While this fireplace might look cozy, it's a safety hazard! Take your cue from the Chimney Safety Institute of America: Clear the hearth area by storing wood in a covered area away from the fireplace, and install a screen to catch flying sparks.
One of the perks of living in an old farmhouse (or even a new one) is gathering around the fireplace during the chilly evenings of late-autumn and winter. This time spent with friends and family around a cozy fire is a tradition you can cherish year after year, as long as you keep your chimney in top working order.
In 2005, 24,500 residential fires occurred as a result of problems with chimneys, fireplaces and solid-fuel appliances, but you can prevent this from happening in your home with a few easy steps. First, the Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends having an annual inspection performed by a CSIA-certified professional chimney sweep. (Find a professional in your area by visiting CSIA’s chimney sweep database.) You can also do your part throughout the year to ensure safe chimney and fireplace use. Follow these five easy steps provided by CSIA to prevent a chimney fire or carbon-monoxide intrusion that could endanger your family’s well-being.
1. Burn Fires Safely
Only burn well-seasoned wood in your fireplace that was cut at a minimum of six to 12 months prior to use. Store any additional wood for your fireplace in a covered and elevated location that is also easily accessible. Although it might be tempting to use them, steer clear of using flammable liquids, treated wood, wrapping paper or Christmas trees in the fire.
2. Clear the Area
Both the top of the chimney and the hearth need to be cleared of potentially hazardous material that could cause the fire to spread past the confines of the fireplace. Cut down branches of trees that are within 15 feet of your chimney and install a chimney cap to keep out debris and unwanted animals. Keep any flammable materials, including furniture, at least 3 feet away from the hearth, and install a metal or mesh screen in front of the fireplace to catch fire sparks.
3. Discard Ashes Properly
When your fire is finished burning, scoop up the ashes and place them in a metal container away from the house, where they can fully cool safely. Consider saving some ashes to use in the garden when you need to increase alkalinity in soils that have a pH of less than 5.5.
4. Practice Common Sense
Install smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors around your house. Never leave a fire unattended, and keep a close eye on children and pets when a fire is in use. When finished enjoying the fire, make sure it is fully extinguished before leaving the room.
5. Don’t DIY.
Although it’s probably in your nature as a hobby farmer to want to take care of all chimney maintenance tasks on your own, give yourself a break from the cleaning and hand over chimney-sweep duties to the professionals. This is important because certified chimney sweep will know how to remove the thin layer of creosote, a combustible film that builds up in your chimney over time, that most homeowners overlook.
Use these steps to proper chimney care, and you’ll be able to enjoy your fireplace throughout the cold season.