According to the National Fire Protection Association, heating equipment causes 16% of all fires and fireplaces account for almost a third of that amount. Follow these fireplace safety tips and stay safe and warm as the weather cools.
Get Your Fireplace Inspected
Equipment can malfunction or deteriorate, but annual inspections can detect issues before they become major problems and prevent fires.
A qualified technician inspects the interior and exterior of the fireplace and the chimney. They check for signs of deterioration or damage to minimize potential hazards. The NFPA describes three inspection levels you should understand before you order an inspection.
- A Level 1 inspection suits an unaltered fireplace and chimney. The inspector examines easily accessibly interior and exterior areas.
- A Level 2 inspection includes interior and exterior examinations, and it utilizes a closed-circuit camera so the technician can see inner areas such as the chimney flue. Level 2 inspections are suitable for home sales or when you intend to change the fuel source or install an insert.
- A Level 3 inspection involves removing part of the wall or masonry so the technician can inspect everything. It is highly recommended for a damaged chimney or fireplace after a fire or earthquake.
Clean Equipment & Chimney
The leading factor causing these fires was unclean equipment, particularly chimneys. Inspections often include cleaning too, but ask before you order.
A technician will remove any debris such as leaves and branches from the chimney so smoke can escape easily. They will also remove any accumulated creosote in the equipment and chimney. This dangerous by-product of burning poses a very significant danger.
If a chimney fire occurs due to creosote buildup, it can burn at up to 2000°F. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, that’s so hot it actually melts mortar, cracks tiles, and collapses chimney liners and damages the outer masonry material.
Stick To Proper Fuel
Ensure you burn seasoned hardwood or manufactured fireplace logs to minimize creosote. Green wood such as an old Christmas tree produces a great deal of this toxic, dangerous substance.
Don’t toss in materials such as wrapping paper, because it often made with synthetics which emit toxic fumes. Always follow the instructions if you burn manufactured logs, because they burn hotter than wood and too many could warp the metal in your chimney.
Control The Burn
Open a window, the fireplace doors, and damper and stack your logs near the back of the hearth. Don’t create a huge blaze. Too much heat can damage the chimney and a big fire is more likely to shoot sparks and embers into your home.
Once the fire’s burning nicely, slide a fireplace screen in front to protect your home. Don’t store anything flammable near the fireplace, including dangling objects on the mantel. Never leave a fire unattended even if the warmth makes you sleepy. Heading off to bed while a fire is still burning is very dangerous. Every household should have a fire extinguisher, but it is particularly important if you use a fireplace.
Clear Out Ashes
Keep the ash level in your fireplace to 1 inch or less. Heavy ash restricts air flow to the logs and creates more smoke.
Always treat ashes as if they were hot. Use a metal bucket and shovel and wear protective gloves and a dust mask. Pour a little water in the bucket, take it outside away from buildings, and let it sit at least 3 days.
After 3 days, you can dispose of the ashes with the garbage, but it also works well in the garden. Wood ash is the equivalent of 0-2-10 fertilizer and it increases soil pH.
Always store fireplace tools and accessories out of children’s reach. Check your smoke detectors and install a carbon monoxide detector if you do not have one.
No one thinks they’ll have a fire, but they happen far too often. When you make the appointment for your annual inspection and cleaning, remember to also make an appointment to speak with your insurance agent to ensure that you have sufficient coverage. The last thing you want to discover when disaster strikes is that you’re underinsured.