After a day on the ski hill or an afternoon of shovelling, there’s nothing quite like warming up by a wood burning fireplace. To enjoy your fire with peace of mind, take the proper steps to protect your family and your home from potential hazards like chimney fires and accidental burns. If you’re using a wood or pellet stove, you’ll want to do some additional research so you’re familiar with how operate it safely. Otherwise, here’s everything you need to know to safely enjoy your wood burning fireplace and stay warm during the next polar vortex.
Call in a chimney sweep to do the dirty work
If the kids are back in school and pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menu, it’s a good time to make an appointment with a professional chimney sweep. Even if you’re a DIY fanatic, this is one job best left to the pros. An experienced chimney sweep can safely clear ash and creosote — a flammable chemical that can lead to chimney fires — while performing a visual inspection of your chimney to make sure it’s in good shape. As with any work done on major appliances, keep a record of who cleaned your chimney and when. This should be an annual inspection, so go ahead and throw a reminder in your calendar for next year, too.
Check your alarms
Checking your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should already be part of your regular home maintenance schedule. If not, it’s a must-do before the mercury drops below zero. You should have at least one smoke detector on each level of your home and outside each bedroom, as well as at least one carbon monoxide detector somewhere in your home (ideally in a hallway near the bedrooms). Carbon monoxide poisoning is completely avoidable if you take the proper preventative steps and exercise caution when building fires.
Safety first, décor second
Fireplaces can serve as a captivating focal point in our homes, but decorating too closely around them can be hazardous. Keep the area surrounding your fireplace free of flammable materials like furniture, blankets and pillows, pet beds, plastic items, Christmas trees, or any wood. There should be at least three feet or one metre of space between your fireplace and anything that could burn. To keep curious small hands and paws at a safe distance, place a safety screen around the fireplace. Not only will a screen help protect your floor from rogue embers, but it will help prevent the odd loose ember from sparking a bigger fire, too.
Manage your fire from start to finish
Before starting your first fire of the year, check that you have the proper tools on hand, including a fire poker, dry wood, kindling, and paper. Never start a fire with gasoline or other flammable liquids and always make sure your damper is open. Once it’s lit, limit your fire to one or two logs, depending on the size of your fireplace, to limit the risk of chimney fires. Watch your fire closely as stacked logs are prone to shift as they burn.
Put out the fire
If you’re ready to call it a night, use the poker to spread out any remaining embers so they cool faster. You can also put sand over the embers to help smother them. Never leave the room or your house until the fire is completely out. Leave the damper open until the ashes have cooled, as a closed damper could help a fire heat up again and allow carbon monoxide to build up in your home. It should be safe to remove the ashes the next day using a steel shovel and an empty metal container. Store the ashes away from your home or anything else that could catch fire.
While gas fireplaces are becoming increasingly popular because of their affordability, ease of use, and minimal maintenance compared with wood burning fireplaces, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of a real fire — as long as you know what you’re doing. Go ahead and enjoy winter this year knowing you can go home to a warm and safe fireplace.
Note: Some locations have laws regulating the use of fireplaces. Be sure to read up on your local laws before lighting up your fireplace this season.
Share this article on Facebook or Twitter to help other fireplace owners stay safe this season, too.