January 3, 2014

Using Your Fireplace Safely

Information from University of Illinois Extension

One of the joys of the fall and winter season is curling up in front of a warm fireplace. Proper fireplace use and maintenance, along with a commitment to safety, will keep the enjoyment from turning into tragedy.

“Before building your first fire of the season, inspect the fireplace and the chimney for cracks, creosote buildup and other potential blockages. Bird or animal guards need to be in place on top of the chimney,” advises Duane Friend, University of Illinois Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship. “Another option is to have a professional chimney sweep check and clean the system.”

It’s also important to use wood that has been sufficiently dried. Ideally, the wood should be split and allowed to dry for a year before use. Dried wood burns with less smoke and burns more evenly than green wood. Do not use painted or pressure-treated wood or particle board. To reduce sparks coming into the living area, place a screen in front of the fireplace.

“Make sure the damper is open before starting a fire, and keep it open even when there are just smoldering embers left in the fireplace,” says Friend. “Never use flammable liquids to start the fire.”

Keep flammable items like rugs and curtains away from the fireplace. Also, avoid roaring fires which can start chimney fires from soot and creosote in the flue. Have a fire extinguisher, such as a class ABC extinguisher, close by. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should also be used and regularly checked.

A fireplace requires a large amount of air. In tight homes, Friend says to make sure there is enough fresh air available so that a reverse draft does not set up, which could bring carbon monoxide fumes from furnaces or water heaters into the house.

Make sure all ashes are thoroughly cool before disposal. Place ashes in a metal container with a lid, on a noncombustible floor or on the ground, away from potential ignition sources, until they are cool.

For more information on fireplace safety, visit the National Fire Administration’s website: Fireplace and Home Fire Safety.

Source: Duane Friend, Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship. He can be contacted at friend@illinois.edu.