Fireplace Common Sense

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 by Cynthia Cavoto



As bitter winter weather sets in, there is nothing that make a house feel more cozy that a roaring fire.  Fireplaces have been used to heat homes since the dawn of time but they're not always used safely. Improper use of wood-burning fireplaces can result in everything from minor smoke damage on the mantel to deadly carbon monoxide build up or even a devastating house fire.  There are a few safety tips you should know about using a wood burning fireplace.

First, you need to make sure you open the flue or smoke will back up into the house very quickly. It sounds like a common sense thing to do, but it is an easy thing to forget if you're not building fires on a regular basis.  Most folks keep the flue closed when the fireplace is not in use to keep out the draft and any small critters that might find their way into the chimney.  Checking the chimney cap regularly should all but eliminate the latter issue. 

Use seasoned firewood.  Firewood should be seasoned, that is properly dried hardwoods.  Avoid burning wet, rotting or soft woods such as pine. These not only produce more smoke but can increase the amount of creosote buildup in your chimney.  Stored wood should be stacked log cabin style to allow for airflow throughout the stack to prevent rot.  Also avoid using any kind of treated wood such as scraps of decking. These can give off harmful fumes.

Use fat wood rather than newspapers to start your fire.  Fat wood burns cleaner than newspaper.  In addition, newspaper has been known to waft up the chimney when it burns then land on the roof increasing the risk of a house fire. 

Properly dispose of ashes after a fire.  Have a metal ash bucket and shovel on hand to remove ashes after a fire.  Never assume a fire to be all the way out.  Ashes and coals that may seem cool to the touch can and often do reignite. Many gardeners use ashes in their gardens.  Consider having a metal garbage can solely for disposing of fireplace ashes.  This ash can should be kept away from the house and never in an attached garage. 

Finally, have a carbon monoxide detector in the room with your fireplace.  This will give you an early warning if fumes are backing up into your home. 

We've discussed chimney maintenance in an earlier post but as a reminder, having your chimney inspected and cleaned on a regular basis is vital.

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