Snuggling up in front of the fire on a cold winter night can be like a tropical paradise sometimes. Nothing feels better than your fingers, toes and nose thawing out in front of a natural fire. However, if the proper safety is not taken when using the fireplace and chimney, then things can go wrong; quickly.
The first thing that should be done to make your chimney safe is to make sure that it stays clean and clear of debris. It is recommended that you have your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year before using it for the first time. It should also be inspected thoroughly by a professional in order to ensure that it is in excellent working condition.
If you choose not to hire an inspector, which is not recommended, then be sure to inspect the chimney yourself. Note, that a professional inspector will have all of tools and cameras necessary for performing a thorough inspection of your chimney liner and flue. Be sure to check that there are no cracked or missing mortar joints and bricks. If there are problems then all necessary repairs should be made before the chimney is put to use. Also, make sure that the chimney cap is still in tact and that the netting is not clogged with creosote buildup.
The next thing to check your chimney for is the draft. A chimney removes smoke and other harmful gases from your house by using draft. Draft is created by the warm air in the chimney liner or flue rising and meeting the cold air on the outside, which, in turn, causes fresh, replacement air to be pulled into the fireplace. If the proper airflow is not happening within the chimney, then the draft will not be strong enough to pull the smoke and gases all the way out of the chimney. There is only one other place that it can go and that is back into your home. There are many things that can affect the draft such as creosote buildup within the chimney liner. If there is a draft problem present in your home and chimney, consult a chimney professional to assist in fixing the problem.
One of the biggest dangers stemming from draft problems in a chimney is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can cause several health problems similar to flu-like illnesses. Because of this similarity, diagnosing carbon monoxide poisoning can be delayed and life will go on in the same unhealthy environment for a time. Sometimes, the warning that a person is being exposed to carbon monoxide comes too late and there is already permanent brain damage or death. Be sure that your chimney, whether it is servicing a furnace or a fireplace, is exhausting the smoke and gases properly.
Like a chimney, one of the first things to check a fireplace for is its cleanliness. Creosote can build up within a fireplace as well, especially in the upper, unseen parts of it such as the chimney damper. Once the fireplace is cleaned thoroughly, you should also check the masonry work for cracked or missing mortar joints and bricks. Obviously there will be some extreme temperatures within the fireplace and the brick or mortar joints could experience a loss of structural integrity. You would not want bricks crumbling and falling into the fire and sending sparks flying everywhere.
While in use, it is also good to have some kind of barrier in front of the fireplace. This is especially true when children and pets are present. A metal, screen barrier will keep them from getting too close to the fire. Even if there are glass doors on the fireplace, a barrier should be in place as well, for the glass can be extremely hot and the doors can be opened. A screen barrier can also be helpful for catching those rogue sparks that make their way out of the fireplace. If they land on the carpet, fire will surely ensue.
The proper fire-building techniques should also be used when creating a fire. You wouldn’t want the firewood that is burning to collapse and roll out of the fireplace. The wood should be stacked so that as it burns it disintegrates into the fireplace.
By following the proper safety tips while using your fireplace and chimney, there should be no major issues when using them. They will provide an excellent and very relaxing heat source on those cold winter days.