Charlie Robinson of Best Clean Fireplace Shoppe says whether you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace, it should be inspected and serviced once a year. Homeowners who have a fireplace should also have two other things in the house: a carbon monoxide detector and fire extinguisher.
Follow these other tips from the U.S. Fire Administration and enjoy lots of time in front of the fireplace this winter:
* Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
* Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
* Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
* Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
* Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
* Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
* Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
* Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
* Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
* Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
* Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
* Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
* Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
Source: U.S. Fire Administration
Charlie Robinson says that when it comes to choosing wood-burning or gas fire places, it's a matter of customer preference.
With wood fireplaces, you get the old-fashioned ambience, but you also have to stock the wood, which can make a mess, and take the time to build the fire.
"A gas fireplace is automatic," Robinson says. "You push a button and get heat and a good-looking flame."
And if you're using your fireplace to heat your house, you can set a gas fireplace to kick on and off, much like a thermostat.
Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year.