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A wood fire can be romantic, cozy and a great way to cut back on heating expenses if you have a good, affordable source of quality dried hardwoods to burn. However, using a traditional fireplace or wood burning stove to heat your home requires a little extra caution and preparation than changing the furnace filter and flipping the switch.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fireplaces and chimneys spark 42 percent of home heating fires. They can also be a deadly source of carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas responsible for 15,000 trips to the emergency room and 500 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s why it’s so important that you follow these tips for properly preparing the fireplace in your Colorado home before winter.

  1. Get it inspected.

Hire a chimney sweep once a year to clean debris out of your chimney and ensure that it’s structurally sound. Debris can keep your chimney from properly ventilating and residue can catch fire inside the chimney. Cracks can leak carbon monoxide into your home.

  1. Maintain it throughout the season.

Just because you have your chimney professionally cleaned once a year doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. It’s up to you to make sure creosote, a dark flammable residue created when wood doesn’t burn all the way, isn’t building up inside your chimney. Soot, which is softer than creosote but shares its dark and flammable qualities, can also cause chimney fires.

  1. Use the right wood.

Like any appliance or engine, your fireplace will work more efficiently and produce fewer dangerous byproducts if you feed it the right fuel. Always use dry wood that’s been stored out of the rain for at least six months and try to stick with hardwoods like oak, birch, ash and maple. They will burn hotter and longer and create less creosote and soot than softer woods like pine.

  1. What not to put in a fireplace…

Don’t use flammable liquids to start your fire. The fumes can float out of the fireplace and cause an explosion in your chimney or even in your house. While paper can make a good fire starter, avoid burning piles of old bills or newspapers. It will create excessive ash and can build up inside the chimney.

If you ever burn plastic or trash in your fireplace, you’ll probably never do it again anyway because it creates such a horrific stench. If you don’t have to learn the hard way, it’s for the best because it doesn’t just smell foul; those gases can be deadly.

  1. Keep the fire in the fireplace.

When fires pop and crackle, they usually shoot embers — tiny little pieces of flaming wood — out. If you’re not going to be on hand with a damp cloth and fire extinguisher to catch them all, or if you don’t want little burn marks on your furniture, you should cover the opening to your fireplace with glass doors or a thick wire mesh to keep embers from popping into your living room and potentially setting the whole place ablaze.

Fireplaces and wood burning stoves can be a good and cozy alternative to running the furnace or electric baseboards full boar this winter. If you want more information about fireplace safety and maintenance, contact the Energy Resource Center.

We can also help you identify ways to make your whole home more efficient. We perform home energy audits for Colorado families living in Denver, Jefferson,El Paso, Teller, Fremont, Elbert, South Douglas, Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Saguache and Rio Grande counties. Our audits and weatherization home improvements are free for income-qualified families. The small fees we charge to those who aren’t qualified help fund our nonprofit efforts.

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