Whether you’re going over the river and through the woods or just staying at home this holiday season, you want that fireplace stoked up and ready for use. Nothing warms the bones better after a night of sledding or ice skating than a glass of hot chocolate and a cozy fire. We’d like to pass along some tips that will help you enjoy that fire.

First off, don’t use your fireplace for longer than about five hours. It gets hot and it really isn’t designed to heat your home. If you have a glass front, keep it open while the fire is going, but always keep the spark screen in front of it. When you keep the glass doors open it allows the air to be drawn up into the chimney and helps to cool it.

Before you make a fire, always light a match and put it over the log holder. Blow out the flame. It should start to grow up in the direction of the chimney, and out. If it doesn’t, you have a blockage or the damper is closed. Either way, making a fire will cause you a problem. Check the damper and if it was closed, open it and try again. If it still doesn’t work – no fire for you until you get a professional in.

Try to get a non-flammable rug to place in front of the fireplace so if sparks to get out they will land somewhere safe. Whatever you do, always use the fireplace tools to move your burning logs around. The tools are there for more than decoration. When you decide to remove the ashes, remember that coals can remain hot for several days. When you decide to clean the ashes, don’t use a vacuum cleaner and scoop the ash into a metal container in case there are still some hot embers. Clean that firebox once a week during the season, but leave a thin layer of ash, about an inch, for insulation and to help the fire heat faster. To keep your fireplace looking grand, if you have glass doors that have soot buildup, mix a cup of vinegar with a gallon of water, spray it on and wipe it with newspaper.

To keep your brass fireplace utensils shiny and looking their best, spruce them up with a toothbrush and some Worcestershire sauce. Finally, we get to the hearth. If you have a slate hearth, wash it, dry it and coat it with lemon oil for a lovely shine. If it’s brick, your local fireplace shop should have a brick cleaner that will work just fine.