Curling up in front of the fireplace with a book can be the quintessence of coziness on a cold winter’s day, but it can also be dangerous if you don’t maintain your fireplace and use it correctly.

Here are a few safety tips when using your fireplace this winter.

1. Go with a pro
The National Fire Protection Association suggests you hire a certified chimney cleaner to inspect your fireplace and chimney at least once a year. They probably won’t sing catchy songs in a Cockney accent like in “Mary Poppins,” but they will remove dangerous clogs and buildup.

2. Put a lid on it
Ever chase a squirrel around your house with a broom? Exciting, but not fun. Prevent critters, birds and debris from coming down your chimney by installing a wire mesh cap on top of your chimney.

3. Play defense
Spark guards, the mesh screens that can be placed in front of your fire, prevent flying embers from launching into your living room and starting trouble. When you leave the room (or fall asleep) it’s especially important to use one.

4. Be wood wise
Burn seasoned hardwood that has been dried for at least six months. Green, unseasoned or soft woods such as pine emit more creosote — that’s the flammable stuff that can build up in your chimney.

5. Check your equipment
Test your smoke detectors every month, change your batteries every year and replace devices every 10 years.

6. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand
Have one. And be sure you know how to use it.

7. Seal it up
When not using your fireplace, close the damper to prevent warm air, and the money you spend to heat your house, from being lost straight up your chimney.

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