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Wood-burning Fireplace Safety

March 31 2010

If you’re ready to snuggle in front of the fire with your favorite book, or better yet, your favorite person, it’s a good time to think about fireplace safety and maintenance.

For you and your loved ones, a beautiful fire in the fireplace provides a delightful ambiance in cold weather. Wood-burning fireplaces are hypnotic, with the smoky smell of the wood, the sound of crackling, and the beauty of the dancing flames.

Before you burn your first fire of the season, have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 25,000 chimney-related fires happen per year.

Chimney cleaning professionals not only clean but assess whether you will need any important work done like crack repair, removal of creosote build-up, critter removal, or other problems. 

Creosote is a toxin, composed of carbon materials resulting from burning wood. It also refers to a wood preservative that is used to retard the quick burning of wood.

The chimney professional will also look outside your house to see if there are problems there, too, including tree branches hanging too close to vents. A screen on top of the chimney can also prevent sparks as well as discourage birds from nesting in warm weather. 

Be sure that the hearth is clean and free of decorations or flammable materials, such as pillows or throw rugs. Make sure the flue is open before you light the fire. If you’re not sure, pull on the flue handle, and shine a light up into the chimney and you can see if the flue is open.

Always use a metal mesh screen to catch popping bursts of flame. Leave the doors open while burning the fire, and only close the doors once you have put out the fire and closed the flue.

Rules for Fuels

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of Homeland Security, there are some simple rules to keep you and your loved ones safe, while you enjoy gathering around the hearth.

• Never use flammable liquids to start a fire. Do not soak logs in flammable liquids for a quick start.
• Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
• Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke. Never overload the firebox.
• Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace.
• When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate to prevent logs from imploding and rolling across the hearth.
• Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
• Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.

It probably goes without saying, but don’t burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace, even though it’s made of wood. It may not be hardwood and it may produce too much smoke for your flue to direct away from the house. For additional safety tips, visit HPBA.org