Five Tips for Safely Operating Your Fireplace This Winter

1. Cut or purchase wood that is properly seasoned. This means it is cut and set aside to dry before used as firewood. Soft wood can dry for around six months, but hard wood should be left to dry for up to two years.

DON’T burn wood that isn’t properly seasoned. Doing so can raise the amount of creosote that accumulates in your chimney interior causing obstruction and chimney fires. Burning wet or green wood can also cause particle pollution in your home, which can lead to allergies or other health problems.

operate your fireplace safely - Boston MA - Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep

2. Have your chimney inspected and swept by a professional. “The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Lung Association – are some of the organizations that now encourage the regular maintenance of home heating systems and their chimneys in order to keep “the silent killer” at bay.” Read more about how your chimney can affect your health at the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).

DON’T try to clean your chimney yourself. Our chimney sweeps here at Billy Sweet’s Chimney Sweep are licensed, insured, and CSIA-certified. You cannot ensure the safety of your chimney unless it is inspected by a professional before wood-burning season.

3. Ventilate your home or business while your fireplace is in use. As gas is released through the chimney it changes the pressure in your home. Air pulled through the chimney is drawn from the house, and if the air isn’t replaced, the chimney may not work properly. This can be remedied by leaving a window cracked somewhere in the home.

DON’T operate large appliances that compete with your chimney for air or open you furnace door while ceiling fans or ventilation systems are running. When your fireplace works correctly, your heating system is more efficient.

4. Use proper kindling to start your fire. If there aren’t remaining embers in your furnace or fireplace, you should be able to ignite a fire using kindling and a small amount of paper.

DON’T use flammable fuels to start a fire. The vapor can ignite and start a chimney fire, or a house fire. If you use artificial logs, don’t treat them as real logs. Carefully read warning labels and instructions before putting artificial logs into your fireplace or furnace.

5. Feed your fire regularly to keep the fire at a steady temperature. This is the most efficient way to use a fireplace or furnace for home-heating.

DON’T overload your fire. Overloading your fireplace or furnace can overheat the walls around the furnace or fireplace and possibly damage the chimney.

Safety is Our Priority

Your fireplace is no laughing matter. According to the National Fire Protection Association Fire Analysis and Research Division “in 2011, an estimated 19,500 reported home structure fires involving fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors.” Click here for more tips to prepare your fireplace for winter weather.

At Billy Sweet’s we don’t want your business as the result of a chimney fire! We want your home or business to be safe this winter.

The Importance of Seasoned Firewood

Staying warm this winter requires the proper preparation. For maintaining a comfortable temperature inside the home, this could involve starting a fire in the wood burning stove or fireplace. To ensure the hottest, most fuel efficient fire, you have to start off with the best firewood.


The most critical trait to consider in your firewood is the extent of its seasoning. To be seasoned is to have been allowed to dry fully by being stored indoors for a specific amount of time. Essentially, seasoned wood means dry wood. How long the wood needs to completely season varies based on the type of wood. Softer varieties of wood may season in six month, while hardwoods can require as long as two years to achieve completer dryness.

Preferably, any wood you burn should have been allowed to season completely prior to burning. To follow this guideline, you have two options. First, you can purchase wood that is already fully seasoned. This wood can be burned right away for the best fuel efficiency, but you may have a hard time finding it. If you do find well seasoned wood for sale, it probably costs significantly more than the wet wood. The other option is to purchase wet wood and allow it to season in a shed or garage. This option saves you upfront costs, but it involves planning one or two years in advance. Either option you choose, you should always burn seasoned wood. A lot of energy is wasted on wet wood by boiling away the trapped moisture, so you end up with a colder fire, excess smoke, more spent on fuel, and incompletely burnt wood.

Incompletely burnt wood creates health risks because it produces a black, tarry material called creosote. Initially a vapor as it exits the fire, creosote condenses inside the chimney. Over time the creosote can build up and restrict the air flow through the chimney, which can lead to poor indoor air quality. The high flammability of creosote can also result in a chimney fire from a mere stray ember. Luckily, avoiding this risk is as easy as burning seasoned wood and having an annual chimney sweep and inspection done.

Just because you purchase seasoned wood does not mean it stays seasoned forever. How you store the wood after you buy it and before you burn it determines whether or not it remains fully seasoned. The ideal storage arrangement involves stacking the wood, with a depth of only one log, in a shed or other outdoor building. Leave the wood uncovered to prevent condensation. If the wood must sit outside, protect it from the elements by creating a sturdy roof for it. A piece of sheet metal works well. Be sure to leave the sides of the stack uncovered to encourage air flow.

If you have any questions about firewood or if you need to schedule a chimney sweep or inspection, contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to speak with an expert.

