Fireplace Safety for Homeowners
More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.
Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year. These fires are often due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.
Keep Fireplaces and Wood Stoves Clean
Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
Keep the area around the hearth clear of debris, decorations, and flammable materials.
Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to complete combustion, and it keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
Close glass doors when the fire is out to prevent air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen, which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
Install a stovepipe thermometer to help monitor the flue temperature.
Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict the air supply to a fireplace. Otherwise, creosote may build up, which could lead to a chimney fire.
Use fire-resistant materials on the walls around a wood stove.
Safely Burn Fuels
Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, damp wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
Never burn cardboard boxes, trash, or other debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container, and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trashcan. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.
Protect the Outside of Your Home
Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles, and other debris.
Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.
Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues and vents.
Protect the Inside of Your Home
Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, and inside and outside of each sleeping area. Test them monthly, and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long-life smoke alarms.
Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
Safe Practices for Fireplaces
The fireplace damper must be fully open before starting a fire, and left open until the fire is completely out.
Fireplaces should not be overloaded with firewood.
Green or wet wood should never be used.
Screens should be closed during the fireplace's operation to prevent sparks from flying out into the room.
Do not hang stockings over the fireplace. Find safer more stylish options.
Glass door enclosures can be closed to reduce heat loss from the room into the chimney.
Glass doors on a factory-built fireplace must be tested and listed for that particular fireplace. It can be dangerous to use the wrong set of glass doors.
A wood stove (freestanding or insert style) should never be installed in a factory-built fireplace system unless the insert has been tested and listed for such use.
Annual chimney inspections and sweeping are recommended.
Fireplace safety is ultimately your responsibility.
About the Author
James Yates is a licensed Home Inspector in Arkansas (HI-1792), Certified Professional Inspector with Internachi, and a member of the Arkansas Association of Real Estate Inspectors (AAREI). He owns and operates Floor to Ceiling Real Estate Inspections, llc.
Information included in this article used with permission of Internachi. www.nachi.org