As the days turn colder there’s one thing we can’t ignore: winter is on the way. While there will be much to miss about the warm days of summer, there’s a lot to love about the cold season. Specifically, getting to use our fireplaces. Most homeowners don’t realize that it’s important to inspect their fireplaces every single year prior to use. In fact, inspecting your fireplace is one of the top safety tips experts share every winter. Here’s how to tend to your fireplace and chimney before lighting up your logs.

When was the last time you had your fireplace cleaned? If you can’t remember (or if it was more than a year ago) it’s time to call in the professionals. A chimney sweep can clean your fireplace and prepare it for use. He or she will also show you how to check the chimney yourself. This might not seem like a big deal, but there are all kinds of things that can get trapped in your chimney during non-fire season. From bird nests to sticks to leaves to other debris, the last thing you want is to have your chimney blocked the first time you introduce flames.

Once your fireplace has been cleaned, it’s time to have your chimney inspected. Over the years, a chimney can actually start to move or crumble as a result of harsh weather. Have a professional come and inspect your chimney for signs of damage. You’ll want to be sure that everything is safe and in place prior to using it.

When your chimney has been cleaned and inspected, it’s time to turn to fireplace safety inside your home. A fireplace should never be used in place of your furnace. It’s meant to be used for only a few hours at a time, not on a regular basis. You should also never leave children unattended if there is a fire in your fireplace; they need only go near it to be injured by the heat, ash, or a loose ember. Always use a screen in front of your fireplace to prevent sparks from damaging your floors. Children also shouldn’t be allowed to play with any of the tools that are associated with your fireplace.

Once the fire is out, it’s still important to practise fireplace safety. Keep in mind that coals can actually remain hot for up to three days, so never vacuum up ash or place used coals in any kind of container that could be flammable. Instead, use a metal container for your ashes. Be sure to cover your eyes, nose and mouth when you clean out your hearth. Keep any glass doors to your fireplace clean with a mixture of vinegar and water or a special solution from your local store.

The fall and winter months are the perfect time to light a fire. Just be sure that you’re always practising fireplace safety, no matter how many times you’ve used your fireplace.