Nothing beats the winter chill like a cozy fire in the fireplace.
But sparks, hot glass and chimney fires can quickly turn a fireplace into a hazard without some preparation and diligence.
According to Bob Martin, owner of Monroe Fireplace, a few simple precautions can protect your home and its inhabitants.
“First of all, you need a clean chimney,” he said.
Over the years, soot and creosote can build up inside a chimney. Although chimney fires are rare, if enough flammable creosote coats the inside of a chimney, it can ignite.
“In its most dangerous form it’s like burning coal in the chimney,” said Martin. “Heat transfers though brick and masonry fairly readily and can develop house fires.”
Professional chimney cleaners can take care of creosote for you, and there are several reputable chimney sweeps in the area, including Rod Hewitt, who works for the Seattle Fire Department and who Monroe Fireplace has been recommending for about 30 years, said Martin.
Another option that doesn’t remove creosote as well but does reduce its risks are chemical retardants. Among them are “chimney sweep logs,” granular retardants that can be added by the spoonful to the fireplace, and liquid treatments that can be poured over fuel.
It’s important to make sure your fireplace drafts well, too. If the chimney doesn’t breathe properly, smoke can get in your house. While smoke is easy enough to smell, when gas fires don’t exhaust properly, there are serious health hazards.
“It’s not as noticeable,” said Martin.
When there are young children in the house, glass-fronted fireplaces can easily cause burns.
In new homes, builders are moving toward installing all fireplaces with protective mesh fronts. But there is no easy way to attach a mesh panel to an existing fireplace.
So Martin recommends placing a folding fireplace screen in front of hot glass fireplaces to add a layer of protection between them and playing children.
Those fireplace screens are a good way to prevent sparks from jumping out of an open wood-burning fireplace, too, he noted.
With care, a fireplace can be the centerpiece of a home in the winter months, perhaps bedecked with stockings through the holidays, without causing you any worry for the safety of your home.