Chimney And Woodburning Fireplace Safety

Feb 2, 2011

By Staff writer State Farm™ Employee

A night by the fireplace will keep your heating bill lower and keep you nice and toasty. But woodburning appliances have become the largest source of heating-related fires in U.S. homes, so it’s important to understand how to safely maintain your chimney and fireplace.

Know Your Hearth

Take the time to learn just what kind of chimney and fireplace you have. If you have a freestanding woodburner with a factory-built metal chimney, make sure to have a professional install it or follow the manufacturer’s specific guidelines, as those have been created using the appropriate national standards. Also, be aware of the proper placement of a fireplace in a room. Always have a floor protector below it, and have it extend at least 18 inches on all sides. You don’t want a loose piece of wood to pop out of the fire and end up on the nearby carpet or wall.

With a masonry chimney, always close the screen once the fire is lit. Be especially cautious with your young children, and don’t let them within three feet of any kind of fireplace. Stoke your fire with the poker and andirons, not other pieces of wood. And keep the chimney flue open to ensure that the fire is properly ventilated.

 

fireplace_diagram.pngKnow Your Creosote

The most significant thing to consider in regards to chimney safety is creosote. This is a black tar-like residue that collects in the chimney flue from past fires. Creosote is highly combustible, and over time can accumulate thickly enough to start a chimney fire. For this reason, you’ll want to call a chimney sweep at least once a year before the heating season for a professional cleaning.

The sweep should fix any cracks, blockages, or leaks in the masonry or lining of your chimney that could present a future hazard. Inspect your chimney often; a good rule of thumb is to have the chimney cleaned if there is 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch of creosote on the walls or lining.

In the meantime, you can take precautions to avoid further creosote buildup:

  • Only burn seasoned wood. Not all firewood is created equal. You’ll want wood that was cut the previous year and has been stored away since that time. This wood is dark or gray compared to freshly cut, unseasoned “green wood.” It is brittle, has cracks running through each piece, and is quite dry. It will produce the most heat and least amount of creosote.
  • Avoid slow, smoldering fires. Having more smoke than flame in your fireplace is never good. Reduce the smokiness by not burning newspapers or cardboard for kindling. Cut wood into thin sticks to get the fire going. Also, don’t use lighter fluid because it burns up quickly, leading to more smoke.
  • Burn everything up. Use a highly efficient fireplace that fully burns all the combustibles and turns everything to dust.
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