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WebMD Feature from "Country Living" Magazine

Care and Maintenance

by Michelle Hainer and Elizabeth Roehrig. Photographs by Steven Randazzo, Keith Scott Morton and Grey Crawford.

Country Living Magazine A crackling fire is one of the simplest pleasures of the season. Keep your flames burning safe and bright.


Check the vents. If the flue is blocked, harmful gases such as carbon monoxide can seep into your home. Make sure the chimney is clear of leaves, nests, or other debris. Hire a professional chimney sweep to clean and inspect your chimney. To find one in your area, log on to the Web site of The Chimney Safety Institute of America, csia.org.

Keep it clean. Every time you burn wood, highly combustible creosote is produced. If not removed, it can catch fire. To maximize a professional cleaning, try the Chimney Sweeping Log. It's loaded with minerals that when burned help loosen creosote buildup (cleanyourchimney.com).

Invest in new dampers. Homesaver's Lyemance Energy-Saving Dampers create an airtight seal that conserves heat, stops downdrafts, and keeps animals out. Not for use with gas fireplaces (homesaver.com).

A good fire requires variety. Start with softwoods such as fir or pine, which will ignite easily and provide a hot flame. To prolong the fire, add hardwoods such as maple or oak. Don't lay kindling pieces parallel to each other. Instead, vary the placement for efficient burning.

Hearth and Home

A mantel plays a big part in establishing the character of a room and providing a focal point. You can update your existing fireplace, or get the right look for a new one, from the many styles currently available. Here is a sampling of treatments to help you find the look you want.

Composite. An update on the traditional fireplace mantels of yesteryear, Doverra's St. Clair model is composed of a lightweight, non-combustible fiber-reinforced cement (doverra.com).

Cultured stone. A less expensive alternative to natural rock and easier to install, Cultured Stone's flat back and modular pieces are available in a range of textures (culturedstone.com).

Vintage. For real historic and distinctive detail, consider installing a vintage mantel. Consult the Yellow Pages to locate a salvage yard near you, or log on to salvage one.com.

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