Cozy and Safe: Preparing a Healthy Fireplace This Winter

Posted on March 19, 2024

A little preparation goes a long way in creating a healthy, warm and safe fireplace during the winter months.

As the chill of winter begins to settle in, there's nothing quite like the warmth and ambiance of a crackling fireplace to make a home feel cozy and inviting. However, as we prepare to light up our hearths, it's crucial to prioritise not only comfort but also safety and health.

To guide us, we turned to Maddy, one of our Environmental Health Officers, for her expert insights on creating a healthy home heating experience this winter.

Maddy emphasises the importance of proactive preparation when it comes to wood-burning fireplaces.

"Taking the time to properly prepare your fireplace can make all the difference in maintaining both air quality and safety within your home," she advises.

Here are Maddy's top tips for a healthy fireplace setup:

  1. Inspect and Clean: Before lighting the first fire of the season, schedule a professional inspection to ensure your fireplace and chimney are in good working condition. Creosote buildup and blockages can pose serious fire hazards and compromise indoor air quality.
  2. Choose Quality Fuel: Opt for seasoned, dry hardwoods like oak or maple, which produce less smoke and creosote compared to softer woods. Avoid burning treated or painted wood, as these can release harmful chemicals into the air.
  3. Maintain Proper Ventilation: Keep the damper fully open when using the fireplace to allow for adequate airflow. This helps minimise the buildup of indoor pollutants like carbon monoxide.
  4. Use a Protective Screen: Install a sturdy mesh screen or glass doors to prevent sparks and embers from escaping the fireplace and causing potential hazards.
  5. Practice Safe Burning: Build fires using the top-down method, stacking larger logs on the bottom and smaller ones on top. This promotes more efficient burning and reduces smoke emissions.

Maddy also reminded us to:

- Never let your fire smoulder; always burn with a flame.
- After setting or reloading, open the air supply and allow your fire to burn brightly for 20 minutes. This makes sure to burn off all the harmful smoke compounds at a high temperature, creating a healthier, warmer house and less smoke in your neighbourhood.
- Only burn dry, seasoned wood.

By following these simple yet essential tips, you can enjoy the warmth and comfort of your fireplace while safeguarding the health and well-being of your household. Remember, a little preparation goes a long way in creating a cozy and safe haven during the winter months.

As you gear up for the season ahead, prioritise both the coziness of your home and the health of both you, your loved ones and your neighbours. As we get deeper into the season, pop outside and have a look at your chimney. Are you smoking out your neighbourhood?

If your fireplace is creating excess smoke, Maddy says to:

- Add more kindling or scrunched newspaper
- Open the air control
- Put less wood on
- Burn smaller wood pieces rather than large logs
- Check your logs aren't blocking the air supply at the base of your fire
- Use seasoned, dry wood rather than logs that are wet or green
- Check (ask a professional if you feel it is unsafe for you to do so) if your flue may be clogged. Excess creosote not only creates excess smoke, it also reduces the effectiveness of your fire, costing you money in the longer term.

With proper care and attention, your fireplace can be a source of comfort and joy throughout the winter season and beyond. Happy heating Meander Valley!