There’s nothing quite as cozy as gathering around a crackling fire after being outside on a chilly winter day.

With burning season right around the corner, it’s time to make sure your chimney and vent pipes are safe and clean so fires stay where you want them – in your fireplace or wood-burning stove and not in your chimney, on your roof or in your home.

Schedule an annual cleaning

A chimney sweep will remove more than just soot and dust from your fireplace, chimney and vent pipes. Creosote, a sticky, oily, combustible substance is created when wood doesn’t burn completely and rises into the chimney as a liquid and deposits on the walls. If enough time passes and the layers of creosote grow deep enough, a spark or flame could ignite the substance and cause a chimney fire.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are an estimated 15,330 creosote fires per year, accounting for 35 percent of all home heating fires and causing $34 million in direct property damage.

You should maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected annually by a qualified professional, according to the NFPA. The best time to do this is right before the beginning of the heating season. To avoid creosote formation, recommends drying your wood, regardless of type, to about 20 percent moisture. This typically means letting it age about a year.

What happens during an inspection

According to, the best time to do a chimney inspection is on a still day with little wind to avoid downdrafts, which push soot, creosote and gas into your house. Professional cleaners, wearing masks and safety goggles, will inspect your chimney from the inside of the fireplace or stove and also from the top of the chimney. They’ll use a flashlight beam to inspect the flue walls and any debris, such as leaves or bird nests, will be removed to prevent carbon monoxide from accumulating in your house. A chimney cap fitted with mesh sides should be installed to keep animal and debris out.

The inside of the chimney should look smooth, and bumps or scale-like buildup may be signs of creosote, according to Once it becomes about 1/8 inch thick, it needs to be cleaned. The exterior of the chimney should also be inspected for signs of damage and a professional will look at the condition of the roof surrounding the chimney as well as the fireplace or wood stove, including examining spark screens, doors and seals.

To find a certified chimney sweep near you, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s website.

Safe burning

There are a few basic fire safety tips you should follow to keep you, your family and your home safe this winter.

Don’t overload your fireplace or wood stove with logs. Smaller fires produce less smoke and therefore less creosote, and fires that are too large can crack the chimney, according to This Old House. Logs should be placed at the back of the fireplace on a metal grate, and kindling should be used to start the fire – not flammable liquids.

A mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors will prevent embers from coming out of the fireplace and should be closed when in use. You should also keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case, and install both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.