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10 Fireplace Safety Tips for the Holiday Season

We don’t mean to be a grinch, but whoever wrote “the stockings were hung by the chimney with care” probably didn’t have a great understanding of fire safety. During this festive time of year, when a roaring fire makes everything feel that much cozier, it’s important to remember a few safety practices to protect your home and family. Our cleaning professionals at Merry Maids® share our top tips for fireplace safety when decorating for the holidays.

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Never Leave a Fire Burning Unattended

Rule number one of fire safety: Always have a responsible adult in any room with an open flame, whether that’s a candle on the mantle or a fire in the fireplace.

Make Sure to Have Working Alarms and a Fire Extinguisher

This home safety tip applies year-round, not just during the holidays. Always make sure your fire and smoke detectors are in good working order, and that you have a fire extinguisher that has not expired or lost its charge. Fire extinguishers have a lifespan of anywhere from 5 to 15 years, so be sure to label yours with the date you purchased it and replace it regularly. If yours is the type that can be recharged by a professional, set up a schedule to have it serviced.

Create a 3ft. Safety Zone

Think of it as social distancing for fireplaces. Keep furniture and decorations at least three feet away from the fireplace to avoid heat damage or accidental fires from wayward sparks. According to both the National Fire Protection Association and the Chimney Safety Institute of America, anything flammable or combustible should be kept out of the three-foot zone around the fireplace. This includes holiday cards, garland, paper crafts, and yes, even stockings.

Remove Stockings When Fireplace Is in Use

If you do choose to hang stockings from the mantle, take them down and move them outside the three-foot safety zone before starting a fire in the fireplace.

Opt for Flame-Resistant Decorations

When decorating near the mantle or fireplace, look for artificial trees and other decorations labeled flame-resistant. This means they are inherently non-flammable and will resist catching fire, as opposed to flame retardant materials, which have been chemically treated to burn slowly or self-extinguish. Flame retardant decorations are also a wise choice, but flame-resistant materials add a little extra protection against accidental fires. Important to note: Flame resistant does not mean fireproof, so you should still exercise caution around the fireplace.

Take Extra Precautions with Real Trees

Be sure to water fresh-cut trees even more frequently if you regularly use your fireplace. The fire can pull moisture from the air and dry out your tree more quickly, and a dry tree means higher risk of catching fire.

Know What Not to Burn in the Fireplace

While it may seem like evergreen branches or wrapping paper would make suitable kindling in your fireplace, dispose of these items elsewhere. Dry tree needles burn rapidly and unpredictably, and they can also produce more smoke and soot than regular firewood. Wrapping paper, meanwhile, is often treated with chemicals that will escape into the air your family breathes.

Use a Fireplace Screen or Spark Guard

For those with an open-hearth fireplace, a screen or spark guard places a mesh barrier between the roaring fire and the rest of the room to help prevent errant embers from setting decorations, furniture, or even the carpet on fire. While you should still use caution with decorations, a spark guard is a smart addition for fireplace safety.

Never Vacuum Ashes from the Hearth

The embers in a fireplace can stay hot enough to start a fire for hours—if not days—after it’s been extinguished. Vacuuming up ashes can potentially introduce burning hot embers into the filter bag or canister of your vacuum cleaner, where they can ignite the dust and debris inside. Looking for tips on how to keep your hearth spotless? Check out our article on how to clean a fireplace!

Extinguish a Fire Causing Smoke in the House

When smoke from a fire enters your home rather than exiting through the chimney, something is wrong. It could be as simple as forgetting to open the damper or as complicated as a poorly designed chimney—but in any case, you should not allow a fire to keep burning in the fireplace if the smoke is filling your home. Have your fireplace inspected by a professional chimney sweep once a year to make sure everything is in proper working order. If the smoke odor permeates your carpet and upholstery and won’t go away, a professional restoration company, like ServiceMaster Restore, has extensive experience dealing with smoke damage and odor removal.