While fall is usually the time to clean and service chimneys, winter is the time when they get used. Using them safely and efficiently is as important as cleaning them, according to chimney sweep Darren K. Coleman.

"Before burning, have your chimney inspected to make sure it is free from any problems," Coleman said. "These could include a new nest, leaves, sticks, creosote buildup or structural damage such as cracks, broken tiles or bricks, damaged pipes and dampers."Coleman suggests, for a cleaner fire, to use properly seasoned wood, cut and dried six months or longer, preferably hardwoods or the less sappy woods such as oak, elm, aspen and cottonwood. A chimney has less of a chance for creosote buildup with these woods instead of pine wood.

"If all you have is pine, do not burn the fire too hot," Coleman said. "Cedar is not quite as bad as pine; however, it is usually very dirty. Never burn railroad ties."

Very dry wood, older than two years, can affect the overall efficiency of airtight appliances, Coleman said. Producing too much heat output for the stove actually starves the air, resulting in smoke and creosote buildup. Burning smaller loads of fuel and more frequent loading will lessen the chance of creosote deposits.

Coleman said, "If you use coal, because coal burns very hot, be sure to use a stove which is approved; otherwise, it might crack."

Coleman offers the following suggestions in preparing as safe, fuel efficient fire:

- Make sure the damper is open for proper venting.

- Light a small fire of kindling wood and newspaper.

- Gradually build up the fire and size of wood.

- Do not overload your fireplace or stove.

"If your fire has trouble starting or staying alive, perhaps there is not enough draw or too much down draft," Coleman said. "Crack open a window or door opposite of the fireplace to create more airflow. If that does not solve it, this is a good sign that your chimney needs to be cleaned."

For more information call Coleman Chimney Cleaning and Repair, 373-0575.