What can be better than the crackling of a fire in your fireplace on a cold winter’s night? However, your fireplace, if not properly maintained, can be a danger to your home and family. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between 2007 and 2011, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors accounted for 38% of home heating fires and caused $195 million worth of property damage in 2011 alone.

What can you do to keep your home and family safe? More than half of fireplace, chimney and chimney connector fires involve failure to clean as a factor contributing to ignition. Proper maintenance of your fireplace and chimney is critical.

The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA) recommends the following safety and maintenance tips for your wood-burning fireplace.

  • Have your chimney inspected annually by a professional chimney sweep. The Chimney Safety Institute of America can help you find a certified chimney sweep.
  • Install a cap at the top of the chimney so debris or animals can’t block the chimney.
  • Install both a smoke and carbon monoxide detector. (Make sure the batteries work.)
  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand. Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Clear a two-foot area around the fireplace of furniture, books and other potentially flammable material.
  • Never burn garbage, rolled newspapers, charcoal or plastic in the fireplace. Do not use gasoline or any liquid accelerant to help start a fire.
  • Keep small children and pets away from the fireplace.
  • Don’t close the damper until the embers have completely stopped burning.
  • Make sure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Put ashes in a non-combustible container with a tightly fitting lid. Place the container away from the house.

When it comes to house fires, better safe than sorry. Take steps today to make sure your fireplace is properly maintained.