With winter just around the corner and weather getting colder, you’re going to use your fireplace. There’s nothing quite as comforting and cozy than curling up next to a fireplace with a crackling fire. But before you strike your first match, it’s important to take precautions so your fireplace is safe, well maintained, and good-looking. If your fireplace is not well maintained, it could cause a house fire and burn your home down. Avoid placing furniture, rugs, or other objects too close to a functioning fireplace. Keep the area clear of decor, firewood, and other household odds and ends.

All chimneys should be examined and cleaned at least once a year, or about once every 80 fires, by a chimney cleaning professional. An in-depth cleaning will remove buildup of creosote which is a highly flammable and oily result of burning wood. You should also look inside the fireplace as well as the exterior brickwork for damage or cracks. Hire a professional mason to repair any damage you find. Don’t try to repair firebrick with regular mortar because the mixture cannot stand up to the high heat of the fire. Make sure the fireplace damper is properly working. There should be no debris preventing it from opening and closing. Check that the chimney cap is strongly attached and in good condition as well as a protective screening to keep birds, squirrels, bats, and other pests from entering your chimney.

If you have a gas fireplace, make sure the pilot light is on and the vents are clear and properly working. Check the logs, liners, and burners for cracks. Replace any damaged pieces. If you have an electric fireplace, check the wires to make sure none are frayed or damaged. Also, make sure that all connectors are secured tightly. Finally, vacuum and dust the fireplace on a regular basis.

Don’t allow ash to build up, as it can reduce the air quality of your home. Clear the ashes from your firebox once the ash is more than an inch deep. Coals can stay hot for up to three days, so make sure everything is completely cold. Sweep or vacuum the cold ashes and dispose of them outside.

Now that you’re fireplace and chimney are ready to be used, let’s talk about your wood. It’s good to have a range of log sizes because soft woods like pine ignite fast and burn quickly whereas hardwoods like oak, maple, and birch take longer to burn, but they burn longer and hotter. Never burn treated or painted wood because they produce hazardous fumes. You can also burn specific fireplace logs, like Duraflame or Pres-to-Logs.

Store your firewood outside and away from your home to avoid attracting pests. Ideally, you should season your freshly cut firewood. The purpose of seasoning is to get rid of the moisture for ease of burning. Find a dry, sunny spot in your yard for stacking. Having a properly built pile helps with ventilation and keeps the wood from getting moldy or covered in fungus. If you have a disorganized pile, your wood won’t dry, it will soak up rainwater, and eventually it will turn into a smelly, rotting mess.