When my roommates and I made a “wish list” of features we wanted in our new Chicago apartment, a fireplace was near the top. Now that the freezing winter is here, we’re glad that we were able to find an apartment that had a cozy, warm fireplace in the dining room.

Fireplaces add warmth and value to an apartment, but they are also potentially dangerous when not taken care of. To keep your apartment safe, take a few precautions. You might have to bug your landlord to take care of some of these safety precautions, but it’s worth it to keep your place fire-safe.

  1. Make sure your landlord has cleaned the fireplace. If you have a wood-burning fire, ask your landlord whether it’s been cleaned this winter. Experts recommend having a professional chimney and fireplace cleaning every year to prevent creosote build-up that can cause chimney fires.
  2. Check your smoke detectors. If you’re not sure when the batteries to your smoke detectors were last changed, ask your landlord to replace them. If smoke began to build up in the fireplace, it’s crucial that all your fire alarms function properly.
  3. Don’t leave the fire unattended. Never go to sleep with the fireplace still burning, and keep an eye on it while you’re in the apartment. Even with a screen, small paper holiday decorations, tinsel, and Christmas tree needles could get into the fireplace and spread the flames.
  4. Keep fire extinguishers on hand. In the event that sparks leap onto furniture, decorations, or your Christmas tree, you’ll need an easily-accessible, functioning fire extinguisher. Your landlord should have provided your apartment with one, and you should double-check that it has been inspected recently.
  5. Use only seasoned hardwood in your fireplace. Never burn cardboard, trash, or lighter fluid, and avoid wet logs that can accelerate creosote build-up. If you use artificial logs, only burn one at a time.

For more information on fireplace safety tips, check out the U.S. Fire Administration and Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association websites.