9 Tips to Safely Gather Around Your Fireplace this Winter

Wed, Jan 11, 2017 @ 08:01 AM Mary Ann Eckberg Home Maintenance

On a chilly winter night around our house, we find ourselves drawn to the warmth of the fireplace. Sharing a soft blanket, we relish the crackling fire. As if hypnotized by the dancing flames, any stress from the day seems to disappear.

Needless to say, when looking through property listings on MilitaryByOwner, our family keeps an eye out for a home that includes a living room fireplace. As the temperatures drop, we forecast regular use of our wood-burning hearth, so I spent a bit of time online looking up fireplace safety.

I'll share a few helpful tips for keeping the home fires burning!

1) More than just Mary Poppins' friend--hire a chimney sweep!

Before lighting the first fire of the season, make sure the fireplace and chimney are clear of soot and debris. As the National Fire Protection Association suggests, it’s a good idea to call in a professional chimney sweep to properly remove creosote--a black, oily residue. Besides the clean up chores, a professional may inspect the condition of the flue and the structure of the chimney.

2) Set the alarms.

Along with fresh batteries in smoke alarms around the house, consider adding a carbon monoxide detector due to using a fireplace. With carbon monoxide being an element with no odor, it’s better to err of the side of caution by installing this safety device. Additionally, keeping the fireplace damper fully open when a fireplace is in use may limit gas and smoke from entering the home.

3) Gather a woodchuck approved stash.

Ask around for the best place to purchase firewood. Neighbors or those at work who know the local area may point out where to find the best quality wood. If planning to linger near a burning log, choose a dense, seasoned hardwood, such as maple or oak. If a faster burning fire is preferred, go with spruce or pine or other softwood varieties.

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4) Everything in moderation.

As fun as it may seem to fill the hearth with a giant wood pile, it's better to think small. A reduced collection of wood may fit well on a grate nestled at the back of the fireplace. Burning in small doses may mean less smoke, less creosote, and less risk of bold heat cracking the chimney or damaging the flue.

5) Keep appendages intact.

Just say “no” to starting an indoor fire with any sort of flammable liquid! Kindling, which is small pieces of dry wood, can be paired with crumpled up newspaper for a much more efficient way to start a fire.

6) Linger in the living room.

When a fire begins to blaze, draw the fireplace screen closed to keep any rogue embers from jumping into the surrounding room. Tend to pets nearby and keep children safely away from the flames. It’s probably a good idea to stay within the room while a fireplace is actively in use.

7) Choose safety over style.

Alright, crafty spouses, I've seen the creative DIY posts and Pinterest pins of fireplace mantel décor! No matter how trendy the felt pennants, burlap garland, or seasonal bunting may be, play it safe. Keep dangling décor away from the hearth when a fire is lit.

8) Poke it with a stick.

As the fire cools down, break up the remaining logs with a fire iron – the pointy stick of the fireplace tool family. If looking to douse out the fire, use sand or baking soda to extinguish the embers rather than water.

9) Ashes to ashes.

When it’s time for clean up, transfer the cooled ashes to a metal container (we use a metal ash bucket). Store this container away from the home, garage, and backyard fence. Allow the spent ashes to cool for at least 4 or 5 days before disposing of them in the garbage. Some choose to recycle a small dose of the cooled ashes in a garden compost area or around a flowerbed. I’ve learned that rose bushes often flourish if a bit of ash is incorporated into their soil.

A fireplace may be the heartwarming spot where a busy family gathers. As mentioned in Tips for Selling Your Home in the Off Season, “The idea of coming in from the cold to a tender and welcoming space may trigger a sense of comfort and relaxation.”

With proper care and suggestions such as these, the use of a fireplace may be a safe and enjoyable way to find warmth over the long winter months.

25 Winter Home Maintenance Tips