Keep your fireplace in top shape and learn what hazards to look out for with our safety guide.
While a fireplace can add a touch of scenery and provide warmth for our homes, it’s essential to ensure they’re well maintenanced and that we take precautions when turning them on during cooler weather. I’ve put together a fireplace safety guide to help you care for the hearth of your home with a few personal anecdotes throughout.
If you’re looking for lots of heat and that traditional “crackle and pop” sound on cozy evenings, the wood fireplace is the right one for you. While there’s definitely more legwork involved, like sourcing wood, chopping if necessary, storing, and cleaning up, a wood fireplace provides great ambiance. These fireplaces feature a firebox, damper, flue, and chimney.
These fireplaces are great for their ambiance as well but don’t require as much work as your traditional wood fireplaces. They usually run or gas or propane—you’ll just need a gas line and can choose between a vented or ventless type of fireplace.
If you live in an apartment or condo, the electric fireplace is a great option as it doesn’t require wood or a gas line. You can find a range of styles with electric fireplaces, and they’re easy to install in your home. These fireplaces have a heater coil and a fan that can help distribute heat in an area of your home.
? Pro – Great for flexible placement in homes or apartments
The proper way to use your fireplace will depend on the type you have in your home. As always, it’s best to read the manual for specific information on how to use your fireplace. Here are some general steps for starting a fire or turning on a gas or electric fireplace.
How to Start a Fire for Wood Fireplaces
Prepare chopped, dry logs that can be fit into the firebox
Once they’ve been stacked into the firebox, add some kindling underneath and around the logs
Open the damper to allow some air to come in and also let the smoke escape through the chimney
Light a match and place it in the kindling to start your fire
How to Start a Gas Fireplace
Make sure the gas valve has been turned on (for some this may be a key next to the fireplace)
Push back any screens or remove any aesthetics from the front of the fireplace
Locate the pilot light — this may be behind one of the faux wood logs
Slowly turn on the pilot light — listen to it, as you don’t want the gas to have a loud blow. That will be too much and cause the flame to flare out
Take a lighter and hold over the pilot light to ignite the fireplace
Replace any faux logs to cover the flames
How to Turn on an Electric Fireplace
Plug your electric fireplace into a nearby wall socket
Locate the controls and switch the fireplace to “On”
You can adjust the heat/temperature settings and turn on the fan (if it’s designed to blow heat)
Caring for your fireplace is easy and can be done throughout the year to ensure it’s ready to use during the cooler months. Here are several routine things you can do to keep your fireplace in its best condition:
Periodically remove ashes for wood fireplaces. My grandmother has a wood fireplace at her house, and we know it’s important to take out the ashes every now and then, especially once they’ve piled up too high. Keeping about a small layer of ash, however, is good for helping your fires to take off more easily. You’ll find that coals tend to settle down in the ash and can help your fire pick up more easily than a completely clean fireplace. As a little food for thought, you can take the ashes once they’ve cooled and add them around plants as fertilizer.
Try to use dry wood. It’s no secret that dry wood will burn better than wet wood. If you purchase wood, you’ll want to store it in an outdoor shed or under a water-resistant covering like a tarp. Be sure to allow some air to get to the wood as well. Also, whenever possible, avoid burning wood that shows signs of molding to prevent respiratory issues and indoor mold growth from airborne spores.
Keep the damper closed when you’re not burning wood. This will help prevent cold air from coming down the chimney and into your home. You’ll also help keep some of the warmth in
Make sure you have a chimney cap. You can prevent birds from nesting in your chimney and other animals from making homes by having a chimney cap. Additionally, it’ll help you to avoid water damage ruining your damper.
Keep your chimney checked and clean. It’s recommended to have your chimney cleaned at least one a year to help remove build-up and decrease the likelihood of chimney fires. Ultimately, you’ll maintain the longevity of your fireplace by making sure your chimney stays in good shape.
When I was younger, during the cooler months at night after football games or just after school in general, we’d slide one of the couches up to our gas fireplace. Bad idea! Keep your furniture at a distance from your fireplace, especially if it’s wood-burning, to prevent the breakout of a fire. During cool evenings, it’s easy to fall asleep by the fire on the couch, but one way you can stay warm and still enjoy the heat is to grab a blanket and something warm to drink.
If you have a gas fireplace, one hazard you’ll want to be aware of is a gas leak. If you come home and the house smells like rotten eggs or cabbage, that’s a sign that there could be a leak in your home. See if the smell is coming from your fireplace, and if you think so, you can either check for the leak by shining a flashlight to see if there’s any swirling dust around the fireplace. If you suspect a gas leak, you should step outside and call 911 and have a professional to check.
3. Don’t Let Your Kids Turn on Or Play Around the Fireplace
Most children are naturally curious and will test things, but make sure they don’t play around the fireplace — whether it’s wood, gas, or electric. You don’t want them to get burned or hurt. It’s also not good to let them light a wood fireplace or turn on a gas or electric fireplace. Tell them that that area of the house is off-limits.
4. Put Down a Flame Retardant Rug for Wood Fireplaces
Embers can easily pop out of a fireplace and onto your floor, potentially causing unsightly damage. Look for a flame retardant rug that can be placed right in front of a wood fireplace to protect your flooring.
Take good care of your fireplace and it will take care of you and family during the cooler months. Keep these tips and hazards in mind to ensure your fireplace is in top shape and that your family stays safe.