If your home has a fireplace, do you use it often? Here are some things to keep in mind when you do.

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A fire burns in a fieldstone fireplace.

Ready to use your fireplace? Here are ten tips to get you started:

With cold weather and dark nights setting in, there’s nothing like relaxing in front of a cozy fire. Many homebuyers say that a fireplace was a factor in their choice of home, but not everyone feels comfortable lighting a fire in one. Follow these tips and you’ll be resting comfortably by the fire in no time.

  1. Have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually (or at least every two years, if you only use your fireplace infrequently.)  Your chimney should be in good structural condition and free from soot and creosote buildup that can lead to chimney fires.
  2. Make sure the damper to the flue is open before you light your fire!  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a good item to include in your regular routine so you never forget. The damper should remain open until the fire is completely out, or you risk carbon monoxide production.
  3. Only burn properly seasoned wood or specially designed firelogs. Your best bets are woods like birch, oak, hickory, and maple that have been dried for at least a year.  If your wood is too green, you’ll have a harder time starting the fire and it will produce more smoke. Evergreens burn too rapidly and also contribute to creosote build-up.
  4. Open a window just a bit to allow fresh air intake.  This can also help balance air pressure to keep your chimney drafting well – doing its job to keep smoke, carbon monoxide, and other toxic byproducts from infiltrating your living space.
  5. Be safe!  Make sure you have working smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and a fire extinguisher nearby.
  6. Use the proper tools.  At minimum, a poker is necessary to adjust the position of logs as the fire burns.  A broom and shovel are handy when the fire is out for keeping the firebox clean from excess ash.
  7. Start with some crumpled paper or a firestarter under a bit of kindling to get a small fire going.  (Don’t burn cardboard – it may seem innocent, but its glues and printing inks can release toxins when burned.) Then, add a single log and tend to the kindling to keep the fire burning until the log has caught.  You can add more fuel gradually, stacking the wood at 90 angles.
  8. If it is very cold outside, you can help get the chimney drafting by using a rolled up sheet of newspaper as a torch in the firebox – light the end and put the flame near the flue to warm the air and get it flowing upwards.
  9. Leaving some ash in the fireplace can provide a bedding for embers and keep your fire burning longer.  If you do remove old embers and ash, ALWAYS empty into a metal container and do not mix with other trash. Adding water is a good precautionary measure to ensure no hidden embers can later spark a new flame.  Ash and embers can remain warm for days after a fire seems to have burned out.
  10. Never leave your fireplace unattended.

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