With cold weather upon us, you may ask yourself, "Can I use my fireplace?" Before you answer "yes," take a moment to perform these five safety checks.
Winter is here, and the bitter cold is sweeping through for its annual visit. The mere mention of snow brings to mind a warm, crackling fireplace where you can relax with your loved ones while the frosty weather blows through. Before you spark the first log, though, you might stop and wonder, "Can I use my fireplace?"
It's not a bad question. After all, it's been dormant for the better part of a year. Birds, squirrels, and other animals have probably been in and out of the chimney at various points. They've certainly scurried across the top of it. The weather went from freezing to overheated and is now returning again to freezing, which puts a strain on chimney bricks. With so many things to consider, it's impossible to know how safe your fireplace is without performing some necessary checks.
Can I use my fireplace? Not before you inspect the chimney
You can perform a simple chimney inspection without the help of a professional. First you'll need to get on your roof and inspect the chimney cap to make sure that it's free from debris and other obstructions. (If you have a very steep roof, use binoculars or call a professional for help.)
While you're there, remove the chimney cap and inspect the inside of the chimney with a flashlight. You're looking for a buildup of creosote, a byproduct of burning wood that could catch fire. Removing and replacing the chimney cap involves flashing material, so if you're not sure how to use that, consult with someone who does.
It's also a good idea to inspect the chimney for cracks or other structural problems that may have occurred through the off-season as these can lead to chimney fires. If there are any tree limbs that hang near the chimney, clear them away before using your fireplace.
Can I use my fireplace? Only if you've remembered to inspect the flue damper
Flue dampers are devices that trap heat inside the house when there's no fire burning, and they allow smoke to leave the house when a fire is burning. Flue dampers are usually closer to the top of the chimney, so you might want to check this while you're on the roof, but you'll still need to check the open/close function from the inside.
The flue damper should open completely if it's working properly. If the damper doesn't open completely, fix it before you light a fire. From ground level, you should be able to look up through the flue and see daylight when the damper is open; however, it's good to check with a flashlight to make sure.
Can I use my fireplace? Check the firebox first
The firebox is the area where you'll place your logs and start the fire. Inspect it for the same things you looked for in the chimney: make sure there's no creosote buildup and look for broken bricks or mortar in disrepair. It might be helpful to clean the firebox first before the inspection, depending on how much soot there is.
If the firebox is clear, place the grate near the back of it to ensure as much smoke as possible goes up the chimney and not into your home!
Can I use my fireplace? Clear the area
Particularly during the holidays, it's easy for decorations, furniture, and other things to get near the fireplace hearth. Leave as much clearance as possible between the fireplace and any paper, wood, or other combustible material and no less than five feet (more is better). If you have a Christmas tree, place it as far from the fireplace as possible—those needles are quite flammable!
Can I use my fireplace? Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
One of the most important things you can do when performing fireplace safety checks is to ensure that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work. It's best to have one of each in the same room as the fireplace as that's where carbon monoxide especially can become a hazard. If either device doesn't work properly, change the batteries or replace it.
Never burn anything except wood in your fireplace as other materials may contain toxic chemicals that can lead to health problems down the road. Use a wire mesh to cover the front of the fire if your fireplace doesn't have glass doors. Finally, don't burn too much wood! Overfilling your fireplace can lead to more buildup in the chimney, which can contribute to things like carbon monoxide poisoning.
Is your home covered in case of a fire? Contact your Pekin Insurance agent to make sure you have the coverage you need.
What tips do you have for ensuring a safe fireplace? Share your safety checks in the comments below.