The temperature has dropped and winter is surely here, bringing the scent of burning logs wafting through the neighborhood, especially on Sunday evenings. Is there anything more cozy than your home with a warm fire blazing in the fireplace, family gathered ‘round, listening to the sound of the flames crackling?

If you like to have fires during the winter months, make sure you maintain your fireplace properly, for safety and efficiency.

According to Fireplaces Magazine, there several steps you can take to make sure you’re getting the most from your fireplace.

First, keep your fireplace clean. Remove ashes before they build up – but please make sure the fire is completely, 100%, totally out before you scoop ashes into a trash bag. Just to be extra safe, take all ashes out of the house immediately after bagging…many a house fire has started in a bag of supposedly-cold ashes that was placed just inside the back door.

Professional chimney cleaning is the best way to ensure that air always flows freely through your chimney. Layers of soot and creosote build up in every chimney, restricting the flow of smoke and becoming a potential fire hazard. Call a chimney sweep every fall to get your chimney in tiptop shape before the cold weather starts.

When you do light a fire, make sure the damper is open fully. (Hey, we all forget once, but that wailing smoke alarm will ensure you never forget again!)

Make sure your firewood is dry and “seasoned.” Green wood or wood that’s wet from rain or snow will take longer to light and will burn with lots of excess smoke.

For maximum efficiency (and to save on your heating bills), close your doors and windows whenever you’ve got a fire burning in the fireplace. Otherwise, any heat you generate will go right outside.

A fireplace on a cold winter night is one of life’s coziest pleasures. Follow these simple tips and your fireplace can always be a source of warmth and family togetherness, year after year.