If you’ve recently moved into a new home, or never used your fireplace, follow our quick checklist to determine if building a fire in your fireplace is a safe idea. As a general rule, chimneys should be cleaned annually so if you don’t know the last time yours was cleaned, you’ll likely want to hold off on building a fire.

Before lighting your fire, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Check Outside –  If possible, climb up to your roof and examine the chimney cap to make sure it is present and in good repair. The metal cap keeps animals, rain and snow out of the chimney, while also preventing sparks or hot embers from landing on your roofing. If you don’t have a chimney cap, installing one is a good idea.

If you have a multi-story home or a steep roof, play it safe and use a pair of binoculars to check the chimney cap from the ground. Make sure there isn’t a bird nest, tree limbs or other debris, on or near the chimney. Also make sure that the mortar and bricks are not in good condition and rise at least two feet above where it exists the roof.

2.  From the Inside – First, use a flashlight to inspect the flue damper, making sure it opens, closes and seals properly. With the damper open, check the flue for combustible material such as animal nests or other foreign objects. You should be able to see daylight at the top.

Inspect the area around the fireplace, making sure there are no cracked bricks or missing mortar. Damage inside the firebox is serious and should be looked at professionally.

3. Making the Fire – Be sure to stay safe while the fire is in the fireplace too – making sure to keep the fire at a moderate size and always using a metal grate. Clear the area of books, furniture, newspaper or anything else that might catch fire or be damaged by embers; two feet of distance is a good rule. Using kindling is always safer than starting the fire with gas.

Gas fireplaces are lower maintenance but that doesn’t mean they still don’t need occasional attention. If you have a gas burning fireplace, check that the gas logs are in proper position and that the glass doors are secure. Turn off the gas at the shut-off valve and test the igniter. After igniting the fire, check for clogged burner holes.

Ultimately, use common sense. Don’t burn items such as garbage or plastic and don’t start fires with gasoline. Always make sure the fire is out before going to bed or leaving the house and when in doubt, contact a professional to have your chimney checked for safety concerns. Stay warm and enjoy your home this winter.