Fireplaces in Florida homes may be more decorative than useful.

Unlike our northern friends, we may only utilize a fireplace a few times during the year. But that doesn’t mean it should not be maintained. For safety, health and other issues it is important that you take the necessary steps to keep your fireplace in good shape.

And it is important to note that maintenance does not necessarily mean the same thing for wood-burning and gas-burning fireplaces. Here are some guidelines to follow for each in order to keep your fireplace functional and safe.

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, here’s what you should be doing.

Start by making sure the fireplace is clean. Cleaning the interior of the fireplace makes it more efficient. Make sure you wear a dust mask while cleaning. And don’t throw away the ashes. Sprinkle them in your garden instead.

Make sure you have working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in your home. That means checking your batteries annually.

Soot and creosote buildup in the chimney must be removed. They are a fire risk, and they can block air flow in the chimney. This should be done by a professional chimney sweep at least once a year, depending on how often you use the fireplace. You should also have a professional examine the chimney and its cap.

Before using the fireplace, make sure it is working correctly with just a few pieces of wood. You want to make sure the smoke is getting out the top of the chimney.

Consider installing a blower and heat-proof glass. The glass will prevent embers from dropping into the room. The blower will help circulate the warmer air.

Make sure you are using the right wood. You should only use seasoned hardwoods like oak, maple and birch.

Think about other safety precautions. Keep carpets and furniture away from the hearth. Use the right tools for cleaning, and never leave the fire unattended.

When it comes to gas-burning fireplaces, some of the safety precautions are the same. Keep the glass doors and interior clean, and make sure the fireplace is inspected annually.

In addition, clean the logs following the direction in the owner’s manual. Also, replace the batteries annually. That’s important because you need fresh batteries to shut the fireplace down quickly.

So remember, a fireplace can be a great addition to a home – even in Florida. But given that you are dealing with smoke and fire it is imperative to understand all the safety precautions.