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Fireplace Safety

By: Bill Kibbel , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

I recently received an email from a woman who purchased a home with a family room addition whose only source of heat is a wood-burning fireplace. Her husband is nervous about safety issues. This is a pretty common — and important — concern among owners of old homes.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, over one third of Americans use solid fuel-fired appliances, including fireplaces, as their home’s heat source. All combustion appliances have some degree of risk if not installed or maintained properly, including the possibility of burning down a home or harming the occupants with carbon monoxide. Here are some of the more important issues to consider for fireplace safety.

The Chimney

It’s very important to have the chimney and flue initially inspected by a sweep that has a recognized national certification. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has now set minimum chimney inspection standards that are classified in three levels. Ask for a level II inspection for the initial inspection. If expensive repairs are recommended, be sure to get a second opinion from an inspector that does not do repairs.

Install a cap on top of the flue with a spark arrester screen and keep branches trimmed away from the chimney to reduce the possibility of igniting a fire on the exterior of your home.

The chimney must also be constructed to terminate a safe distance from your roof or any other part of the house.

· Be sure the fire resistant hearth extension (floor protection) extends at least 16 inches in front of the opening — 18 inches for fireplaces with large openings

· Keep combustible decorations, toys, kindling, etc. well away from the fireplace

· Use an approved screen to contain sparks and embers

· Don’t use gasoline or other flammable liquid to start a fire (I could tell you a story)

· Never leave the fire unattended

· Never close the damper until all the embers have completely cooled — usually well into the next day

It’s also very important for homes with a fireplace, or any type of combustion appliance, to have a carbon monoxide detector installed. Be sure to buy and install one that specifically states that it detects low levels of CO. Long term exposure to low levels, not detected by many popular detectors, can cause illness and permanent injury. All homes should have updated smoke detectors (less than 6-years-old) on every level of the house and in every bedroom. Check and replace the batteries as per the manufacturer’s instructions. At least one fire extinguisher should reside in every home. Check the pressure gauge regularly, be sure everyone knows where it’s kept and knows how to use it.

If the fireplace is relied on as a heat source for your home, consider installing a high efficiency stove insert to increase heat output and reduce heat loss up the flue. This can be a safe and efficient option, when installed, operated and maintained as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

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  1. 13 Responses  to “Fireplace Safety”

  2. Sep 23, 2013
    It might be a safer option to install an electrical fireplace. Some of the newer have a very realistic flame. Some other advantages are that they don’t produce any harmful smoke and gases. A lot of people can’t have a wood burning fireplace due to respiratory reasons – but they can still enjoy sitting in front an electrical fireplace. http://www.electricfireplacehq.com/
  3. Kathy
    Jul 18, 2013
    I have been looking for a 'Knight" helmet cover for a chimney. My old one was broken by a tree. No harm to fire place, but knocked the cap off and broke the part that turns. Live in WNC and can not find a replacement or even a steel worker who wants to deal with it. Does someone have a solution?
  4. Apr 14, 2013
    This is very important stuff. A house recently burned down in my area as a result of the fireplace. The homeowners had just purchased the house and did not have it inspected. It just goes to show how important fireplace education is.
  5. Greg
    Nov 2, 2012
    I’m a property manager in Miami. I had a number of fire extinguishers installed by Premier Fire Alarms at the condo that I manage.They were very professional, cleaned up after the installation and also handle the servicing/ maintenance. I would recommend them to anyone. Check out their website www.premierfirefl.com or call (954) 797-7692.
  6. Ryan Johnson
    Aug 29, 2011
    I'm working on finishing a basement with an exisitng wood burning fireplace in the basement. I want to cover over the existing fireplace with a framed wall (abondoning basement fireplace all together). Above the basement fireplace is another fireplace which I pressume uses a seperate flue. AT the roof top chimney there are two flues. The above fireplace works and wants to continue to burn fires. Prior to framing/covering over basement fireplace, I would assume to open damper and take rock wool (1-2 batts) stuff up into the flue blocking air/smoke ability to leak down. Then on the chimney exit, idenify which flue comes from basement, and cap it off with Ridgid insulation and then a metal cap of sorts. Can you suggest any thing else towards my tasks of abondoning this basement fireplace unit? Please let me know, I greatly appreciate any pointer and or feed back. Thank you
  7. Jeff
    Aug 29, 2011
    CO Poisoning is really scary since you cant tell if you are getting poisoned, the symptoms are the same as the flu, which might make you think you need to lay down and rest... If you are looking to get an CO alarm you should get one that plugs into an wall outlet and also has a BATTERY backup, that is invaluable. I got this one myself First Alert CO615, digital CO alarm
  8. Aug 29, 2011
    A lot of good tricks.The better one is surely to be safest than safer and have a properly maintained (cleaned)chimney and you will enjoy your fireplace for many years with no worry. Mike:your home is so much insulated.There is way to get it breath a little again.My home has that probleme, it has been solved by venting the roof.
  9. Aug 29, 2011
    Fireplace and chimney safety should not be taken lightly. Matchless Stove and Chimney offers chimney inspection, maintenance and cleaning services. Ensure that your fireplace and chimney are properly maintained by hiring a professional. Matchless Stove and Chimney is located in the Capital Region of New York. Visit our website today at http://www.matchless.info.
  10. Aug 29, 2011
    Great post. I found it to be very useful. I will have to bookmark your site for future reading.
  11. Aug 29, 2011
    That just about hits the nail on the head. People do make sure you get your fireplace inspected at least once a year. It could really save you a ton of money just by getting yearly maintenance. Not to mention it could save your life.