Be smart before using your fireplace

With Christmas and the holidays right around the corner, now is the time millions of people around the globe begin the centuries-old ritual of snuggling in front of the family fireplace to bask in the warmth of, and enjoy the smell of, burning wood.

And because of rising energy prices, the popularity of wood-burning fireplaces has sky-rocketed over the past three years. But before you light that first cozy fire of the season, you need to take a few preventative steps to protect you and your family from the devastation of a chimney fire.

Chimney fires can burn explosively at temperatures of 2,000 degrees or more. Heat that can melt mortar, crack tiles inside the chimney and burn your home to the ground.

Chimney fires are caused by the build up of creosote, a highly combustible, tar-like substance created by the wood you burn that sticks to the inner walls of the fireplace.

The solution to this problem is two-fold: burning the right kind of wood and routinely having your fireplace cleaned by a Certified Chimney Sweep Technician.

Step 1 > Hiring a chimney sweep technician
This is something a lot of people just plain forget about. But you should have your chimney swept out once a year, before you light the first fire of the season. The best months for this are typically September and October.

Step 2 > Burning the right kind of wood
Too many people are completely reckless with their fireplaces. They will grab a few huge pieces of wood they cut a few weeks ago, throw them into the fireplace and just let it rip. What they are doing is burning really, green wood, wet wood, that hasn’t dried, and in the process coating their chimney with tremendous amounts of creosote. You should always burn wood that has been cut and split, to help it dry, and has been sitting for at least two years, hopefully more.

This is what the experts call “Seasoned Wood” and burning it is the best thing you can do to reduce the amount of creosote inside your fireplace.

Another way to protect yourself from chimney fires is to burn smaller, hotter fires in your fireplace that produce less smoke.

One more thing to consider when building your fire is to always burn hardwoods rather than softwoods.

The best woods to burn are > oak, hickory, maple, cherry. Woods to avoid are > pine and poplar.

As you sit down in front of that first roaring fire of the winter season, it’s hard to imagine that beautiful, warm fire ever doing you and your family any harm, and it won’t, if you take just a few wise precautions right now.