Cold winter temperatures are hard to beat, but a cozy fireplace certainly helps. However, fire safety should be your No. 1 concern when you break out the logs this season so that your home remains a winter haven. Here are a few tips for enjoying the fireplace while keeping it safe:

1. Check Your Smoke Alarm Batteries 

Start the season right by checking the batteries on your smoke detector. You don’t want to accidentally start a house fire and be unaware of it or react too late. Press the small test button on the device and be sure it beeps. If it does not, replace the batteries right away. You should have one smoke detector on each floor of the house so that you will hear the alarm no matter where you are. Don’t just check the batteries during the winter. In fact, you should test the devices every month.

2. Hire a Chimney Sweep 

Get your fireplace and chimney cleaned once a year or every 80 fires to prevent the built up of creosote (this rule is actually a national safety standard for fireplaces). This chemical is used as a wood preservative and contains coal tar compounds. Creosote can quickly cover the insides of your chimney and it is very flammable.

3. Create Proper Ventilation

Ventilation is an important strategy in home fire protection. Open the glass doors to your fireplace before starting the flames. Close the metal screen once the logs are in and the fire is going. This will allow for airflow that will pull the smoke up the chimney while blocking sparks from entering the rest of the house. Furthermore, open the damper and a window to usher any remaining smoke outside.

4. Remove Ash, But Not All of It

Remove the ash in your fireplace about once a week during the months you build fires. However, always leave some amount – approximately 1 inch – of ash, as it can act as insulation, heating and maintaining the coals more efficiently.

5. Keep a Close Eye

Never leave your fire unattended. Flames are fickle and a strong breeze outside can blow sparks into the living room when you least expect it. Furthermore, prevent children and pets from getting too close to the flames. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 65 percent of reported fireplace injuries were sustained by children under the age of 5. Though most of those injuries were lacerations, 5 percent of them were burns, which were usually caused when clothing caught fire. Burns are more painful and last longer than cuts. Watch your kids and don’t allow them near the fire.

6. Burn Better Wood

Seasoned hardwood is the best choice for fireplace safety. Moist or soft woods produce creosote faster than other types. Choose maple, oak, ash and birch instead as they will burn longer and hotter. Furthermore, they have less sap than soft woods making them a cleaner wood choice.

7. Use Tools to Handle Wood

Fireplace tools exist to make the process safer. Use them to move logs or shovel ash and never try to touch elements of your fire with your hands.

8. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

The CPSC found that carbon monoxide poisoning was also a hazard associated with fireplaces. Improper ventilation can cause carbon monoxide – released by combustion – to build up inside the house. These toxic fumes are dangerous and can cause symptoms similar to the flu. Install a carbon monoxide alarm to protect your family. The detector will alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide so that you can get out of the house immediately. Furthermore, the alarm will not deactivate until the air in the home is once again safe to breathe.