As the season changes and a chill is in the air, we retreat into the comfort of the warm glow of a crackling fire. While a properly installed and working fireplace can provide years of enjoyment, some maintenance and precaution is necessary to keep it that way.

– Before making a fire, open the glass doors, pull aside the screen curtains, and place the kindling, newspaper and logs inside. Next, open the damper and a window. The window needs to be open only a few inches. You can check to make sure the smoke will go up the chimney properly by lighting a match, quickly blowing it out and watching the smoke to see whether it’s going up and out.

– Fireplaces should not be used as furnaces. Use a fireplace for a short-duration fire, and NEVER leave unattended.

– Keep the screen closed to prevent sparks from jumping out of the firebox.

– Adults, even if near, should not allow children to play near or with fire tools and equipment.

– Open a window when using the fireplace to prevent the room from becoming smoky. The air coming in from the window will go up the chimney.

– Do not keep flammable objects in too close a proximity to the fireplace.

– Use fireplace tools to handle burning logs. Never use your hands.

– Use a chimney cap to prevent water damage, to keep animals from nesting and to keep debris from blocking the chimney and causing carbon monoxide to flow into the house. Use a spark arrester to help prevent sparks from flying out, which could start a fire on the roof or grass.

– When clean fireplace ash always make certain that all live coal have been extinguished. Use a metal scoop and non-combustible container to remove ash and store outdoors away from combustible surfaces.

– Never use a vacuum to clean up ashes, because live coals may remain in those ashes.

– Have a certified chimney sweep inspect and clean the chimney when necessary. Have him show you how to check it yourself, too. The chimney should be checked at least once a year or after about 80 fires.

– Clean the firebox (the area where the logs burn) at least once a week during the months you use it, when ash builds up. Leave about an inch of ash because it acts as insulation, allowing the coals to heat faster and retain the heat easier. Keep the firebox completely clean during the months when the fireplace is not in use.

– To clean an exterior slate hearth, wash, dry and coat it with lemon oil every six weeks to make it shine. For cleaning exterior brick hearths, buy a brick cleaner at a fireplace shop.

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