Fireplace Safety for the New Homeowner

Winter is approaching. With more than one-third of all U.S. households using some sort of fireplace, wood burning stove or fuel-induced heating system, fire safety becomes a key focus. As a new homeowner, with access to a wood burning unit, understanding the risks involved with wood types, the development of creosote and the various safety precautions, will ensure a safe, pleasant and warm winter season in your new home.

For an optimal fireplace burn, the use of seasoned hardwood is recommended. Conversely, the use of wet, premature or softwood will result in a more progressive accumulation of creosote and, as a result, is not recommended. Creosote, developed from the smoke vapor of burning wood, combined with general air moisture, can accumulate in the chimney flue resulting in a significant fire hazard to your new home.

To ensure the development of creosote is kept at bay, using seasoned, hardwood is always recommended. Wood should be stored, undercover, for six months prior to use. Optimal burning is achieved by adequately filling the fireplace with wood, avoiding a small burn. Additionally, wood should be placed at the back of the fireplace, on an iron rack, to ensure proper air circulation.

Prior to lighting the fire, inspect the roof area to ensure the chimney is ventilated appropriately and free of debris including tree branches and bird nests. Within the home, remove all household decorations, rugs and curtains to ensure there are no potential fire hazards within 10 feet of the fireplace as heat may result in an interior fire.

When lighting the fire, do not use any type of flammable liquid as this not only further encourages fire hazard but also creates an additional atmosphere in which smoke can filter throughout the home. Always light the fire using the proper tools such as matches or a fireplace lighter. Before lighting, prepare by purchasing heat resistant gloves and keep a fire extinguisher close by. Additionally, the purchase of a fireplace thermometer will ensure proper monitoring of interior chimney flue. In doing so, your home is prepared for the unfortunate situation in which a fire may burn out of control.

Once the fire is lit, never leave it unattended. As the fire burns out, allow ashes to cool completely, place the ashes in a flame resistant container with water. Never put the fire out, directly, with water as this creates an additional fire hazard and additional development of creosote. Store water soaked ashes at least 30 feet from the house and away from stored, unused hardwood.

Following these simple steps, during cold temperatures, will ensure your home is safe and pleasant for many years to come

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