Winter Fireplace Safety

As the winter season quickly approaches, many households once again place logs in the fireplace and prepare for a roaring fire. People everywhere enjoy sitting before a warm fire on a cold evening sipping hot chocolate or their favorite beverage.

As fuel costs rise, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), more than one-third of all Americans use a fireplace or wood stove as a primary source of heat in their home.

Therefore, whether you are using the fire for pleasure or for fuel, it is essential that you take precautions to ensure a safe, warm, and enjoyable winter.

Preparing for your fire

According to recent statistics, the largest share of home fires in 2005 was due to chimneys and their connectors. To prevent a possible fire, there are several steps you should take before you light a fire in your fireplace.

First, have your fireplace and chimney cleaned and inspected annually by a certified professional. Chimney sweeps thoroughly clean chimneys of any blockage and creosote to ready the fireplace for its first fire of the season.

Many cracks and structural damage to the chimney cannot be seen from the outside and necessary repairs can be made before further damage is incurred. Installing a cap made of wire mesh on top of the chimney prevents debris or animals from entering. Chimney sweeps inspect the whole fireplace system from top to bottom correcting any problems.

Creosote is an oily build-up of carbon material that is hard, dark, and crust-like. It can easily catch fire in either the fireplace or chimney. Creosote is caused from using moist firewood. Burning dry wood completely with a hot fire will reduce the likelihood of dangerous creosote build-up.

Clear a two to three foot area around the fireplace of flammable items. Especially keep holiday decorations away from a burning fire. Place a sturdy fireplace screen in front of the fire to prevent sparks from flying into the living space, and to protect small children and pets from getting too close to the fire.

Lighting your fire

Thoroughly clean out ashes and other debris from the fireplace and open the damper before starting a fire. Lay a safe amount of dry seasoned hardwood cut to the correct size onto the fireplace grate. Too large an amount may cause logs to roll, and small fires produce less smoke and burn more completely to help prevent creosote.

Use crumbled paper or kindling wood to start the fire; never use a flammable liquid. Add only as much wood as needed to keep the fire burning. Never burn trash, food, or cardboard boxes in the fireplace. Keep the damper open while the fire is burning.

Protecting your home

Make sure the fire is out before going to bed or leaving the house. Make sure your smoke alarms are in good working condition. Check monthly throughout the year.

When the fire is finished, allow the ashes to cool before placing them in a metal container for disposal. Keep the tightly closed container away from the house.

Stack firewood outside the home and away from the house. Cover during damp weather to keep the wood dry.

When you take proper precautions prior to lighting your first seasonal fire, you will help ensure an enjoyable season. With proper cleaning and maintenance of your fireplace and chimney, and diligent use of safety precautions, you and your family will stay safe and warm this winter.

Resources:

Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association , Fireplace Safety Factsheet

Homebuying,about.com , Woodburning Fireplace Maintenance

U.S. Fire Administration , Fireplace and Home Fire Safety

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