January cold snaps mean many wood-burning fireplaces - some of them long dormant - are being called into action.
Before you strike that match, consider a few safety and maintenance tips from experts at HGTV and Angie’s List, which provides consumer reviews of service companies.
Wood-burning fireplaces and chimneys should be inspected annually, or after about 80 fires, by a certified chimney sweep. The home must have functioning carbon-monoxide detectors.
“This is not negotiable — any fireplace or chimney that’s not functioning perfectly can kill your family, either through fire or noxious fumes,” said Mike Holmes of HGTV’s “Holmes on Homes.”
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Common problems are malfunctioning flues, damaged chimney liners and blockages from nesting critters. A chimney cap and a spark arrester can reduce risks.
Your chimney sweep company should be certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America or the National Chimney Sweep Guild, says Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. The average price for an inspection is $200.
Avoid burning pine or sappy woods. Seasoned wood, dried for at least 12 months, will help reduce creosote buildup in the chimney. (If wood hisses, sizzles or foams when burned, it contains moisture.)
Before making a fire in a traditional fireplace, open the damper and crack open a window. Light a match, blow it out and watch the smoke to see whether it’s properly going up the chimney, HGTV suggests. Think twice about using the fireplace on gusty days, when opening a door can change room pressure enough to coat furniture with a flurry of ash. Place a nonflammable rug (available at fireplace-supply stores) in front of the fireplace so that sparks won’t damage your flooring. Don’t burn a fire for longer than five hours.