heating sources account for approximately 36% of residential home fires in the rural areas alone each year, usually starting in the chimney.

The most common cause of chimney fires is due to a buildup of creosote (cre·o·sote) in the fireplace chimney. The production of creosote is a natural occurrence when using a wood burning fireplace or appliance and builds up inside the chimney flue over time without regular cleaning. Conditions in your fireplace system that can promote a quicker buildup of creosote, which include but are not limited to; Burning unseasoned or wet wood, restricted air flow occurring from a damper not being fully open or not operating properly or by closing glass doors while the fireplace is in operation. Creosote, which is black or brown in appearance, can present itself in a variety of ways, from crusty and flaky, tar-like or shiny and hardened. With proper and consistent maintenance, these unsafe situations can be avoided.

To enjoy your Fireplace and keep your family warm and safe this winter, follow these simple fireplace tips:

Get your Fireplace & Chimney System Inspected and Cleaned Regularly

Royal Edwards, technical director of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) states that this is not a Do It Yourself project. It is recommended to hire a Certified Chimney Sweep to inspect and clean your chimney system before each heating season. A professional chimney sweep is trained to spot inconsistencies that could cause dangerous chimney conditions.

The sweep will open the damper, check the flue system for obstructions (i.e. animal or bird nests) and if possible, go to the roof to check the upper part of the chimney system. The sweep will check for creosote buildup and other causes of chimney fires such as the deterioration of the flue lining which can be either cracks in a clay liner or refractory material, or the separation or deterioration of a metal flue. After the inspection the sweep will perform a thorough cleaning and recommend any repairs that might be required.

There are several resources for finding a certified sweep. In addition to certification, a qualified sweep should have a contractor’s license and a city license – be sure to get current references and speak with other customers as references before hiring a sweep.

CSIA – Chimney Safety Institute of America
NCSG – National Chimney Sweep Guild

Burn the Correct Type of Wood

There are several different types of wood that commonly find their way into wood burning fireplaces. Soft woods, such as Pine and Fir, tend to spark excessively which can create a potential fire hazard. Hardwoods, such as Oak and Cherry, are the best for burning – when properly seasoned (dry) they burn hotter and minimize smoke and creosote buildup.

Make Smaller Fires

Everyone loves a roaring fire but too large a fire can present a danger if the logs roll out. To prevent flying sparks from creating a fire hazard, the use of fireplace screens is recommended.
Remove Ashes Properly

Wait until the coals are completely cool before removing the ashes from your fireplace. Once cool, shovel them into a metal container with a lid (available at local hardware stores) and store the bucket outside on a noncombustible surface. NEVER store on combustible surfaces such as a wood deck or next to wood siding, shingles, etc.

Note: If you have a compost bin, potted plants or a garden, when completely cooled, you can mix the ashes into the soil to give your plants a nitrogen boost.

Pay Attention to Local Weather Conditions / Warnings

In certain areas there can be Regulations and Codes in place for not burning wood during certain timeframes under certain weather conditions. There are legitimate safety reasons for these warnings and should be strictly observed.