Just a short century ago, fireplaces were the primary heat source in most homes. Today, about a third of Americans, many in rural areas, still count on them (or wood stoves or other fuel-fired appliances) to stay warm during winter””while the rest of users enjoy their glow, crackle and the cozy atmosphere they create.
Whether you’re staving off shivers, staging a romantic interlude or just snuggling up with a good book, follow these guidelines from the U.S. Fire Administration and the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission to stay safe beside your indoor fireplace:
“¢ First, be sure the fireplace is actually a fireplace””not a decorative piece. If it’s in your home, you probably already know. But double check if you’re in a vacation rental.
“¢ Before use, inspect the fireplace to make sure the smoke ducts and chimney are clear. If you can, have a certified specialist clean the chimney once a year.
“¢ Open the damper before starting the fire (and leave it open until ashes have cooled). Never restrict air supply to fireplaces, which can lead to chimney fires.
“¢ Never use flammable liquids (paint thinner, nail polish remover, gasoline, etc.) to start or re-light a fire””the vapors can explode.
“¢ Burn only seasoned hardwood, not moist wood, which can lead to accelerated production of creosote””a thick, black, oily substance created by fire.
“¢ Never use coal or charcoal in the fireplace””it can lead to carbon monoxide buildup.
“¢ Avoid burning cardboard boxes, wrappings and other trash, which can emit chemical fumes and create paper embers that could ignite your roof.
“¢ Build small fires to produce less smoke.
“¢ If using artificial logs, which are made from a combination of sawdust or wood particles and wax, follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully. They burn differently and have different safety requirements than real wood.
“¢ Leave glass doors open while fire is lit; use a metal-mesh fireplace screen to prevent embers from escaping.
“¢ Do not overload the fireplace””which can lead to dangerous overheating of walls or roof materials.
“¢ Place larger logs at the rear of the fireplace, on an adequate-sized supportive grate.
“¢ Never leave a fireplace unattended. Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house.
“¢ Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
“¢ Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from your home.