Winter is upon us and while this is the most joyous time for many families, there is a hidden risk that comes with the cooler temperatures and snow fall. A roaring fire on the hearth and the beauty of the fireplace make this season extra special. But before enjoying your fireplace this winter it is important to make sure that all components, including the hearth, mantle, and chimney are all inspected and ready to go.

Hearth Cleaning and Inspection

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends getting your chimney cleaned and inspected annually before the active burning season sets in. There are several hazards that can turn the enjoyable fireplace and hearth into a health and safety hazard for you and your family and your pets. The most dangerous involve the buildup of soot, creosote, and glaze, all of which can pose a serious fire risk and also can poison the air of your home if not properly removed and cleaned out.

Soot is the well-known byproduct of chimney fires and is composed of a black flaky or powdery substance. It is created by the incomplete burning of logs and is made up mostly of amorphous carbon and a small amount of actual ash. The less ash present in the mix, the more dangerous soot is. This is because the carbon is very flammable and can catch fire up in the chimney if burning embers from the fire are carried up and ignite on the soot.

Creosote is another common substance that can accumulate in the chimney and fireplace and create a fire hazard. Creosote is smoke and vapor residue that is left over from wood that is not burned completely. A highly flammable material, creosote may look like soot at first but it is a harder deposit of dark flaky material in your chimney liner.

Glaze is another major fire and safety hazard in the fireplace and takes on the form of shiny, tar-like substance which creates black puddles in your chimney. Glaze is more difficult to clean and remove because it is thick and sticky and it’s a more dangerous fire hazard due to the fact that there is more of it in a small area. Glaze has also been known to create icicle-like deposits that can form over the fireplace or along the inside walls of the chimney.

A final fire risk that needs to be checked is for any problems with the fuel line if you use a gas fireplace. The most common issue with the fuel line is cracks or breaks in the line which can cause gas to leak into the home and cause a major fire hazard. A fuel lining crack should be repaired before using the fireplace.

Other Fire Prevention Tips

  • Make sure there are smoke alarms on every level of your home and that they are checked monthly and the batteries changes as needed.
  • Get a carbon dioxide alarms to alert your family to the risk of cab on monoxide poisoning which is a critical precautionary step, since the deadly gas has no smell.
  • Dispose of ashes carefully and ensure they are properly cooled so as to not start a fire by dumping hot ashes inappropriately.
  • Burn only seasoned firewood or logs in your stove because the less moisture your firewood contains, the less soot and creosote buildup there will be.
  • Do not forget about cleaning and taking care of the hearth as it is an important part of your fire place safety set up and help keep your home safe from fire risks.