Cozying Up to Fireplace Safety – Be Careful, don’t get too cozy.

The sharp turn from fall to winter has taken place and those living in cold climates probably have started cozying up to fireplaces.

Danger can lurk. Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, flammable materials sitting near fireplaces can catch fire, and there’s always the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Be certain your fireplace is safe. Here are 8 fireplace safety tips.

Alarms. Be certain that you have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in your house. Test them monthly.

Inspection. Get your chimney cleaned and inspected before you light fires this season.  For the 101 on getting your chimney swept, see this article.

Materials. Don’t burn garbage or other unwanted materials in the fireplace. If they’ve been treated with chemicals, you could release toxins into your house.

Energy wise. Keep in mind that relying on a fireplace to heat your house isn’t terribly energy efficient. Heat escapes through the chimney and other rooms in the house get chilly, which causes your furnace to work overtime to keep temperatures steady throughout the house.

Smart wood. “Green” or wet wood creates smoke and wastes fuel, so look for wood that’s seasoned or dry. The more moisture there is in a log, the less efficiently it burns. Dense, hard wood are the longest burners. Among the best woods for fireplaces are ironwood, rock elm, hickory, oak and sugar maple. Among the worst are poplar, pine, basswood, spruce, and balsam.  You can view this document for more on wood choices.

Buy locally. Just like you do with produce, get wood from local sources and don’t be tempted to haul fire wood home from your woodsy vacation spot. Why? You could be bring home diseased wood and transport dangerous tree-killers, such as the emerald ash borer or the Asian long-horned beetle, to a new spot. Learn more at this page or at

Safe hearth.  Be certain that furniture, decorations, electrical wires, and so forth are safely removed from your fireplace. Furniture, for example, should be at least 36 inches away from the hearth. Of course, keep an eye on children and pets when a fire is burning.

Tend to your fire. Don’t leave the house or go to bed until you’re positive that your fire is extinguished. And before you sweep and toss the ashes, be sure they’re cool. Consider soaking them with water before throwing them out.


by Elyse Umlauf

of the NAR GREEN Resource Council with permission GREEN Resource Council