The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Many parts of the country have already seen snowfall this year, which only means that winter is fast approaching. With weather experts forecasting another frigid winter, everyone’s focus has turned to staying warm for the season. When leaving the house, staying warm involves bundling up and protecting your skin from the bitter air. Keeping warm indoors, however, has a different set of requirements. Most homes utilize a heating source that burns fuel like propane, wood, pellets, oil, and other biofuels. As with burning anything, there always involves a safety risk. One major safety risk everyone should learn about in carbon monoxide.


This minuscule molecule made up of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom may sound innocuous on its own, but when it shows up in large quantities, you need to worry. Carbon monoxide results anytime combustion occurs, meaning whenever something burns. Therefore, any fuel burning creates carbon monoxide, including gas ranges, car exhausts, furnaces, fireplace, and even lanterns. If this burning occurs in a closed space, the concentration of carbon monoxide quickly rises. For this reason, starting your car inside a closed garage is very dangerous. Making it even more sinister is the fact that you cannot detect the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas without the help of a special detector. Consequently, the poisoning effects of the gas on the human body can disable a person before he or she realizes what the issue could be.

You can recognize the start of carbon monoxide poisoning with signs like difficulty breathing, light headedness and nausea. Unfortunately, these symptoms reflect many other illnesses, making carbon monoxide poisoning a far thought. When inhaled, the small molecule blocks the oxygen from being distributed around the body, resulting in unconsciousness, organ failure and even death. To stop and potentially reverse the damage, the person suffering from the poisoning must have access to clean air in an open outdoor space.

The mighty power of this invisible gas makes it a threat that demands respect. Whether you use a fireplace, stove, or gas furnace this season to heat your home, recognize the dangers of carbon monoxide. Install detectors for safety – not just because it is the law – and learn the signs of poisoning. Insuring your heating appliance is functioning properly also goes a long way in preventing carbon monoxide from filling your home. Something as minor as a misfiring furnace or an obstructed chimney could mean the difference between life and death. Instead of risking poisoning, have an expert out to conduct a thorough safety inspection of your heating appliance. If you live in the Boston or North Shore area of Massachusetts or around Portland, Maine, contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to speak with an expert you can trust.

Use Local Firewood to Protect the Environment

Wood-burning fireplaces serve several functions in the home – from practical to aesthetic. Sometimes the fireplace is used to heat the home, while in other cases it acts as a beautiful, focal point on special occasions. Either way, owners of wood-burning fireplaces generally love everything their fireplaces have to offer. Aside from the regular chimney maintenance, most home owners don’t put much extra thought into the specifics of their fireplace, including purchasing the wood for fuel. The goal is usually to find the cheapest wood that burns the longest, but more care should go into choosing the right firewood – especially where it comes from.


Always investigate the source of your firewood before you purchase to ensure it has come from a local source. The Don’t Move Firewood campaign says “local” means within a county or two of where you plan to transport, store and burn the firewood. If the firewood came from any further than a few counties away, find a more local source. At the same time, if you plan to travel more than a few counties away with your firewood, choose to purchase wood more local to your destination instead. Importing wood from a different area can have devastating environmental effects.

Firewood is a good representation of the ecosystem that it originated from. It often contains native species, such as insects, fungi and bacteria. Sometimes these species can be seen on the firewood, but more often than not, they’re invisible to the human eye. For the trees and other plant life in the ecosystem the firewood came from, these organisms generally do not cause serious ill effects. For thousands and even millions of years, the trees, insects, fungi and bacteria have lived and evolved together and have achieved a natural balance. By moving firewood out of its original area though, you introduce these organisms to an ecosystem unaccustomed to them, which can have serious consequences.

An insect, fungus or bacteria introduced to an environment it has never inhabited before is called a nonnative or invasive species. These organisms have no natural enemies in the new system, and before the environment has an opportunity to adjust to the invasion, the intruding species has had the opportunity to grow rapidly and further infiltrate the area.

One consequence of this fast overpopulation is that similar, native species are outcompeted by the invasive species for shared resources, resulting in a decrease in the native species’ population. Another consequence is the introduction of disease. For example, the Emerald Ash Borer – a beetle originally from Asia – was found in Michigan in 2002 after it was accidentally introduced there. The beetles do little damage to the Ash trees they inhabit, but the larvae inside the trees disrupt the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Now, nearly every state in the eastern half of the United States has been affected and tens of millions of Ash trees have died. These beetles would not have traveled far on their own, but with the movement of firewood, logs and nursery trees, the damage has devastated the Ash tree population.

Countless other examples of this have occurred throughout the country and continue to occur as long as people refuse to keep firewood local. Trees and plant life are vital to the health of the environment for generations to come, so do your part to maintain the ecosystems around you by purchasing and burning firewood locally.