As the weather outside turns cold, snuggling up next a fire can help take the chill off. However, before lighting that first fire of the season, it is important to prepare your fireplace to ensure you stay safe.

Wood burning fireplaces that are not properly installed, maintained or operated can lead to a house fire. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) more than 25,000 chimney fires result in $120 million in damage nationwide. Here are a few tips to help you stay warm and safe this winter.

1.    Inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney

According to the NFPA, 30% of home heating fires were caused by a failure to clean, principally creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys. Creosote is a sticky, flammable substance released when wood is burned. If not removed, the buildup can result in a chimney fire. Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional at least once a year.

2.    Burn Dry Seasoned Hardwoods

Wet, green or unseasoned wood and softwoods like pine produce more creosote buildup in the chimney leading to chimney fires. Hardwoods such as oak, walnut, or cherry are the best choices for sustained heat.

3.    Properly adjust your damper

When the fireplace is in use, open the damper to prevent smoke from filling your home. If no fire is burning, close the damper tight to prevent cold outside air from entering the house. Small adjustments to the damper allow you to control the intensity of your fire while burning.

4.    Build a safe fire

Avoid overloading the fireplace with an excess of wood. Smaller fires generate less smoke which in turn creates less creosote buildup. Burning a fire too large or too hot can crack the chimney. In addition, glass doors should be kept open while burning a fire.

5.    Use a spark guard

Keep metal mesh screens closed when burning a fire to help keep embers in the fireplace and prevent a house fire.

6.    Never leave a fire unattended

Never leave a fire burning in a fireplace unattended. Before leaving the house or going to bed, be certain to fully extinguish the fire.

7.    Install & regularly check carbon monoxide detectors

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are the most effective way to detect a fire or a buildup of carbon monoxide in the house. The early warning provided by these inexpensive devices can ensure that you and your family get out safely.

A roaring fire can take the chill out of the coldest winter night; however, taking the time get your fireplace is ready will ensure you stay safe and cozy. Also, don’t forget to check with your Cole Harrison agent to review how your homeowners policy to make sure you are covered if a house fire should occur.

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