Having a fire in your home doesn't have to be dangerous, but it shouldn't be treated casually either. Here are some basic tips to make sure that your fireplace experience is a safe and happy one.
1. Have your chimney professionally cleaned. This should be done at least once a year, more if you use the fireplace a lot. One of the main risks of a fireplace is not fire in the living room but fire up in the chimney where you can't reach it. Cleaning will alleviate the buildup of creosote, which is what catches fire.
2. Burn seasoned, hard wood. Soft woods such as pine burn at lower temperatures, creating creosote. Hard woods like oak and maple burn cleaner and hotter. But if the wood is green, creosote will still be a problem. Use dry wood, seasoned for at least a year.
3. Use a spark screen. Spark screens keep sparks and bits of kindling from floating out into your living room and catching the carpet on fire.
4. Make sure everyone in the family respects the fire. It may be tempting to play around with fire. Make sure everyone understands that this is a bad idea. It's easy to forget how hot the fire is. Remind everyone not to get too close and to move carefully when in the vicinity. A fireplace screen to establish a safe perimeter is a good idea if you have small children or pets.
5. Close the damper and doors tightly when you are done. A fire may appear completely dead, but a midnight draft can get the embers to burning again. And a slight breeze can take them out into your living room.
6. Clean the fireplace between each use. Old bits of partially burned ash are ideal candidates for bearing flames up your chimney or out into your living room.
7. Do not clean the fireplace until you are sure that the fire is completely dead and everything is cool inside. You risk injury to yourself from smoldering charcoal. And if you don't injure yourself, you could well start a trash can fire.
8. Make sure you have smoke alarms. Hang smoke alarms outside all sleeping areas, on every level of the house, and above stairwells. Test the smoke alarms once a month. Replace them every 10 years.
9. Have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it.
10. Have an evacuation plan. Make sure everyone in the family knows at least two routes to get to the outside from any part of the house.
11. If you do have a chimney fire, close the damper and doors tightly. Then leave the house and call the fire department from a neighbor's.
While there are a number of things to do on this page to proects yourself and to use a fireplace safely, you may be interested in learning more. The following web sites contain some very helpful fireplace safety information and elaborate on some of the information contained on this page.
Fireplace Safety: University of Michigan fireplace safety recommendations. Includes fireplace installation, maintenance, and repair tips.
Fireplace Safety Tips: View safety tips from the City of Phoenix, AZ