Most homes look and feel cozier when they have a fireplace, especially a workable one that the owners use on occasion. But even an attractive fixture of this type can be dangerous if it is not managed correctly or safely. If you have recently purchased a home that has a fireplace, find and read maintenance guidelines to make sure your fireplace continues to be a source of pleasure rather than pain.

When taking possession of your home, ask the previous owner about the condition of the fireplace. Find out whether it was used, and if so, how often. Inquire as to whether there were problems with the fireplace, and if the chimney ever needed or received any type of repairs. It also would be a good idea to ask if there had been any problems with a fire starting from the fireplace or if carbon monoxide levels were checked. Once you have this information, you will have a better idea of what needs to be done.

Get the chimney inspected. Even if the past owners confirmed that the fireplace was in good working order, an annual checkup is advisable to make sure the flue remains operational, and that creosote has not built up to dangerous levels. Besides, small animals like birds, squirrels, and bats can build nests in the chimney at any time, and severe weather can take an unexpected toll, so a yearly inspection is a good idea.

Learn how to start, maintain, and put out fireplace flames. Keep the necessary materials on hand, like kindling wood and a lighter. Do not burn just any kind of materials in the fireplace, as some, like aerosol containers, may explode while others may release toxic substances.

Keep the right equipment on hand. You will want to put up a screen to keep sparks from darting onto the floor or nearby furniture. A poker will let you stir the embers to check for embers. You will need a shovel and a small dustpan to remove ashes, as well as a bin for firewood. Don’t forget to keep a fire extinguisher on hand, and know how to use it. Teach family members what to do in case the flame should get out of control. Install a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke detector in the room to pick up early levels of problem fumes or smoke. Without the necessary items, you could run the risk of letting a fire spread into the room.

Never leave a fireplace flame unattended. Someone should stay in the room or be in and out frequently to monitor its burning. Otherwise, if a problem occurs, it could spread quickly without adequate supervision. Make sure the fire has burned out before leaving the house or going to bed. Don’t close the flue until the fire is completely out, or the house could fill with smoke or carbon monoxide.

A fire in your hearth is a beautiful sight, but it is important to learn how to tend it properly. Get the necessary guidelines and equipment before burning logs in your home fireplace.

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3 Feb 2007