You've been keeping the home fires burning for a few months now. But have you been properly caring for and feeding your hearth?
If you don't know the 10 tips for keeping home fires burning - safely - there's no time like the present to make things safe at home.
Here's the lowdown on fireplace safety to keep your home and your family safe this season.
To minimize the buildup of soot and creosote (which can cause chimney fires), use seasoned hardwood or manufactured logs, such as Duraflame, that burn even cleaner than real wood.
If you do use manufactured logs, be sure to follow the use directions on the log's bag.
These logs burn hotter than regular wood, and can potentially warp metal chimneys if you burn more than one at a time.
Slow and easy does it, remember?
Open the damper before starting a fire.
Keep the damper open until the fire is completely extinguished.
Only burn wood or manufactured logs in your fireplace. Items with fancy finishes - like glossy wrapping paper, shiny bows, and foam peanuts - release toxic fumes.
You'll also want to avoid burning resinous woods such as pine (which leave creosote in the flue), as well as evergreen boughs and large quantities of paper, which can flare up and quickly get out of control.
And never burn Christmas greenery in the fireplace.
Though a roaring fire looks attractive, it's not as safe as a slower, steadier burn. A too-hot fire can crack your chimney. Just a couple of logs at a time, please.
Position logs near the back of the fireplace to prevent fire and ashes from finding a way out of the hearth, and into your home.
Don't position your Christmas tree - or anything else - near the fireplace. If you drape your mantel with garlands or hang stockings or cards from it, don't light a fire. Should embers spark out of the fireplace and into the room, you want to make sure there is nothing nearby that will catch fire. This is an essential fireplace safety rule.
For safety's sake, never leave a fire unattended. And yes, this means you shouldn't go to sleep with a fire blazing away.
Fires require about five times as much oxygen as a room usually needs. To make sure there's enough oxygen for the fire to burn efficiently, open a window when you light your fire.
While you'll want to leave chimney cleaning to the pros, undertake minor maintenance yourself: If you burn wood, clean the firebox between fires. Scoop up cool ashes and place them in a metal container. Close the flue or air intake after each use to keep the indoor heat from escaping up the chimney.
If the creosote is allowed to build up in the flue, it can suddenly ignite, causing a dangerous chimney fire.
A carbon monoxide detector is a fireplace safety must-have. This deadly, colorless, odorless gas is becoming a threat in more and more of today's energy-efficient and airtight homes. The source of carbon monoxide is usually faulty burning in, or poor venting of, a fireplace.
Stash a fire extinguisher near the fireplace so that it's handy - just in case.