With the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder, we are all drawn to that warm crackling fire burning in the fireplace. This is the very image of a warm and pleasant home with the family gathered around the hearth. With fireplace season upon us there are a few things to remember.
The most important thing is to make sure that your chimney is clean and in good condition. Old houses will tend to have clay liners and these can crack and shift over the years. I have seen some very old houses where the fireplace chimney has no liner at all, just the bricks it was built with. This is very important as sparks can fly up the chimney and come in contact with the house framing through a hole or crack in the lining and you would have a dangerous fire happening in your wall and not realize it until too late. It is also a good idea to check the firebox and hearth to make sure everything is nice and tight.
Make sure your fireplace damper is in good working order. A good damper helps to ensure good draft for the fire and also closes the chimney when the fireplace is not in use. Always check to see that it is in the proper position before you light that fire.
Before you light the fire, make sure the area around the fireplace is free of any thing that could catch fire. No blankets, drapes or furniture should be close to the fireplace where the heat could cause them to catch fire. This is also the rule to follow with any type of portable heater, electric or kerosene.
Make sure that you have a good firescreen. If you have a glass fireplace insert – the kind with the folding doors, the often will have a screen included. A folding screen also works well. You want to prevent any sparks from escaping and burning your floor. Screens will also prevent any small children or pets from getting too close to the fire. If you are using a heath rug in front of your fireplace, make sure it is fireproof.
Make sure that your wood is dry and well seasoned, avoid resinous wood such as pine as is can spit sparks and the resins can build up in your chimney. Your fireplace is not the place to burn trash nor is it designed for cooking!
When your fire is done, if you clean the heath, remember that coals can remain hot enough to start a fire for several hours after you think the fire has burned out. So check to make sure the coals are cold and dispose of the ashes in a fireproof container. Fires have started from hot coals being dumped in the trash.
If your house was built in the late 19th and early 20th century, it is quite possible that it was designed to burn coal. If you are lucky, you may still have the original coal basket and cast iron panels lining the firebox. Some old fireplaces may be shallower than modern ones. Unless your house is very old, that elegant fireplace was probably designed for the occasional fire on a cold night, and not as continuous heat source. Central heat was pretty common in Philadelphia by the post civil war period,and by that time fireplaces were more for show than anything else.
Remember these few precautions and you will be able to enjoy your fireplace and keep your homeowners insurance agent happy.
BTW - the fireplace pictured is in a Horace Trumbauer designed mansion on Locust street, definitely not needed for heating!
Author:Steve Drabkowski Phone: 215-760-5825 Dated: October 31st 2015 Views: 1,680 About Steve: Steve has been a long term resident of Philadelphia, coming here in 1983 and being stationed at the ...
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