As autumn turns to winter and summer is but a distant memory, it’s time to turn up the heat on your fireplace and enjoy its comfy glow. Fireplaces offer both warmth and ambiance to the winter months, but they can also offer up risks that can turn a cozy fire into a dangerous hazard. Before you snuggle in to enjoy your fireplace, whether wood-burning, gas, or electric, make sure you have these fireplace safety tips checked off your list.
Fireplace Safety Tips for Residential Wood-burning Fireplaces
Wood-burning fireplaces add both warmth and aesthetic value to your home. They are also a technology that has been around for a very long time, which also sometimes makes the fireplace structure in your home old as well. But whether old or newly constructed, wood-burning fireplaces can pose dangers if not properly inspected and maintained.
You do not want to light a fire in a fireplace that is not safe to use. A safety inspection gives you peace of mind and keeps your home and family safe. Inspections of both your fireplace and chimney should be done once a year by a trained fireplace safety inspector. If at any time you suspect a problem with your fireplace or chimney though, it is best to call an expert to inspect both to make sure everything is structurally sound and working properly.
Fire Safety Tips: Your Chimney
One of the most important structural elements of your wood-burning fireplace is your chimney. It is also why one of the most important steps in fireplace care is ensuring your chimney is in good working order. Proper Chimney care includes inspections (as mentioned above), cleaning, and repairs.
Your chimney flue is the vertical passage or duct that runs from the firebox to the top of the chimney. It is the passageway that allows smoke to rise from the fire in the firebox and escape out of your home. A safety inspection examines the flue to check for cracks or damage to the chimney’s structure or flue lining and to remove any build-up of soot, ash, and debris.
The purpose of a chimney is to allow smoke from the indoor fire to escape out of your home. Excessive build up or an obstruction in your chimney means the smoke will not exit your home, but fills it up instead. A dirty chimney turns a cozy fire into a mess at best and a deadly mess at worst. Chimneys need to be cleaned to ensure a safe and comforting fire.
A lot of the firewood that is burned to make the cozy fire in your home is treated with creosote, a common wood preservative. It is also highly flammable. When firewood is burned, this highly flammable substance builds up in your chimney and can cause a fire hazard. If left to build up over time, it can also damage your chimney lining. It needs to be periodically removed to keep your chimney safe and free of harmful buildup. This is one of the main reasons to have your chimney professionally cleaned annually.
Besides soot and creosote build-up, your chimney can contain other unwanted obstructions that present dangerous blockages, including bird or animal nests, twigs, leaves, or broken masonry. Obstruction smoke also contains deadly carbon monoxide, which you do not want in your home. Having your chimney cleaned once a year helps prevent these hazardous and sometimes deadly conditions.
An inspection of your chimney may reveal deteriorating brickwork, flue problems, or damaged crowns or caps. Having these important structural items repaired before using your wood-burning fireplace is vital for safe usage.
Fireplace Safety Tips: Follow Good Burning Practices
A fireplace fire is contained in your firebox, but it is still a fire burning in your home. Learning and following good burning practices keeps the hazards of fire under control so you can enjoy the benefits of your fireplace.
Prepare the Space
Clear the area around your fireplace to remove any combustible materials such as décor, curtains, drapes, blankets, furniture, or books. The clearance zone should be 48 inches or four feet from the fire. Fireproofing your home is also an important precaution when using your fireplace.
Open Your Flue Damper
A flue damper is installed in your chimney and acts like a window that can be opened and shut to regulate airflow in your chimney flue. When open, it lets air into the flue and when shut, it prevents indoor air from escaping from your home.
Your flue damper also protects your fireplace from excess moisture and debris. The damper also prevents air loss through your chimney. Your chimney is essentially a passage to the outside. The damper keeps an airtight seal on this passage when your fireplace is not in use, so a draft is not created through the chimney. Drafts inevitably make maintaining indoor temperatures more difficult. Your damper also helps you control the intensity of the fire in your fireplace because it supplies it with oxygen from outside air. By partially closing the flue, you can control how much outside air is feeding the fire.
Different types of fireplace dampers are on the market, including top-sealing, or bottom-sealing dampers, which refer to where in the chimney flue they are mounted. Dampers are made from heat resistant materials such as cast iron, ceramic, or steel.
Before lighting a fire in your fireplace, you need to open the flue damper to feed the fire and allow smoke to escape from the firebox. This is an important step to remember before using your fireplace.
Keep Safety Devices on Hand
Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to prevent dangerous levels of either from getting out of control. Keep a fire extinguisher in your home, check that it is not expired, and make sure you know how to properly use it.
Install Fireplace Doors or Safety Screen
Quality glass fireplace doors or screens help keep popping embers or flames from escaping your firebox and causing damage.
If you have children, it is important to learn how to childproof a fireplace in your home. Installing a safety gate for a fireplace use can help prevent injuries and can be one of the main ways to babyproof a fireplace. A fireplace safety fence should be securely attached and cover the entire fireplace. These precautions are also important if you have pets.
Keep Logs to a Minimum
Overloading your fire with logs may seem an easy and efficient way to keep the fire burning, but it is not the safe way. Jamming a lot of logs into your firebox can overheat the system and cause unnecessary damage.
Extinguish the Fire Properly
When you are done enjoying your fire, it is important to extinguish it and not leave it to burn out on its own. An unattended fire is a dangerous fire. The best ways to safely extinguish fires in your fireplace
Fire Safety Tips: Gas and Electric fireplaces
Are gas fireplaces safer than wood-burning fireplaces? Although gas and electric fireplaces can turn on and off with the flip of a switch, it does not mean they can be used without caution. Gas fireplace safety and electric fireplace safety is important to prevent unwanted hazards or injuries.
Fire safety tips to follow for gas and electric fireplaces:
- Use a gas fireplace safety screen
- Avoid placing combustible materials near the heat source
- Keep a three-foot clearance around your gas and electric fireplace
- Have your system inspected annually
- Replace or repair worn or damaged parts
- Install a carbon monoxide detector
Is It Safe to Leave a Fireplace on?
Many people think gas fireplaces are safe to leave on, but can you leave a gas fireplace on overnight? The short answer is no. It is a heat source that can overheat and burn out your system. It is also an unnecessary drain on your gas and electric bills. There is no reason to leave the system running overnight if you have proper heating in your home.
Fireplace Safety Tips: The Last Word Before You Light the Fire
Your fireplace safety tips checklist before using a fireplace for the first time:
- Ensure your wood-burning fireplace and chimney are in safe working order by having them inspected, cleaned, and repaired, if necessary
- Get your gas or electric fireplace inspected annually and make sure they are working properly and you do not have any leaks or damaged parts
- Prepare the area around the fireplace, removing any flammable materials
- Keep a fire extinguisher on hand
- Set up fireplace safety screens or fences
- Install smoke and CO detectors
- Understand and use good burning practices
By following these fireplace safety tips before you light the fire, you can feel secure in using your fireplace and enjoying its cozy warmth for years to come.
Fireplace Safety Tips: FAQ
How often should you have your fireplace inspected and cleaned?
Your fireplace and chimney should be inspected and cleaned at least once a year. A gas and electric fireplace should also be inspected annually.
What is the clearance zone around a fireplace?
Combustible materials should be kept four feet from a wood-burning fireplace and three-feet from a gas or electric fireplace.
What safety devices should be on one hand when using a fireplace?
Installing smoke and CO detectors are important when using a fireplace as well as having a fire extinguisher in your home.
For professional service on keeping your home safe from fire hazards, contact us.