Winter is just around the corner. It's almost time to break out the firewood. Before you do that, however, you need to make sure that your fireplace is ready for its first fire. Even if you think your fireplace is ready for winter, there may be dangers that you're not aware of. Those hidden dangers can lead to hazardous situations, including chimney fires. Before you light your first piece of firewood, here are three things you'll need to do.

Clean the Chimney

Each time you burn wood in your fireplace, traces of creosote are left behind. Over time, your chimney may become coated with the oily substance. Unfortunately, creosote is also extremely flammable. Before you use your fireplace this winter, you need to have the chimney cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. They'll remove the creosote and ash that might have been left behind from last winter.

Check for Damage

If you have a brick chimney, it can develop cracks that can undermine the structural integrity of your fireplace. Cracks can be caused by soil settling, foundational shifting, and earthquakes. Before you start using your fireplace this winter, go out and check your chimney for signs of damage. Look for cracks around the bricks. If you have a stucco-finished fireplace, look for cracks in the stucco. These cracks should be repaired before you use your fireplace again.

Brick Repair

Repairing the cracks around your bricks is a relatively easy process. Scrape the old mortar away from the bricks using a wire brush. For this project, you'll need a bucket, a pie-tipped trowel and a wire brush. Mix your mortar compound according to package instructions. Use a pie-tipped trowel to place the mortar into the cracks. Scrape the excess off using the edge of your trowel. Allow the mortar to air dry.

Stucco Repair

To repair cracks in the stucco, you can use a latex cement caulk. Use a wire brush to scrape away the dry stucco from inside the crack. Apply a thick strip of caulking to the crack. Scrape away the excess using the edge of a trowel. Allow the caulk to dry.

Look Inside Your Firebox

Once you've cleaned and repaired the chimney, you'll want to inspect the firebox. That's the area inside the fireplace where the firewood goes. Look for signs of damage, including cracks in the fireplace walls. If you see cracks in the walls, don't use your fireplace. The embers could escape through the cracks and cause a house fire.

With winter around the corner, it's time to get your fireplace ready. Use the tips provided here to make sure your fireplace is safe to use this winter. If you have problems with your fireplace, be sure to contact a fireplace contractor, such as those at Alpine Fireplaces, as soon as possible.