A roaring fire in the fireplace can bring comfort, warmth, and a sense of nostalgia to your winter. It can also help to cut heating costs in this economy. Making sure that your fireplace is properly prepared for the coming cold weather is the necessary first step to adding a safe bright spot to the dark winter months ahead.
At This Old House, Shyra Peyton provides a step-by-step set of instructions on correct fireplace preparation. One suggestion encourages homeowners to hire a professional to ensure that the fireplace and chimney are properly cleaned: "The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be swept at least once a year at the beginning of the winter to remove soot and debris."
Peyton suggests using the Chimney Safety Institute of America to find a certified sweep. The sweep should also check for "cracks, loose bricks, or missing mortar." Better Homes and Gardens suggests that you or the professional sweep check that "the damper is working properly and that the chimney is capped with screening to keep out critters."
The BHG article also emphasizes the importance of carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors when winterizing your home. To ensure advance warning if anything goes wrong when you are using your fireplace, remember to check and replace batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors if necessary.
Building a safe fire from the right materials makes a huge difference. Choose well seasoned hard wood like oak, which is less likely to smoke, as compared to pine which produces creosote. BHG describes creosote buildup: "Burning wood releases volatile gases that cool and condense on the inside of the chimney, forming [the] sticky, smelly, highly flammable" substance.
Don't overbuild your fire; start small to avoid smoke and creosote buildup. High heat can crack a chimney. Also make sure that logs are near the back and kindling is used as a fire starter rather than a flammable liquid.
By following these simple steps, you can ensure a safe, warm, and comforting hearth will be at the center of your home this winter.