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Fireplace and Furnace Safety Banner - fireplace with wood burning inside

Firepalce Prep - brick fireplace with wood burning inside

1. ARRANGE A YEARLY INSPECTION

All chimneys should be inspected and cleaned by a chimney cleaning professional at least once a year, or about once every 80 fires. A thorough cleaning will remove any buildup of creosote, an oily and highly flammable byproduct of burning wood, giving you a safer fireplace.

2. CHECK FOR CRACKS AND DAMAGE

Check for cracks and loose joints of the firebricks inside the fireplace, and check the exterior masonry for damage. Hire a professional mason to do any repairs—never try to repair firebrick with regular mortar, as the mixture cannot stand up to high heat.

3. INSPECT THE CHIMNEY CAP, FLUE AND DAMPER

Make sure the fireplace damper opens, closes and seals properly.  It should move quite easily and be free of debris and ashes.  For wood burning fireplaces it is recommended that you have it swept out at least once a year at the beginning of winter. Hiring a chimney sweep is the easiest and safest way to remove soot and debris from inside the chimney that could potentially cause a fire. Sweeping the chimney should be left to a professional, as having the appropriate tools and knowledge is necessary. Lastly, Confirm that the chimney cap is firmly attached and in good condition. The cap should include protective screening to keep birds, squirrels, bats, and other pests from entering the chimney.

4. CLEAR AWAY TREE LIMBS

While you are outside checking the chimney cap, prune any overhanging tree limbs that may be encroaching on the chimney. Not only do tree limbs present a fire hazard, they can also restrict the proper draft of the chimney and damage the cap.

5. CLEAR OUT ASHES

Clean out the firebox once a week, or whenever ash is more than an inch deep. Coals can remain hot for up to three days, so make sure everything is completely cold. Sweep or vacuum the cold ashes and dispose of them outside—wood ashes are perfect for garden beds and compost piles.  If shoveling leftover ash into a bucket, you can avoid a cloud of ash by spraying it down with a little bit of water first.

6. CONSIDER HEATPROOF GLASS

Consider installing heatproof glass doors to improve the energy efficiency of your fireplace. Doors can also prevent sparks from escaping the fireplace and damaging the surrounding flooring. If your fireplace already has glass doors, clean them with a paper towel and glass fireplace door cleaner.

7. STORE WOOD OUTSIDE THE HOME

Stock up on good-quality firewood, and store it away from the house to avoid attracting pests. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and birch burn hotter and longer than soft woods like pine. You can also burn specially made fireplace logs, like Duraflame or Pres-to-Logs. Never burn treated or painted wood, which both produce dangerous fumes.

8. MAINTAIN YOUR GAS FIREPLACE

If you have a gas fireplace, check to make sure that the pilot light is on and the vents are all clear and working properly. Check the logs, liners, and burners for cracks, and replace any damaged components.

9. MAINTAIN YOUR ELECTRIC FIREPLACE

If you have an electric fireplace, check all the wires to make sure none are frayed or broken. Also, make sure that all connectors are securely fastened. Finally, be sure to vacuum and dust the fireplace on a regular basis.

 

Furnace Prep - furnace lit with flames

Don't wait until cold weather to maintain your furnace. Properly preparing your furnace for winter requires just a few hours of your time and a little effort in order to keep you and your family comfortable when the cold weather arrives. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests checking your furnace before cold weather arrives. If your furnace malfunctions, you can have it repaired before you need indoor heating.

  • Replace the air filter in your furnace each month. Locate the filter and pull it out. Slide the new filter into the slot, following the arrows on the frame of the filter.
  • Consider upgrading the filter if your current filter is a flat filter. Upgrading to a pleated filter, HEPA filter or electrostatic filter increases the energy efficiency of your furnace and allows the warm air to flow unimpeded through your home.
  • Clean your air vents and ducts. Remove the vent covers with a screwdriver. Use the extension hose of your vacuum to remove the dust.
  • Inspect the blower belt for cracks. Turn off the power to the furnace at the main circuit breaker. Use a screwdriver to remove the steel cover of the air handler. The blower belt is the largest rubber belt that you see. Replace the belt if it is cracked.
  •  Engage your set-back, or programmable, thermostat so it automatically lowers the temperature while you are asleep or away from your home. According to the Consumer Energy Center, you could save from 20 to 75 percent on your furnace's operating costs by using this type of thermostat. Consider retrofitting your older home with one of these thermostats; newly built homes in California must be outfitted with a set-back thermostat.
  • Inspect the exhaust flue outdoors to ensure it is free of obstructions such as branches or animal nests.
  • Keep the area around your furnace unit free of debris and clutter. Remove any items you have stored near the furnace, particularly anything that is likely to catch fire. Also remove any household items that are sitting on top of or in front of your air ducts and return vents.
  • Open all your air vents. Remove furniture, boxes and clutter that get in the way of air flowing from the vents. 

Things you will need:

  • Air filter
  • Screwdriver
  • Vacuum