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Edited by John Leach
Last Updated June 4, 2021
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There’s nothing like the warm ambiance a fireplace creates. The smell, the cozy feeling, and listening to the crackling on a chilly night make staying in seem like a great choice. But just beneath the tranquil ambiance, ash, resin, and residue lurk in your chimney and can start a fire. Home fires are common despite advances in fire-suppression techniques. Thankfully, there are a ton of fireplace maintenance tips and precautions that go a long way. Use these tips and precautions to save your home and your life from a catastrophic fire. The first step in fireplace safety? It’s having the right homeowners insurance.
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Fireplace Safety Tips
You should at least have an HO-1 home insurance policy in case of fires. But that’s the starting point when it comes to proper fire coverage on a home insurance policy. Most renters do not have insurance. And often, homeowners aren’t aware of their coverage options in case of a fire. Always check your policy to make sure you have enough home insurance for emergencies. And renters should buy renters insurance for special circumstances. If you don’t have it, it’s always worth discussing options with your local agent.
There are steps you can take that may lessen your chances of having a home fire. Maybe you love having a fireplace or moved into a place with one that you don’t intend to use. Either way, you need to know how to maintain your fireplace correctly and safely. Here’s where you should begin:
Always keep a window cracked or slightly open if you can while the fire is burning.
Always make sure the damper or flue is open before starting a fire. And keep the damper or flue open until the fire is out. This will draw the smoke out of the house. To check your damper, look up the chimney with a flashlight or mirror. Never close the damper until all the embers are done burning.
Always clean out the ashes from previous fires, and keep ash at the base to less than one inch thick. Thick ash piles can restrict air supply to the burning logs.
Check for animal nests or blockages that prevent smoke from escaping the chimney.
Clear the area around the fireplace of anything flammable. Always clear furniture, drapes, Christmas trees, and books so nothing catches fire.
Never leave your fireplace unattended. Before going to bed or leaving home, make sure the fire is completely out. Always take small children with you if you are leaving the room while the fire is still burning.
Fireplace screens, glass doors, and fireplace doors can get very hot. Minimize your children’s risk of burns by installing a safety screen.
Always keep fireplace tools, accessories, and matches out of your children’s reach.
Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Test both monthly. Change the batteries at least once a year.
Keep your fireplace clean and your fire extinguisher handy. Your clean fireplace will allow air to flow better and will give cleaner combustion. Be prepared for unexpected sparks that can lead to a house fire.
Consider a fireplace insert if using your fireplace as a heat source. A fireplace insert is a firebox surrounded by a steel shell that delivers warmth into the room without polluting the air.
Wood-Burning Fireplace Safety
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you can start by selecting the right kind of wood. Dry and well-seasoned wood burns hot and completely. This type of wood produces way less creosote buildup and carbon monoxide than damp wood. Here are some other considerations to make with fireplace safety in mind:
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Fueling Your Wood-Burning Fireplace
To fuel your fireplace safely, don’t use chemicals like gasoline, charcoal starters, or kerosene. Also, never burn treated wood, painted wood, or plywood. The toxic chemicals inside burn and enter your living space, causing a fire hazard. Also, avoid wet, diseased, moldy, or rotten wood. It’s important to start fires only with dry kindling, pine cones, or newspaper. Always check the moisture content to lessen the amount of creosote buildup. And smaller pieces of wood on the grate burn faster while producing less smoke.
Another tip for lessening creosote buildup is to use wood seasoned at least 12 months with less than 20 percent moisture content. Local firewood prevents insect pests and tree diseases from spreading in your area. Every time you buy firewood, have it appropriately stored for next year’s use to dry correctly. Always keep your fresh cut and stacked firewood from touching the ground. And cover the top with the sides left open so air can circulate.
Different woods burn differently. Oak and hardwoods burn long and hot while softwoods (think pine) burn fast and super hot. Softwoods can build up higher amounts of creosote, so it’s best to stick with hardwoods.
Care for Your Chimney and Wood-Burning Stove
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America ( CSIA ), most chimney fires often go undetected. You’ll never know if your chimney is getting enough air or has enough fuel. High temperatures can cause damage to the chimney’s structure and other nearby combustible materials.
Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed for safe wood-fuel fires. But chimneys expel by-products of combustion like smoke, water vapor, and unburned wood particles. Fires leave hydrocarbons, gases, tar fog, and a ton of different materials in your home. These by-products flow up into the cooler chimney and produce condensation. This results in creosote residue that sticks to the walls of your chimney.
You must keep your chimney adequately maintained. You can hire a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to inspect your venting system annually. They’ll also sweep and make chimney repairs when needed.
Fireplace Tools to Keep Handy
You may become overwhelmed with all the different fireplace tools on the market. Here are the most necessary fireplace tools to maintain proper fires:
A poker to hook, rake, and push burning firewood. Try finding one with an insulated handle so your hands don’t burn during use.
A shovel and metal container with a lid to remove ashes from the firebox.
Tongs to help you move burning wood around safely if you need to pick up a log.
A broom to clean up ashy residue after each fire.
Ventless Gas Fireplace Safety
Ventless fireplaces use only the interior air in the room for combustion. Anything present in the air is burned and released into the air. If you have a ventless gas fireplace, you could be releasing emissions and noxious gases, such as nitrous dioxide and carbon monoxide, into your home. Ventless gas fireplaces are not safe at all. If you do not have the proper ventilation and safety precautions in place, noxious gases may release. If you must use a ventless gas fireplace, always have working carbon monoxide detectors. Also, get an automatic shutoff valve to preserve oxygen levels.
Instead of a ventless gas fireplace, you can try these safer options:
Direct vent gas fireplace: This uses outside air for combustion and releases all emissions outside the home inside a sealed system.
Natural vent gas fireplace or B-vent: This uses air from inside the house as combustion and releases emissions outside the home.
For any gas fireplace, use the same fire safety precautions previously discussed to avoid fire hazards.
Prepare Yourself for a House Fire
Whether you have a fireplace or not, you still need to be prepared for other fires, such as kitchen fires and electrical fires. Always have the same level of diligence, no matter where you live. Here are some ways to prepare you and your family for a house fire:
Smoke detectors should be on each floor of your home. Additionally, have smoke detectors in rooms with fireplaces. Rooms with appliances (like the kitchen and laundry rooms), crawlspaces, and utility rooms should have them as well.
Test all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors monthly.
Fireplaces should be cleaned at least once a year to prevent buildup. Clean fireplaces more frequently if you use them often.
Remove clutter and flammable materials from in and around cooking appliances. Kitchen fires are the most common fire event.
Never leave an open flame, a cigarette, or a burning candle unattended.
Candles, burners, and flames should be far from flammable materials like drapes and paper at all times.
Regularly inspect outlets, extension cords, surge protectors, and other cords for fraying or damage to prevent electrical fires.
Outside the home, keep your trees trimmed and branches away. Try keeping them at least 30 feet away from your home as a defensive space. Clearing out trees and bushes protects your home from catching fire from direct flame or heat.
Always keep the inside and outside of your home free of any debris or fire hazards. You wouldn’t want to put you or your family at risk of a fire. Also, make sure you have the right kind of fire coverage on your home insurance policy. It’s often easy to overlook the minor details on a policy that may affect whether you have the right coverage or. If you need to add coverage, talk to your local agent about your options.
Are you looking for new home insurance? Or don’t have homeowners insurance yet? Check out Insurify’s home insurance comparison tool to make sure you’re getting the best insurance at the most affordable price.
Frequently Asked Questions - Fireplace Safety
No, it’s never all right to leave the fireplace on all night. Always make sure the fire is put out before going to bed.
Electric fireplaces are the safest option if you have children or pets. They are the most customizable, including the flame and fire effects. Alternatively, gas fireplaces are highly efficient if you have the right ventilation.
Fireplaces may affect your home insurance rates in specific ways. Your insurance premium may go up if you add fireplace coverage to your policy. Insurance companies see fireplaces as hazards. That’s because a fireplace increases the risk of having to pay out a claim. This is something to be aware of when shopping for a home.
If a covered peril destroys your home, your insurance will give you loss of use protection. This covers additional living expenses for when you have to live outside the home. Replacement cost coverage or actual cash value will also repair or replace your home and personal items while you are away.
Conclusion: Ensuring Fireplace Safety
We all love having the warm glow of a fireplace, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Follow these tips, and you will be prepared against any possible house fire. Finally, make sure you have coverage in case of a fire.
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