Inspect your fireplace before cozying up by the flames

According to the National Weather Service, much of the eastern portion of the United States is currently in the midst of a cold spell. And while the temperatures we are experiencing now are well above the lows we can expect when winter comes rolling in, many Americans are already unpacking their sweaters and stocking up on firewood to combat the chilly nights to come.

However, before you spark up those first flames of the season, there are several steps you need to take to make sure you aren't putting your home in any danger. Whether you have a gas or natural wood fireplace, potential hazards run the gamut from chimney clogging that could cause smoke to back up to a missing safety clip on the damper, releasing noxious fumes into the house. Follow this checklist of home inspections you should make before you cozy up by the fire this fall.

Converted fireplace, wood to gas

There are many benefits to having a gas fireplace, chief among them being that you don't have to wait as long for your logs to produce a robust flame. Often, traditional wood fireplaces will be converted to gas ones, which essentially results in a standard open alcove with a gas log in place of a natural one. Before you turn this log on, check the damper to make sure it doesn't close completely. If it does, fumes could escape from it, causing a fire and a breathing hazard. This means that the safety clip – a small piece that allows the damper to remain opened – is either broken or missing. In this case, you'll need to either contact a fireplace specialist or replace the gas log altogether.

Gas fireplace

The biggest concern with these designs is making sure they stay clean. Because many gas fireplaces have fans that help regulate the flames produced, dust tends to accumulate around them, which can easily catch flame and create a larger than expected – or wanted – blaze. Frequently vacuum out the area beneath and around the gas log and give the whole fireplace a thorough cleansing before you light it up this season.

Traditional, wood-burning fireplace

You'll want to inspect the whole interior of the fireplace looking for small cracks in the bricks. These should be filled with common, heat-resistant cement immediately so that they don't get any worse as the season wears on.

A top priority for all homeowners with wood-burning fireplaces is to make sure the flue is as clean as possible. Creosote builds up when you burn naturally seasoned wood in your fireplace and this could cause smoke to back up down the chimney, make the flue inoperable and even fan the flames of a larger fire.

Every season, Maryland homeowners need to look into having a trusted home inspection contractor visit their property to make sure their property is ready to endure the elements.