Winter is nearly here, and so is fireplace season! While sitting in front of the fire is one of the biggest joys of the season, it should be done so safely. Here are the top 5 wood-burning fireplace mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Not Cleaning or Properly Maintaining
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the leading factor contributing to home heating fires is the failure to clean creosote buildup. Excess creosote, a byproduct of wood combustion, is extremely flammable and can build up in the chimney over time. Without proper cleaning, the build up can catch fire and quickly spread up the flue. Annual servicing and cleaning from a professional can prevent any potential problems. This yearly maintenance can stop small problems dead in their tracks before they become much larger and much more costly issues.
2. Burning the Wrong Type of Wood
All wood burns, however not all wood burns the same way. It is recommended to use hardwood, such as oak, maple or birch. Hardwoods tend to burn hotter, give a longer burn time and release less creosote. In comparison, softer woods such as pine or fir burn faster and easier. However, they tend to leave more ash and residue. You will get the best results from seasoned hardwood that has been cut, stacked and allowed to naturally dry for at least 6 months. For best performance, opt for firewood that has a moisture content below 20%.
3. Placing Flammable Items or Décor Too Close to the Fireplace
While we all adore the look of stockings or Christmas décor hanging along the mantel, safety is key. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends keeping any combustible materials at least 3 feet away from a lit fire. This includes decorations, blankets, pillows, wrapping paper and even furniture. Keep in mind that even a Christmas tree can be a fire hazard if placed too close. If you choose to hang stockings along the mantel, remember to remove them before lighting a toasty fire.
4. Not Opening the Damper
The damper is located inside your chimney and when closed, prevents heat from escaping when the fireplace is not in use. The damper must be opened before starting a fire. This will allow smoke or other harmful combustion byproducts to safely rise up and out the chimney.
5. Using Liquid Flammables to Start the Fire
Accelerants such as lighter fluid or gasoline are dangerous in a fireplace and release fumes that can be toxic. Accelerants can cause a fire to grow too quickly and become difficult to control. This could potentially cause severe damage to your chimney as well as your home. Instead, choose kindling to get your fire started.
Additional Safety Tips
Install a Carbon Monoxide detector and smoke alarm on every level of your home, including in the same room as your fireplace and in sleeping areas.
Be sure to check that your detectors are functioning properly and change the batteries frequently. It is best practice to replace the units all together every 5-10 years.
Keep a multi-purpose fire extinguisher in the same room as your fireplace but at a safe distance away.
Fireplace and Chimney Authority has 2 showrooms in the Chicagoland area. Visit us today!