A wood-burning fireplace is a great addition to any home, providing warmth and the perfect place for loved ones to gather when the temperature drops. However, an unexpected chimney fire can quickly turn a memorable evening into a disaster. The National Fire Incident Reporting System found that about $2.1 billion worth of property losses occur each winter due to home fires.
Before you pull out the ingredients for s’mores and settle in to beat the winter blues, it’s important to ensure your fireplace is properly cleaned, maintained and functioning without a hitch. To help reduce your chances of falling victim to a house fire and the extensive damage that it may cause, follow these tips.
Clean Up the Creosote
The most common culprit of chimney fires is creosote, a highly flammable oil distilled from coal tar that is created when insufficiently dried wood is slowly burned in a fireplace. The black smoke from this smoldering wood, when coupled with poor airflow within the fireplace, creates a sticky residue that builds up on chimney and firebox linings and can be easily ignited when exposed to extremely high temperatures.
Chimney fires can begin without warning and escalate rapidly, causing severe damage if preventive measures are not taken. To avoid a blaze, have your fireplace inspected and cleaned by a professional annually to ensure proper functionality.
Keep Your Kids Safe
According to Safe Kids Worldwide, 293 children are injured daily due to fireplace-related burns. If you have small children, be proactive — talk to them about fire safety.
Never leave children unsupervised near a lit fireplace, as they can easily get too close to the flames. Keep a screen in front of an active fire at all times — preferably a screen that can’t be tipped over — to prevent sparks from escaping and igniting a fire in your living room.
Finally, develop a home evacuation plan and practice it until everyone in the family knows what to do and where to meet in case of a fire.
Practice Proper Fireplace Maintenance
Responsible fireplace ownership extends beyond keeping your fireplace and chimney free of creosote. Other ways to care for your fireplace and maintain the safety of your home include:
- Don’t use a fireplace for your home’s main source of heat. Since fires are unpredictable and sparks and cracking logs can spontaneously deploy, don’t leave a fire unattended or let it burn for more than five hours.
- Wait at least three days after using your fireplace to dispose of old ashes, as embers could ignite when dumped into a trash can. If you absolutely must remove the ashes, use a shovel instead of your hands, and place the ashes outside in a metal bucket to cool before disposal.
- Periodically check your fireplace’s chimney cap to make sure the seal is intact and keeping water, debris, birds and animals from coming in.
- Don’t burn artificial logs together with wood logs. Artificial logs are made of sawdust and wax compounds and can cause a flare-up if used with normal wood.
- Always keep the chimney flue open while the fire is burning, and leave it open overnight until the ashes are completely cool to keep poisonous carbon monoxide gas from building up.
Check Your Coverage
Even if you’ve taken preventive measures, it’s important to be prepared for a home fire. A home insurance policy can provide reassurance that you will likely be able to repair or rebuild from a chimney fire or other fireplace mishap. Damage to your home by fire is typically covered under most standard homeowners policies. Double-check your own policy to be sure you’re covered.
Speak with your home insurance agent to see if you have enough coverage to replace your belongings, repair or rebuild your home and help pay for medical expenses that could result in the event of a fire.