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20 Best Fireplace Safety Tips for Homeowners (2021)

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Why you can trust Insurify

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Amy Beardsley

By: Amy Beardsley

Edited by John Leach

Last Updated June 4, 2021

Fireplaces are more than a beautiful addition to your home. They can also help with energy efficiency by keeping your heating costs low. With skyrocketing utility costs, you could save money and create some wiggle room in your budget when cold weather hits.

However, fireplace safety is a significant concern for homeowners. On average, a home fire occurred every 87 seconds in the U.S. in 2018. You can prevent home fires with these fireplace safety tips for homeowners.

Keep in mind that you could pay higher premiums if you have a fireplace or wood stove in your home. Use Insurify to shop around for homeowners insurance and see how much you could save.

Wood-Burning Fireplace Safety

As a homeowner, you should make sure your wood-burning fireplace is safe and efficient before the temperature begins to drop. Here’s how.

Burn Only Firewood

It would be best if you only burned dry, cured wood and kindling in a wood-burning fireplace. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends you season your wood for at least six months before burning.

Hardwoods such as hickory, beech, and white oak tend to burn the longest, though the most important step is to make sure the wood is dry.

Check Chimney for Cracks

A chimney with cracks can expose the bricks to more moisture, causing damage to the chimney. Your chimney could collapse if it has too many gaps or the damage turns into larger cracks.

Look for Tree Limbs

While you’re inspecting the chimney, also check for nearby tree limbs. Limbs can restrict proper airflow in your fireplace and serve as a fire hazard if they get too close to the chimney.

Install a Chimney Cap

A cap on the top of the chimney can keep birds, squirrels, rain, and debris out. The last thing you want when enjoying a nicely lit fire is for a dead animal to fall into the flames.

Some chimney caps come with a spark arrester, stopping floating embers from escaping and setting fire to flammable roofing surfaces.

Check the Damper

Your fireplace damper should be open when a fire is lit. That way, less smoke, soot, and gases can enter your home. Check to make sure there’s no debris blocking the damper or the flue that would prevent them from working properly.

Clean Your Chimney Twice a Year

A clean chimney is a happy chimney. While the National Fire Protection Association recommends cleaning it once per year, twice per year is even better. You can DIY your chimney cleaning or find a certified chimney sweep on the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) website.

Look for Creosote Buildup

When you burn wood in the firebox, you end up with creosote. Less creosote is better because, left unchecked, it can build up inside the chimney and create a chimney fire.

Electric Fireplace Safety

You can get an electric fireplace with or without heat, making them an excellent option to add ambiance to your home without additional heating. Here are tips for using it safely.

Only Use Indoors

You shouldn’t use an electric fireplace outdoors or in an area that’s exposed to the weather. There are some rated for outdoor use, but most require indoor use only.

Don’t Use Extension Cords

Extension cords used with electric fireplaces could overheat, increasing the risk of fire. The typical electric fireplace has a six- to seven-foot-long cord, which is usually enough to plug it directly into a wall outlet.

Check Your Household Electrical Outlet

Electric fireplaces can draw a significant amount of power. Check your outlet to make sure it doesn’t share a circuit breaker or fuse with other outlets or light fixtures. If it does, the draw of electricity could trip the circuit breaker.

Place Away from Household Objects

Placing your fireplace near furniture, clothing, paper, or flammable materials, such as gas or paint, can increase the risk of fire. The best practice is to keep at least three feet between the fireplace and other combustible items.

Check the Plug and Cord for Damage

Check the plug and cord for damage frequently to reduce fire risk. You also shouldn’t run the electrical cord under furniture, carpets, or other appliances or cover it with a rug. It’s also smart to avoid high traffic areas because of the potential trip hazard.

Keep Away from Water

Water and electricity don’t mix. Don’t use your electric fireplace in the bathroom, laundry room, or other locations in or around your home where the unit could come into contact with water.

Ventless Gas Fireplace Safety

A ventless gas fireplace can be a good alternative when putting in a flue isn’t possible. They’re convenient and come at a low cost for homeowners. However, ventless gas fireplaces are banned in California, and many other states have restrictions.

Watch for Carbon Monoxide

Ventless gas fireplaces release small amounts of toxic fumes, increasing the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide. According to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), many manufacturers recommend you keep a window open to allow for more fresh air while using the ventless fireplace.

Check for Mold

High levels of water vapor can be emitted from ventless fireplaces. The increase in humidity can lead to mold or water damage that can ruin fabric, photographs, or books.

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Fireplace Safety with Babies and Children

A dancing flame that lights up the room is a welcome sight on a cold, winter day. But it can also lure a curious child toward it. Here’s how to babyproof your fireplace.

Avoid Freestanding Fireplace Screens

Fireplace screens can add to your decor while also preventing sparks from entering the room. But freestanding fireplace screens can be dangerous for children. Your child may use it to pull themselves up, causing the screen to topple over and become a serious fire safety issue.

Install a Baby Gate

Strategically placing a baby gate can prevent access to the fireplace. It can also keep children away from harmful fireplace tools and glass doors, which can become hot and burn your child if they touch them.

Use Hearth Pads

To protect your baby from sharp edges, cover the hearth with a soft mat, and use hearth pads to prevent injury.

General Fireplace Safety Tips

Fireplaces can provide warmth and comfort, and using them safely can prevent fires. If you’re a homeowner with a fireplace in your home, here are general safety tips to keep in mind.

Have a Fire Extinguisher Nearby

A fire extinguisher near a fireplace is essential. No matter how careful you are, accidents happen. A fire extinguisher can put out a fire before it gets out of hand.

Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors and Smoke Detectors

Fires can produce smoke and a mixture of gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide. To protect yourself and your family, install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors near the fireplace and throughout your home.

Never Leave a Fire Unattended

Fire is unpredictable. A hot ember or spark could ignite your carpet, furniture, or other nearby items on fire if left unattended. Always extinguish the fire fully before leaving the house or going to bed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Wood-burning fireplaces can present the most danger if used improperly. Electric and gas fireplaces are a safer option, especially if you have children or pets. While there’s some risk anytime you use a fireplace, you can reduce the chance of fire or injury if you follow fireplace safety precautions.

  • Companies base their home insurance rates on the risks in your home. Fireplaces can increase your risk level, which can increase the cost you pay for homeowners insurance. However, most insurance companies will insure homes with fireplaces.

  • Having a fireplace in your home can provide a substantial amount of heat that won’t tax your heating system. To prevent heat loss when you’re not using it, make sure to close the damper so warm indoor air doesn’t escape through the chimney. Also, consider replacing a poorly sealing damper if you have a wood-burning fireplace.

Fireplaces and Home Insurance: The Bottom Line

The right safety precautions, including hiring a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney, having a fire extinguisher, and installing carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, can help protect you and your family.

Fireplaces can increase your home’s value and make it easier to sell if you put it on the market. However, they increase the fire risk, which can mean you’ll pay more for homeowners insurance if your home has a fireplace.

Use Insurify to compare home insurance premiums for your property in your area.

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Amy Beardsley
Amy Beardsley
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Insurance Writer

Amy is a personal finance and technology writer. With a background in the legal field and a bachelor's degree from Ferris State University, she has a talent for transforming complex topics into content that’s easy to understand. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.

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