For many in the colder regions of the world, nothing brings about a better winter day than the crackle of a fire. It serves as a foundation for warmth and gathering and provides a respite from a steady stream of screens.
Fireplaces are wonderful things, but they can be dangerous if we don’t use them safely. That’s why we’re going to look at some basic fireplace safety tips to keep your season warm and cozy without sacrificing safety.
Proper Maintenance for Prevention
First and foremost, your fireplace has got to be in good working order. Safe home fireplaces begin here. You can’t build a fire in an unsafe fireplace and expect to heat a home safely. Keeping up with proper maintenance procedures will go a long way toward reducing the fire risk for you and your family. None of the other fireplace safety tips can be fully effective in an unkempt fireplace. Here are a few fireplace safety basics to get you started.
Clean your Fireplace
If you haven’t had an indoor fire since last winter, chances are your fireplace needs a cleaning. This includes cleaning the walls of the firebox and removing any soot and creosotes that built up over the previous season. These deposits are flammable, so this is both a safety measure and something that will make your fireplace look much better.
You’ll also want to make sure the glass or screen is clean. When it comes to fireplace safety, fireplace screens and glass are important to take note of for a couple of reasons. First, they can accumulate soot and creosotes just like the rest of the fireplace. Second, they are usually very close to the fire, making them a possible point for the fire to spread to the interior of the house.
Inspect the Damper
The damper is the set of trap doors that allow smoke to pass up through the chimney flue. If there is debris that prevents it from opening and closing smoothly, the result could be a smoke-filled home or even a fire that travels up the flue. Ensuring your damper is in good working order will keep your air quality up to par and prevent possible house fires.
Check your Chimney, Flue, and Cap
In order to make sure your fireplace is safe to use, the entire chimney structure must be sound. Any damage to the chimney, flue (the channel up the center of the chimney), or the cap on top can cause your fireplace to be considered unsafe.
If you’ve got any uncertainty surrounding the safety of your fireplace, it’s best to hire a professional to check it out. You can start with an inspection, which usually runs around $100-300 with a reputable company. If they spot any issues, they’ll let you know what needs servicing and give you an idea of the cost to remedy the situation and create the safest fireplace possible.
Build Safer Fires
Now that we’ve covered some fireplace safety tips pertaining to maintaining a functional fireplace, let’s look at the fires we build. Even a fully functional fireplace can’t always prevent an unsafe fire from causing problems. They can lead to poor air quality, damage to your home, and even cause a house fire. Before you build your first fire of the season, following these fireplace safety tips will ensure you do it safely.
Make your First Fire a Small One
When you’re ready to build your first fire of the season, keep it small. A small fire will be enough to alert you to any issues, and it’s much easier to put out than a large one in case you encounter a safety issue. Make sure you’ve addressed any problems before loading it up with more wood.
Seasoned Hardwoods are Best
The wood you choose has a big impact on smoke produced and how soot and creosotes build up in your chimney. Wet or young wood has much higher water content, which causes it to produce more smoke and release more small particles. This creates hazardous creosote buildup in the chimney. Simply, burning wet wood is both a health hazard and a fire hazard.
Dry wood burns better in a number of ways. It contains far less moisture, meaning it burns more evenly and produces more heat. A much nicer fire. Dry wood also produces far less smoke than green wood. That reduction in smoke translates into cleaner air and less buildup in the chimney.
Make Sure You’re Using the Right Size Grate
At first glance, a bigger grate may seem like a better one. This is not the case. If grates are too large, they can prompt people to build fires that are too large to burn safely in their fireplaces. The grate in your firebox should ideally occupy about two thirds of the available real estate.
Gas Fireplace Safety Tips
Up to this point, we’ve largely covered wood burning fireplace safety. Since gas fireplaces burn natural gas instead of wood, there are some unique things you should pay attention to if you’ve got a gas fireplace.
Keep up with Inspections
Just like with wood burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces need to be structurally sound to operate safely. Improperly functioning gas fireplaces can fill your home with gas or start fires. Make sure you keep up with your yearly inspections to catch any possible issues early on. Don’t neglect this important safety step.
This is an equally important electric fireplace safety tip. Even though there is no open flame or gas that can be emitted into the house, a malfunctioning electric fireplace can still pose a fire danger. The best way to avoid fires is to have the unit inspected and catch any issues while they are small.
Check your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
One of the most hazardous environmental dangers that can be caused by gas fireplaces is a buildup of carbon monoxide in the home. Make sure you are alerted to any possible gas leaks. Ensuring your carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries at the start of the season and giving them a test will provide peace of mind all year long.
More Fireplace Safety Tips
Okay. So we’ve covered some tips for building a safer fire in a functioning fireplace. Those are key to prevent fires from getting out of hand. But, even with the best planning and practices in place, fires can happen. If you ever find yourself in this situation, there are some preventative fireplace safety tips that can help minimize the damage done.
Replace the Batteries in your Smoke Detectors
The quicker we are alerted to a fire, the more likely we are to extinguish it with minimal damage. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors to ensure they are capable of alerting you to any dangers.
Check your Fire Extinguishers
If all else fails and a fire does start outside of the firebox, having a fully charged fire extinguisher may prevent it from spreading. Your fire extinguishers should be visually checked once a month, and should ideally be serviced once a year.
Don’t forget to refill your fire extinguishers. Even when we don’t use fire extinguishers, they need to be refilled every 6 to 12 years, based upon the manufacturer’s recommendation. Absorbing the cost of proper fire extinguisher maintenance is far cheaper than dealing with a fire that may otherwise have been extinguishable.