On a cold night, who doesn’t love to curl up in front of a warm fireplace? Having the fireplace glow is especially nice at the holidays. But before starting a fire in a woodburning or a gas fireplace, it’s important to do a safety check each year. According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, the chimney or fireplace is the No. 1 cause of residential fires, with more than 25,000 a year.
An inspection by a certified chimney sweep is recommended annually if your fireplace has heavy use, and every five years if it’s only used occasionally. The sweep will check for proper operation of the damper and for cracks in the flue liner, and sweep the flue to remove creosote and other combustion byproducts.
Inbetween inspections, you can check your chimney by opening the damper and looking up. If you can't see daylight, don't light a fire until you have a professional look at it. It's either blocked or the damper isn't operating correctly.
By holding a light up into the chimney, you should also be able to see how much creosote (a product of burning wood that is deposited in chimneys and can build up to become a fire risk) is accumulating. Also check the condition of the chimney interior (look for crumbling bricks). If anything looks out of place, call in a professional before lighting a fire.
Here are a few more fireplace safety tips:
- Check that your chimney is clear of any nests from birds, squirrels or other animals.
- Make sure that it has a cap to keep little critters from making their winter home in your flue.
- Test that the flue damper opens and closes fully, and locks in both open and closed position.
- If you have a natural gas or propane fireplace and the flame goes out, wait at least five minutes before attempting to relight the fireplace. This allows time to clear the fireplace of gas.
- Be alert for unusual odors or odd-colored flames, which are often a sign that the fireplace is not operating properly. Contact the gas company if you smell gas when the unit is off.
Enjoy the warmth and ambiance of your safe fireplace!