More than a third of American homes use a fireplace or wood stove as a primary heat source. But sadly, 36 percent of home fires in rural areas of the U.S. are sparked by faulty fireplaces, causing millions of dollars' worth of damage and sometimes loss of life [source: U.S. Fire Administration].
The good news is that you can protect your family and your home from smoke and fire damage by taking some simple safety precautions. The first and most important step is to keep your chimney clean. Have a chimney sweep inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney at least once a year. Make sure the chimney cap — the metal sheet covering the top opening of the chimney — is in place and that no bird nests or debris are clogging the opening.
When the fireplace is empty and clean, open the damper and look up through the chimney [source: Trattner]. You should be able to see daylight. If not, you could have a dangerous buildup of creosote — partially burned wood ash — clogging the flue. Creosote is highly flammable and can cause a chimney fire that can spread to the rest of the house.
One of the best protections against a house fire is also the easiest — replace the batteries in your smoke detectors at least twice a year.