A fireplace can add warmth and joy to a home. If this will be your first winter in a home with a wood-burning fireplace, you're probably excited to start using it. However, it's really important to follow a few safety precautions first to ensure your warmth and joy are not displaced by flames and injuries.
Check your chimney for creosote.
Creosote is an oily black substance that can build up in the chimney over time. It is flammable, so if you light a fire when you have a lot of creosote buildup in your chimney, there's a risk that your chimney may catch fire. Stick your head into the fireplace and look up into the chimney, using a flashlight. Also, run your hand along the inside of the opening to the chimney. If you see or feel a black, oily, tar-like substance, call a chimney cleaning company and have your chimney thoroughly cleaned before you light your first fire.
When you're peering up into the chimney, also make sure you do not see any birds nests or other blockages. If present, these will need to be cleared out by a professional before you use the fire place, too.
Put up a carbon monoxide detector.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that is produced when wood burns. If all goes well, it should be vented out via your chimney. However, leaks and blocked vents can occur even when you're careful, causing carbon monoxide to leak into the home. If you inhale it, you may develop nausea, a headache, and flu-like symptoms -- and in the worst case scenario, you may die. Put a carbon monoxide detector in the room with the fireplace so that if this gas ends up in your home, you're alerted. If the alarm should go off, put out the fire, find somewhere else to stay until the gas clears, and have your fireplace inspected before using it again.
Purchase a fire extinguisher.
You need to have a means of putting out the fire quickly if need be. A basic fire extinguisher, which can be purchased at a local hardware store, will do the trick. Make sure you know how to use it. Read the instructions carefully as soon as you buy the extinguisher so you don't have to do so in an emergency. Generally, to use the extinguisher, you will need to pull out a colored plug and then pull back on a trigger.
After you have checked for creosote and blockages, put up a carbon monoxide detector, and purchased a fire extinguisher, you should be able to safely light a fire in your fireplace. If you have any doubts as to whether your fireplace and chimney are functioning properly, always put the fire out and have an expert do an inspection before proceeding -- your life depends on it. Talk to a professional like Direct Chimney Services chimney repair for more information.