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On the heels of winter’s cold weather, it’s important for homeowners to take a critical look at their fireplaces to assess whether any damage was sustained from the season’s usage. Cracks in the hearth or a buildup of soot are especially important conditions to note and have rectified.

To help you inspect your fireplace, here are some lifesaving tips for keeping the home fires burning — safely.

Install items that prevent damage. Fortifying your chimney with water sealant and fireproofing doesn’t mean water cannot enter during storms. Prepare for water damage by installing a chimney cap to prevent unnecessary vapor intrusion.

These caps also prevent flying debris from entering throughout the year while also providing defense against carbon monoxide, which is undetectable.

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Spark arresters catch those pesky sparks that tend to “pop” from certain woods, especially those that are doused in accelerants. Without these arresters, you could have sparks flying onto dry grass or your roof, causing an instant house fire.

Look for and treat moldy areas. Mold and mildew can wreak havoc inside your fireplace, as they’re a type of fungus that grows well in wet and dark locations. Many people assume that mold is an extreme version of mildew, but they are actually the same thing and can be treated the same way.

Controlling and preventing mold and mildew can be a worthwhile endeavor. A solution of four parts water to one part bleach, some elbow grease and a wire brush will knock out the problem quickly. If the mold is too far out of sight, look for a longer brush (one that looks like a long kitchen broom).

Keep it clean. Thicker woods may burn for hours, yet not completely burn into ash. After each week’s use, use a ShopVac or a broom and dustpan to make sure the entire fireplace is free of debris.

Smolder any remaining embers by removing the source of oxygen from the fire (your flue or whatever is letting in oxygen) before removing larger wood pieces. You can find embers by placing your hand at a safe distance from the ash bed and feeling for any residual warmth.

Make sure the entire floor area, whether brick or tile, is clean to prevent ash from sticking to grout lines. Finally, clean glass fireplace doors using green products or anything nonflammable.

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