Play It Safe With Your Fireplace

Before you light the first fire of the season, make sure you know how to do it safely.
wicker chair and fireplace

wicker chair and fireplace

Four wicker armchairs surround an antique pine table in the downstairs recreation room. The fireplace mantel is an antique barn beam.

Photo by: Photo Credit: Ralph Kylloe

Photo Credit: Ralph Kylloe

By: Karin Beuerlein

A wood-burning fireplace is a real treat when fall's cool temperatures hit, but take some basic precautions before you light up. Stonehollow Inc.'s Steve Gladstone, past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), recommends you follow these steps:

17 Hot Fireplace Designs

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Subtle and Chic

In a modern glass home overlooking the sea, you don't want a fireplace to obstruct the picturesque view. This minimal, white fireplace adds a cozy touch to the serenity. Photography by Spark Modern Fires

Material Warmth

If you're designing a wood-burning fireplace, consider carving out a space for the firewood. This fireplace stands out as the star of the room — its materials and colors contrast with the wood-paneled ceiling and walls behind for a contemporary, rustic aesthetic. Design by Uptic Studios; photography by Shaun Cammack

Hearth Design That Rocks

This backlit onyx fireplace showcases the rich colors of the stone. The fireplace serves as a bridge between the master bedroom and bathroom. Design by Pepe Calderin; photography by Barry Grossman

Cozy Kitchen Charm

A wood-burning fireplace designed for cooking adds Mediterranean charm to this eat-in kitchen. It's easy to create an intimate mood for a dinner party with a communal farmhouse table and flickering flames. Design by Oz Architects; photography by Werner Segarra

Fireside Splendor

The sleek hearth warms up the cool gray backdrop in this minimalist living room. A floor-to-ceiling design adds height to the space and the dark tile draws the eye upward. Design by Cary Bernstein; photography by David Duncan Livingston

Faux Bedroom Nook

An unused fireplace niche in the bedroom adds a sense of charm. Stock it with firewood, cut to fit neatly inside, for a graphic, modern design. Design and photography by Andrew Sidford

Built-In Drama

Wall-to-wall bookcases provide a sophisticated backdrop for this sleek, modern fireplace and entertainment center. Design by Spark Modern Fires

Chalk It Up

Transform a boarded-up fireplace into a family message board with a few coats of chalkboard paint. Try schoolhouse green paint and your fireplace won't look like a black hole. Styling and photography by Martha W. Browne

Reaching New Heights

A fireplace offers a natural divide between the living area and the kitchen in this contemporary great room. Design by Allison Jaffe Interior Design

Gold Glamour

Nothing is as exciting as a fireplace in a sparkly gold finish. The plush furnishings make this a master suite fit for royalty. Design by Charles Neal

From: Charles Neal

Contemporary Spin

The sleek concrete fireplace creates structural interest in this youthful living room. Graphic art decals, a sleek sofa and the horizontal shape of the fireplace add to the modern vibe. Design by Ilija Karlusic

Photo By: Rhiannon Slatter

Calm and Luxurious

This monochromatic bathroom uses different shades and textures of gray for a soft, sophisticated design. A fireplace in the bathroom adds a sense of luxury and invites relaxation. Photo courtesy of CEDIA

Photo By: Olson Photographic LLC

Striking Centerpiece

The space planning for this modern living room focuses seating around the dramatic fireplace. With its heat-resistant glass windows and suspension from the ceiling, this fireplace looks like a sculptural work of art. Photo courtesy of CF+D, Custom Fireplace Design

Photo By: Peter Fritz

Fiery Divide

This classic fireplace sits in the corner between the family room and kitchen. Its asymmetrical opening makes the space appear larger. Design by Color Design Art

Turn Up the Heat

A long, rectangular design is a trending style for gas fireplaces. Extending this stone fireplace to the ceiling adds to its contemporary aesthetic. Design by Mark English; photography by Norma Lopez Molina

Green Appeal

Even a nonworking fireplace adds character. Mix a group of plants and blooms together on your mantel for a lively, artful display. Design by Tassy of Sprout Home; photography by Ramsay de Give

Fire and Flat Screens

In this modern family room, the mantel is omitted to enhance the effect of the two-toned gray backdrop. Tall storage cabinets frame the hearth. Design by Gail Drury

From: Drury Design

Get the right smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in place.

