Have you recently purchased a home with a fireplace? Are you eager to start using it for warmth and romantic evening fires? A fireplace can be a great asset to a home, but unfortunately, fireplaces don't last forever. Before you go lighting any fires, it's important to have your fireplace checked to make sure that it's safe. But there are a few signs that you can watch out for even before a professional arrives to check out your fireplace. A few of these signs include the following.

Bits of bricks and mortar in the fireplace: Any sort of debris, besides leftover burnt logs, in a fireplace can be a worrying sign that you are in need of chimney repair. If the debris consists of bits of mortar and brick, your fireplace is starting to crumble with age and as a result of all of the fires that have been lit and caused the bricks to expand and contract with heating and cooling. Repairing this damage can sometimes be expensive, but an attic fire can be hugely devastating and isn't worth the risk of using a damaged chimney. If the damage isn't too extensive, a cement coating can be applied to the interior of the chimney to give it a few more useful years.

Organic debris in the fireplace: Although perhaps not quite as serious as bricks and mortar, organic debris in the fireplace can be worrying as well. In a fully functional chimney, nothing should be able to make its way down a chimney. There should be a screen or a cap at the top to block the entry and exit of everything but smoke. If this screen or cap has become damaged or dislodged, however, you'll need to have a chimney repair professional reinstall it before using your fireplace. Without this barrier, you could wind up with birds, insects, and small mammals making their way down your chimney either accidentally or on purpose.

Black flakes in the fireplace: Another type of debris to be watching for is black flakes of material in your fireplace. This material is called creosote and is created when a smoky fire burns in your fireplace. Some types of creosote are worse than others and can be difficult for a chimney-repair professional to remove. But all types of creosote eventually need to go. If too much creosote builds up in your chimney, it can lead to a chimney fire that can spread to your attic and beyond.

Talk to a company such as Excel Chimney & Fireplace Service to learn more.