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Home & Garden: Indoor Fireplace Safety for Beginners

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An indoor wood-burning fireplace offers ambiance, warmth and relaxation. But even with all those benefits, it's worth keeping in mind that heating equipment is a leading cause of fires in US homes according to the National Fire Protection Association. Approximately two out of every five home fires involve solid-burning fuel.

  Indoor Fireplace Safety for Beginners © Rawf8/Getty Images

We spoke with Leroy Hite, CEO and founder of Cutting Edge Firewood in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, to get his top tips for indoor wood-burning fireplace safety.

Have Your Fireplace and Chimney Professionally Inspected

Regular inspection is part of proper fireplace maintenance. The cost for a chimney sweep inspection will be around $200 to $300. That cost is well worth it to protect against a house fire due to chimney defects or excessive soot buildup, the most common cause of chimney fires.

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"When you have a fire, there's always a little bit of soot buildup in the chimney. If you burn wood that has a lot of moisture, you'll have more soot, because the fire does not burn as hot, allowing more soot to move up the chimney and build up," Hite says. "That buildup could catch fire and cause a chimney fire."

Use Kiln-Dried or Dry, Fresh Wood

Moisture builds up in pockets of wet or rotted wood which can then explode in the fire, sending a little piece of hot wood into your living room. "I went to a customer's house a couple of years ago and was shown where a log exploded and put burn marks in a couch that was 10 feet away," Hite says. "Fortunately, no one was hurt, but that wood was very wet."

Double Check That the Flue Is Open

Make sure your flue is fully open before you start your fire. "Once you have a hot, blazing fire going, it can be difficult to open the flue," Hite says. "Then you have a roaring fire, with smoke and maybe flames coming into your living room or den."

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Ensure Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors Function

You'll want to be able to hear alerts from a well-positioned carbon monoxide detector, in case your flue closes by accident when the fire is dying down and begins using up oxygen in the house.

Use a Screen

Having a screen in front of the fire is especially important when you're not in the room. When you're in the room, you can remove the screen at your own risk, Hite says.

Use a High-Quality Grate or Fireplace Andirons

Grates and andirons prevent the wood from rolling out of the fireplace. Low-quality grates can slowly melt and droop, allowing logs to roll off the front. You could instead opt for andirons, a pair of solid bracket supports to lay logs on in an open fireplace.

Place a Large Log at the Front when Fire-Building

Use smaller pieces behind it. When the fire burns and collapses, the hot pieces fall back, rather than forward, into your living room. And don't stack wood so high that hot pieces can fall out of the fireplace as the fire burns.

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Invest in Fireplace Tools and Firefighter Gloves

A good fireplace tool set may include a tool stand, natural fiber broom, poker, shovel and tongs, all of which help you move the burning wood safely and keep your fireplace tidy. "I do a lot of cooking over a fire, and so I use firefighter gloves every day," Hite says. "You can reach right into the fire."

Have a Fire Extinguisher Nearby and Readily Accessible

Know where it is and how to use it properly. Inspect it annually, too.

Keep Small Children Away From Fireplaces

Not much needs to be said about this. Be incredibly careful if you plan on having an open fire around children or pets.

Make Sure Fires in a Fireplace Insert Burn out Before Bedtime

An insert, or prefab fireplace, is made of metal, not brick or stone. "An insert is not a durable as a real fireplace," Hite says, which makes it more dangerous to leave fires burning in them overnight.

Take Care with Fireplace Ashes

A hot ember can last up to a week in a metal trash can or fire bucket, Hite says, so douse ashes in a lot of water or wait at least that long before pouring them out. (They can provide nutrients for flower and vegetable gardens, so consider depositing them there.)

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"If you only wait two days and then throw un-doused ashes in the woods, you can start a fire," Hite says.

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