5 Scary Fireplace Mistakes You’re Probably Making

For true peace of mind by the fireplace, avoid these pitfalls.

December 14, 2016
Noah Silliman/unsplash

There’s no debate: Snuggled up near your fireplace (with a cup of something hot and a good book, of course) is the best place to be this time of year. Indeed, that cozy, crackling glow is pretty magical. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can also be pretty dangerous. We are talking about fire here, folks.

But don’t worry: Once you’re aware of the possible pitfalls, getting the whole building-a-fire-that-won’t-kill-you thing is easy. Here are five common fireplace mistakes, and how to avoid them. 

(Find seasonal recipes, inspiring imagery, and gardening tips every day inside the Rodale’s Organic Life 2017 Calendar!)

smoking chimney
1/5 Jaan-Martin Kuusmann/shutterstock
Not getting your chimney inspected regularly

In terms of Stuff That’s On Your Mind, having your chimney inspected is probably right up there with cleaning your gutters or clipping your toenails. But it’s important, and you should have it done annually, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA). Go ahead, put it on your calendar right now.

Why? With wood-burning fires, smoke carries highly combustible wood particles called creosote up your chimney. Over time, those particles build up on the chimney walls. And when enough creosote accumulates, it could ignite and cause a chimney fire. “It’s one of the scariest things you’ll ever witness. Temperatures can get over 2,000 degrees, and flames can spew out of the chimney and onto your roof,” says Rick Vlahos, executive director of the HPB Education Foundation and National Fireplace Institute. 

Related: 8 Things You Should Do To Get Your Home Ready For Winter

stack of wood
2/5 Brigitte Tohm/unsplash
Overloading your fireplace to make a huge, roaring fire

If you’re new to building fires, you might think that you need a ton of wood in order to make a really big, cozy one. But try to resist those caveman instincts. Two or three logs are enough to get the job done. Using more than that isn’t harmful, it’s just wasteful. “All that heat is just going up your chimney,” Vlahos says.

By the way, we’re talking about real wood here. If you’re using a store-bought log like Duraflame, one at a time is all you ever need. 

Related: How To Build A Fire In 4 Simple Steps

newspaper rolls
3/5 Paket/shutterstock
Feeding your fire with newspaper

Yesterday’s paper is just sitting in the recycle bin anyway, so why not use it to give your fire a boost? Because it’ll make a mess—and could pose a serious safety risk. “It’s just dirty. When newspaper starts to burn, flakes of it start coming out the chimney, which could pose a problem,” says Vlahos. Think, smoldering pieces of newspaper landing on your roof, or even on the ground around your home.  

burning fireplace
4/5 Ilona5555/shutterstock
Closing the damper when the fire is still smoldering

An open damper sends smoke out through your chimney when you have a fire going, and a closed one keeps cold air from coming in through the chimney once the fire is out. But if you shut the damper before your fire is totally dead, smoke from the still-lingering flames will flow into your home instead of outside.

Clearly, that’s a situation you want to avoid. But knowing when a fire is really, 100 percent out just by looking at it can be tricky. “Hot coals can be embedded in the ashes,” Vlahos says. So when you think the fire is done, spread the ashes around with your fire poke to double check. Don’t see any smoke or glowing embers? Great. Now you can shut the damper.

Related: Why The Best Place To Be Is By The Fire

5/5 successo images/shutterstock
Forgetting about the fire extinguisher

If it doesn’t exactly match the rest of the décor around your hearth, fine—stick it in a nearby corner or closet. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it. Even so, you’ve gotta have one that works, and you have to know exactly where it is, Vlahos says. Isn’t peace of mind nice?  

Related: 6 Mistakes You're Making Every Time You Take A Shower