As of January 2013 ASHI recommends that all smoke detectors be photoelectric models, not ionization models, and chances are you own the latter. Photoelectric models can detect slow, smoldering fires, whereas ionization models are better at big blazes. The National Fire Protection Association actually recommends installing one of each so that you’re protected no matter what kind of fire breaks out in your house.

It's also wise to place a CO detector near your fireplace, not just near your sleeping rooms. Glass fireplace doors often have vents that can allow CO back into the room if there's negative pressure in the house (say, if you have a bathroom exhaust fan running).

Shine a flashlight inside your fireplace and look around.

If you see cracks, gaps in the mortar, or soot buildup, call a chimney pro for advice. "That black stuff you see is creosote, which is highly flammable and can cause your chimney to catch fire," Gladstone says. "But don't try to clean it yourself, or you and your house will end up filthy."

Make sure the damper is operating properly.

The damper should open and close easily. If it's blocked, one possibility is that a wild animal has taken up residence, so correct the problem before you light that first fire — "unless you want an impromptu barbecue," Gladstone jokes. "I've found dead birds and nests in chimneys many times. And to a raccoon, a chimney is just like the hollow logs they normally live in, only nicer because it's warm and sometimes there's music."

If you suspect something's inside, make noise and bang on the damper before you open it; otherwise, whatever it is might enter your living room instead of escaping through the chimney. If an animal is the culprit, have the chimney professionally cleaned.

Hire only a certified chimney professional for repair and cleaning.

If you do need a pro, choose someone with credentials from a respectable organization such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America, and seek out referrals. Besides their specialized skills, certified chimney sweeps have advanced camera technology with LED lighting that can show what's going on in parts of your chimney that you can't see.

Start small.

For your first few fires, use just a couple of logs of seasoned hardwood so you can be sure everything's burning safely before you get a roaring fire going. Begin by opening the damper and warming the flue — if the air in your chimney is cold when you start a fire, the downdraft will pull smoke into the room. Hold a lit rolled-up newspaper in the opening until you feel the air start rising; then start your fire.

Check heat levels on the mantel.

This is especially important if you hang your flat-screen TV there. Once your fire is going, set a candle on the mantel — if it melts, find another place for your expensive electronics. Also visit the attic and any rooms above the fireplace. If the walls or mantel become too hot to touch or you see smoke coming into the house anywhere, consult your chimney professional ASAP.

Installing a TV Above the Fireplace

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Thinking about a TV above the fireplace?

Due to careful planning, design considerations and ample safety measures, a flat-panel TV above this great room's modern mantel is functional and aesthetically pleasing.

What's the proper way to ventilate?

Recessed niches have become increasingly popular for flat-panel TV installations, because they frame and ventilate the unit. To create such a niche, cut into the drywall, then re-frame it with 2x4 boards to create a 6x8-inch recessed area. A TV can be mounted flush with the wall, retaining ample space for ventilation. This method works especially well above fireplaces because it shields the TV from the heat of an active fire. Another option is to install your TV on a slide-out system, which allows easy access to the back of the panel for cleaning, dusting or reconfiguring of components.

Where should seating be in reference to the TV?

For optimal viewing, it's important to place seats at the proper distance from the TV. Sitting too close or too far from the screen can cause eye strain. To prevent this, homeowners with 42-inch screens should establish seating 5 1/2 feet away. Screens measuring 50 inches will require a distance of 6 feet. Extra-large TVs, such as 60-inch models, necessitate an average of 7 1/2 feet between seating and the TV screen.

How high should the TV be displayed?

