Published: Dec 08, 2010 7:45 PM EST
Updated: Dec 08, 2010 4:37 PM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla.- Don't be surprised if you see a guy in a tuxedo t-shirt climbing on Southwest Florida roofs. He's inspecting fireplaces, and before you fire yours up, the U.S. Fire Administration recommends getting it inspected to keep your home safe.

Chimney sweep Mike Osmulski is staying busy these days, taking a modern approach at sweeping out soot in the dirtiest of chimneys.

"It's booming with the cold weather, everyone wants to use their fireplaces," Osmulski said Wednesday.

For Floridians, an annual chimney inspection may not be top of mind. But as one-third of Americans light up the fireplace to heat their homes, checking out the chimney is more important than ever.

Every time you use your fireplace, creosote builds up along chimney walls, creating a layer far more flammable than the original firewood itself.

"Fireplaces are dangerous. I mean we're burning a fire in our home. It's just really important to have it looked at, and keep up on the maintenance," Osmulski said.

Last year alone, fire departments across the U.S. responded to 377,000 house fires. Untouched creosote build-up in chimneys ranks in as a leading cause of house fires this time of year.

"It's like not putting oil in your car. It's going to cause problems down the road," Osmulski said.

A typical inspection and cleaning takes just 30 minutes, time experts say you should take to better protect your home this holiday.

"Most of us, our home is our most valued possession. There would be nothing more devastating then to lose that," Osmulski said.

Experts recommend getting your chimney inspected annually...and for Floridians, getting a thorough chimney sweep once every two to three years. It usually costs between $100-200 per cleaning.