Staying safe and keeping warm this winter

The chill is in the air and that means many of you will be firing up the fireplace, but there are certain precautions you should take before starting that fire.

The first thing you need to do is make sure your chimney is clean and inspected by a reputable chimney sweep service. This should be done every year.

“When you build wood fires, the byproduct of burning the wood is soot accumulates inside the chimney. The soot is combustible, so the more fires that you have, the more soot you get in the chimney,” says Tim Kuhbander of Michiana Chimney.

Having your chimney cleaned out periodically will reduce your chances of a fire, and if it does catch fire, it’s going to reduce the size of the fire and limit the damage done to the rest of the house.

Even if you do not use your fireplace or wood stove very often, Kuhbander says you could still be at-risk for fire.

“A lot of people think you have to have a wood stove and burn it 24 hours a day and heat with it to have a chimney fire, and that’s just really not true. After just a few fires you’ll start to accumulate soot and you can have a chimney fire then.”

A typical cleaning process is done in usually 30 minutes, and once it is cleaned there are still other safety measures you should take for safer burning practices.

First of all, always make sure that the wood you burn is dry and seasoned.

According David Cherrone, Clay Fire Marshall, “Wood never completely dries up, but 2 years of having it split and dried makes it much better for burning. Burns more solid, gives more heat.”

Use kindling, twigs, newspaper, or buy some starter logs or sticks to help ignite your fire. And use a long match or flame stick to avoid burning your hand.

Cherrone also advises to avoid using certain fire-starters in your chimney or fireplace.

“Don’t use charcoals, charcoal lighter fluids, don’t use any of those things that you would normally use outside in your barbeque grill to get your fireplace going.”

And as the holidays approach, remember not to burn things like wrapping paper, cardboard, or Christmas trees. Other things to avoid burning include painted or treated wood, wet or moldy wood, driftwood, and trash as these items can release toxic chemicals in the air.

“And most importantly, once the fire gets going, open up the flue. We go on a number of calls each year where people say, ‘gee, I got smoke filling up my house and you get there and they had started a fire in the fireplace but they forgot to open the flue so that the smoke and the hot air can exit out the top,” says Cherrone.

When the fire is good and hot, make sure you close the screen to keep any embers from falling out of the fireplace.

Cherrone warns homeowners to take care even when cleaning up fires, “When people take the ashes out they need to make sure the ashes are put in a metal container. Each year we have either a garage fire or house fire that starts because people cleaned out the fireplace and they put those ashes in a cardboard box and set them inside their garage.”

He says that the coals and ashes can stay hot for up to 8 hours.
And last but not least, make sure you have both smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home to alert you of any problems.

While gas fireplaces do not require quite as much attention, they should still be inspected annually and cleaned periodically. On average, a chimney cleaning will run you between $125 and $175.

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