Chimney, Fireplace, and Wood Stoves | A Guide For Fire Safety

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It's easy to overlook dirt and debris in your heating equipment. Without maintenance and care, a fireplace, chimney or wood stove can create a safety hazard in your home. Learn how to stay safe and prevent or address home fires in this handy guide.

Chimney, Fireplace, and Wood Stove Fire Facts

Chimney Safety

Your chimney enhances the look of your home, but it also transports dangerous gases away from your family. Over time, these gases can leave a harmful tar-like residue known as creosote in the flue of your chimney.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent fire-inducing creosote from accumulating. Before using your chimney, make sure you follow these simple tips:

Don't restrict air supply

Your chimney needs adequate ventilation. This may mean checking for air vents, opening the damper or leaving glass doors open while the chimney is in use.

Avoid using unseasoned wood

Unseasoned wood is wood that has recently been cut. This wood is typically wet, which makes it difficult to burn in your fireplace. It takes more energy to burn unseasoned wood, so smoke is cooler and more likely to turn into creosote.

Don't overfill your fireplace

When you use too much wood, it can be difficult to burn it evenly. As with using unseasoned wood, excess wood can result in creosote buildup.

Hire a professional

Enlist the help of a professional chimney sweeper at least once a year, more often if you use your chimney year-round. A skilled sweeper can remove flammable debris, reducing your chances of unknowingly starting a dangerous fire.

Fireplace Safety

Your chimney isn't the only part of a fireplace that can result in a home fire. Make sure you take good care of your fireplace before, during and after use to reduce the risk of a home fire.

Here are some tips to remember for fireplace safety:

Make sure your flue is open

Do not light a fire without checking that the flue is open. A closed flue restricts airflow, which can increase your risk of a fire.

Have a professional maintain your fireplace

A professional chimney sweeper can perform regular maintenance on your fireplace. Some HVAC professionals are also skilled in fireplace maintenance and cleaning.

Never leave a fire unattended

Make sure someone stays in the room while a fire is burning. That person should be awake and alert, not drowsy from prescription medications or lack of sleep.

Don't burn paper in your fireplace

Use wood in your fireplace, not paper. Paper can create creosote, and if you use colored paper, the pigments may also release toxic chemicals.

Choose the right lighter

Don't pour gasoline in your fireplace or use a charcoal lighter. Light your wood with a fire starter to help prevent a dangerous fire.

Dispose of ashes correctly

Never dump hot ashes in your yard or the trash can. Place ashes in a metal container with a lid.

Wood Stove Safety

A wood stove is similar to a fireplace when it comes to its function and design. Many of the same rules for fireplace safety apply for wood stove safety. However, there are a few other safety guidelines to keep in mind as well:

Choose a safe location for your wood stove

Don't store your wood stove near flammable items, such as cleaning supplies or clothing. Keep it at least 3 feet away from anything flammable.

Keep the flue open

As with your fireplace, it's important to keep the flue open while you use your wood stove. This provides essential ventilation, reducing your risk of creosote buildup or fire.

Burn the right materials

You should only burn wood in your stove, not paper or plastic. Make sure your wood is not unseasoned, as this can result in creosote. You may also want to avoid artificial wood, as the waxes and chemicals can create creosote.

Don't leave a wood stove unattended

Make sure you stay in close proximity of your wood stove. Never leave your home or go to bed while a wood stove is burning.

Remove ashes after a fire

When you're done using your wood stove, carefully remove all ashes with a metal shovel. Scoop the ashes into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Never discard hot ashes outside or in a waste receptacle, as this may cause a fire.

Know The Warning Signs Of A Fire

Issues can still arise, even if you're following safety precautions correctly. Make sure you understand the warning signs of a fire that stems from your chimney, fireplace or wood stove so you can react accordingly.

Here are some signs to watch for when you use your heating equipment:

  • Unusually loud crackling or hissing;

  • A low rumbling noise similar to a train or airplane;

  • A foul or strong odor;

  • Thick, dense smoke; and/or

  • Black smoke.

If you notice any of these signs, make sure your fire extinguisher is easily accessible and prepare for a potential evacuation.

Emergency Preparation

Heating equipment causes more than 50,000 home fires per year. You may never experience a fire in your home, but it's important to prepare for a potential emergency anyway. Preparation can reduce the risk of interior damages or injuries.

How to be prepared for an emergency

If a fire strikes in your home, it's vital that you have the right equipment. Make sure you have plenty of smoke detectors in your home as well as at least one fire extinguisher.

Ideally, you should have a smoke detector in your kitchen, plus one in each room of your home. A fire extinguisher should be kept near heating equipment, such as a fireplace or wooden stove. Keep at least one fire extinguisher on each level of your home so your family has protection no matter where flames strike.

Your safety equipment doesn't have a permanent lifespan, so make sure you check it before an emergency arises. Smoke detectors should be checked at least once a month, and you should replace the batteries annually. Fire extinguishers are good for up to 12 years, but make sure you recharge them by the 6-year point.

What to do in an emergency

Installing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers is important, but you should also have an evacuation plan. An evacuation plan helps you and your loved ones escape a dangerous fire. Make sure your plan includes yourself and other family members, including children and pets.

Practice an evacuation plan at least once or twice a year with everyone in your home. You may want to assign a specific duty to each family member, such as grabbing pets, small children or medical equipment. It's also important to review where all the possible exits are in your home, including windows and patio doors. This helps ensure that everyone can get out safely, as otherwise family members may panic and run for the same entrance.

Some families keep a to-go bag packed with essentials, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, in case of a fire. You may also want to store cash or debit cards, health insurance cards, and extra medication in your to-go bag. Keep it near your front door or in the trunk of your car so it's easily accessible if an emergency strikes.

How to recover from an emergency

A fire can cause lasting damage to your home and the possessions inside. However, hiring a damage restoration provider can help make your home inhabitable and reduce damage to your belongings.

Hiring a fire damage restoration company

After a fire, your home's interior may be covered with soot. Even if it isn't, smoke may damage your furniture, home decor and clothing. That's why many homeowners enlist the help of a fire damage restoration company after a heating equipment fire. A fire damage restoration company can clean and sanitize your home, making it safe for residential use again.

Hiring a water damage restoration company

Your home may have some major water damage if the fire department helps put out your fire. Over time, this water can encourage the growth of bacteria and other harmful organisms. You may develop a mold problem, which can cause headaches, nausea or respiratory complications. Hiring a water damage restoration company helps remove excess moisture from the air so you can breathe with confidence.

Protect Your Loved Ones From A Potential Emergency

Even if you play by the rules when it comes to maintaining your heating equipment, an unexpected malfunction can put your family at risk. Make sure your smoke detectors have fully charged batteries, and keep at least one fire extinguisher on hand. If your home goes up in flames, know when to get out and call for help. It can save your life.


Missy NolanAuthor

Missy has been a professional writer for more than 10 years. When she’s not busy pounding away at her keyboard, she enjoys cooking, exploring her community, and spending time with family and friends.