Don't sneeze with a match in your hand! Safely lighting a fire
When starting a fire, open the fireplace doors and place your kindling, logs and newspaper inside. Open the damper and a window a couple of inches. Always open a window when lighting a fire to encourage the smoky air to go up the chimney. Light a match to test — if its smoke goes up the chimney, you're OK to start a fire.
Never leave children alone with a burning fire or let them play nearby. Kids should also be discouraged from playing with fireplace tools. Consider installing a guard in front of your fireplace to keep children and pets from harm.
Diagnose your wood: Safe to burn?
Only burn seasoned wood that has been dried for six to 12 months and has less than 20 percent moisture in it. A quick test: Seasoned wood produces a ringing sound when two split pieces are knocked together, whereas green (or wet) wood makes only a dull thud. Green wood burns inefficiently and produces more soot, so you should avoid it.
Hardwoods like oak, ash and maple produce more heat than softwoods (pine, poplar, cedar), so choose by type too.
Don't end up with ashy knees! Dispose of ashes properly
Wait three days after a fire before removing ashes from your fireplace, so the coals are fully cooled. Then close the damper to prevent dust from stirring up, open a window to prevent negative air pressure and put on a dust mask. Using a shovel — never a vacuum — scoop the ashes out and put them into a metal container. Ashes contain nutrients plants love, so sprinkle them on your flowerbeds for healthier plants.
Clean the inside of your fireplace at least once a week during the winter, but leave an inch of ash remaining to act as insulation for a hotter, faster fire next time. Keep it completely clean during the summer or periods of disuse.
A healthy lifestyle: Upkeep tips
- Don't burn a fire in a fireplace for more than five hours.
- When using, keep the glass door open to allow air up the chimney, but keep the screen closed. This will protect your carpet from sparks.
- Consider buying a nonflammable rug to put in front of your fireplace.
- If you wish to clean your fireplace doors, just be sure to wipe away any stains with a lint-free product, like newspaper.
- To clean a slate hearth: Wash, dry and coat it with lemon oil for shine every six weeks. To clean a brick hearth: Buy a brick cleaner from a home improvement store.
- Brass fireplace tools can be shined with Worcestershire sauce!
Of course, always keep working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home. Once a year, a trained professional should inspect your chimney — at the end of winter or your use for the season.
The best way to ensure a safe, accident-free fireplace is by maintaining it. Keeping it in tip-top shape will keep it beautiful, clean and healthy for your family to enjoy.