One of the most popular questions clients pose to interior designers is how high to mount their flat-panel TVs. In general, the answer is 60-68 inches above the ground; however, this number will vary depending on the height of the homeowner. If you have to lift or strain your neck at all, it's too high.

Can the TV's height affect a room's aesthetic?

Beyond functional concerns, the height of a flat-panel TV can affect the overall aesthetics of your room. If the TV is placed too low, the mantel will appear cluttered and the fireplace will seem off-balance. To avoid this problem, allow 7 inches of clearance between the top of the mantel and the bottom of the flat-panel TV. This will allow enough room beneath the TV for ventilation, and the negative space will provide a clean, uncluttered canvas for decorative objects.

Can TV wires be hidden?

Due to unsightly wires and electrical outlets, many homeowners are apprehensive about placing flat-panel TVs above their mantels. While most new-construction homes are wired for flat-panel TVs, older residences often require electrical work to deal with this aesthetic concern. For a seamless look, consider having an electrician integrate switches, and infrared or remote systems near the TV.

What about auxiliary outlets?

Before mounting a flat-panel TV above a mantel, consider the access to auxiliary outlets. While the auxiliary outlets of many TVs are placed along the front of the unit, others are recessed along the sides or back. If these outlets are located along the sides or the back of the unit, and a recessed look is desired, it is important to ensure easy access to auxiliary outlets during installation.

Will heat damage the TV?

A safe temperature range of 32 to 100 degrees is standard for most flat-panel TVs. In fact, most instruction manuals will publish this range based on manufacturer guidelines. Homeowners concerned that heat from their fire will affect their pricey flat-panel can assess the degree of heat prior to purchase by taping a thermometer where the flat-panel will hang. If this space does not exceed 100 degrees, the flat-panel should be safe once installed.

Don't neglect your gas fireplace.

Ventless gas models need less attention than a wood-burning fireplace, but they still benefit from occasional maintenance. Dust and pet hair are the primary enemies of a ventless unit, so familiarize yourself with your manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and use a compressed air can to blow debris out of the burner air injector holes and ports. Don’t burn ventless logs for more than an hour without opening a door or window to allow more oxygen into the room.

Fireplaces and Stoves

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Convenient Gas Fireplaces

A gas fireplaces is low-maintenance, as it's easy to use and keep clean. "You have no ashes to clean out and the fire lights in just a couple of seconds," says Lou Manfredini, Ace's Home Expert. Design by Mark English; photography by Norma Lopez Molina

Gas: Faux Fireside Appeal

Whereas older gas fireplaces featured blue flames and artificial metal logs, today's gas fireplaces look quite realistic. Gas fireplaces are a favorite option among families with small children since there's an instant turnoff option.

Sleek Electric Fireplaces

Electric fireplaces create realistic flame patterns in a safe, modern design. Most don't require venting, making it a convenient option for any room. All you need is a standard electrical outlet. Photo courtesy of CEDIA

Electric: High-Tech Meets Old School

A vintage Malm fireplace adds a dose of modern style to this living room. You can still find new versions of this electric hearth in bright colors online. Design by Jennifer Culp

Budget-Friendly Wood-Burning Fireplaces

With gas and electricity prices rising, a wood-burning fireplace is a cost-effective way to heat your home. Design by Oz Architects

Wood Burning: Cozy and Authentic

"Gas and wood-burning fireplaces run neck and neck when it comes to popularity," says Lou Manfredini, Ace's Home Expert. "Though many people feel gas fireplaces are more authentic." Photography by Kristian Frires

Photo By: Kristian Frires

Low-Maintenance Pellet Stoves

A pellet stove can be a freestanding unit or a fireplace insert, and it burns compressed wood for heat and a constant flame. Wood pellets burn cleaner than wood, and wood-pellet stoves are easy to maintain. You don't need a chimney and flue with a wood-pellet stove. All you need is access to an electrical outlet. Design and photography by Olivia San Mateo

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