Your fireplace is likely the focal point of your living room each winter. Keeping it in good condition is essential for efficient operation and, more importantly, for the safety of your family. Follow these five steps to prepare your fireplace for the winter.

Prepare Your Fireplace with an Inspection & Cleaning

Fire gives off heat, smoke, and moisture. Creosote, a byproduct that comes from burning wood, builds up in your chimney over time. This flammable buildup can eventually ignite and get out of control.

Have a qualified chimney service inspect and clean your chimney to remove creosote and other debris, and to make sure that the chimney lining is ready for high temperatures.

Stock Up on Quality Firewood

One of the reasons some flues accumulate so much creosote is because of the wood used in the fireplace. The best types of wood to burn are hardwoods like oak and hickory, preferably seasoned for at least one year.

Pine, poplar, and other softer woods will burn at a lower temperature and create more smoke, which increases creosote in your chimney. Find a reputable firewood supplier that only offers hardwood species so you’re only burning the cleanest wood in your fireplace.

Clean Out the Firebox

It’s good to start any new season with a clean slate, and that is also true for your fireplace. Removing any remaining ashes and cinders from last year will help you in a couple of ways.

First, the fine ash left behind will interfere with your first efforts to light a fire and cause a dusty mess as you pile new firewood inside. Second, the old material could be damp and cool, making it hard for the fire to ignite and build and retain heat.

Check Moving Parts

You have a damper in the chimney to keep debris out when you’re not burning and to facilitate airflow when a fire is lit. Make sure it operates smoothly.

Inside the house, you’ll have a screen, doors, and a vent on your fireplace to help you contain the mess and manage the temperature. Make sure they all work properly before starting a fire. Keep a heavy leather glove close by to prevent burns when you are operating the door and always vent while a fire is burning.

Clear the Area to Prepare Your Fireplace

As your fireplace sits unused all summer, it may collect household items. Maybe the mantel is covered with books or photos or there are newspapers or toys stacked on the hearth and nearby. You may have even added an area rug or a piece of furniture.

All of these items should be moved accordingly as you prepare your fireplace. It’s easy to overlook the hazards associated with having a fire inside the house, especially when it’s been months since you burned. Maintain that critical 36″ of clearance on all sides of the fireplace, allowing nothing combustible within that area.

Your fireplace can be beautiful, safe, and comfortable each winter. Just be sure you properly prepare your fireplace for use before throwing the first log on the fire.

Jamie Schaefer Professional Home Inspector provides home inspection services to Metro New York. Contact us to take advantage of our holiday special.