Winter Safety Tips for Wood and Gas Burning Fireplaces

Posted on Dec 19, 2018

Winter Safety Tips for Wood and Gas Burning Fireplaces

After a full day of sled riding or building a snowman with the kids or shoveling the driveway and sidewalk, there is nothing like coming out of the cold, making some hot chocolate and warming up in front of your cozy fireplace.

However, your fireplace, whether it is a wood burning or a gas fireplace, poses some risks to your home and property.  In fact, The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) reports that in the years of 2012-2014 alone, the number of residential fires blamed on fireplace, chimney, or chimney connectors was more than 22,000.

Fortunately, there are some maintenance and usage practices that you can do to give you peace of mind that your fireplace is safe.

Risks of Wood Burning Fireplaces

Wood burning fireplaces can lead to:

  • Chimney and home fires. Creosote build-up puts your home at risk of a chimney fire. A telltale sign that you are having a chimney fire is that it sounds like a freight train or tornado barreling towards you. From a visual perspective, you may see black smoke or flames shooting out of the top of your chimney. In severe cases, a chimney fire can spread outside of the chute, destroying the home. The leading factor (28 percent) contributing to home heating fires was a failure to clean chimneys, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
  • Inefficient ventilation and health concerns.If your fireplace causes a backdraft of smoke, it could cause respiratory issues or in some cases discolor the belongings in your home.

Risks of Gas Burning Fireplaces

Gas fireplaces have become more and more popular with their efficiency, and they are cleaner burning than wood fireplaces. However, gas fireplaces come with their own risks, including:

  • Natural gas leaks. These are extremely dangerous and could result in death.
  • Inefficient ventilation and health concerns. Modern high-efficiency gas appliances may not provide enough heat within the chimney to properly keep it ventilated. This can produce harmful emissions and dangerous indoor air quality, including the emission of carbon monoxide. Burning gas can also deplete the oxygen in your home. Natural gas fireplaces have been associated with respiratory issues for individuals who suffer from asthma, COPD, or other respiratory problems.

Wood Burning Fireplaces Winter Safety Tips

As a homeowner with a wood burning fireplace, you should take heed to the following safety tips:

  1. Inspect your chimney at least once a year. CSIA recommends that you have your chimney inspected at least annually.  A professional will inspect for soundness, ensure it is free from deposits such as creosote or soot build-up, gaps, or drafts,  and that there are correct clearances. You can find a certified chimney sweeper through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
  2. Open the chimney flue all the way before starting the fire. This allows the smoke to exit.
  3. Burn dry wood that has been split, covered and seasoned for at least six months. This reduces the amount of smoke and creosote. Seasoned wood will look dry and may have cracks at the end and also be lighter weight than unseasoned or green wood.  Freshly cut wood has much more moisture than seasoned wood and can cause the fire to smoke.
  4. Burn hardwood such as oak, cherry, ash, or maple. These types of wood burn cleaner and hotter than wood varieties that are soft, like cedar, pine, and redwood. You should never burn any kind of pine or wood that has sap as it can cause creosote to build up much more quickly.
  5. Use a fireplace screen. This helps to prevent live embers from popping in your living area. Fireplace screens are inexpensive and can be easily set aside when placing additional logs on your fire. A tight-fitting tempered glass door on the face of your fireplace will be more effective than a screen.
  6. Make sure that your room with the fireplace is well-ventilated. This ensures there is sufficient oxygen to maintain the fire and for occupants for breathing. Cleveland Clinic recommends using newer fireplace inserts.
  7. Be careful burning artificial logs. While artificial logs may help you start your fire, they produce a large amount of creosote.  Starting a fire with gasoline or other flammable liquids is never a good idea. Instead, use newspaper and kindling wood or seasoned branches broken to size for starting fires in your fireplace.
  8. Wait at least 24 hours to remove ashes to ensure there are no embers still burning. If you want to remove hot ashes to ensure the fire is safely out, use a metal container for removing the ashes and store them outside at a safe distance from your home and away from any falling leaves to prevent them from igniting.
  9. Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors regularly. At a minimum, one smoke detector should be on each level of your home and outside of each bedroom.  Also, at least one carbon monoxide detector should be installed in a hallway preferably near the bedrooms.
  10. Trim branches away from your chimney. This can help prevent an outside fire from starting.
  11. Put out the fire before you go to sleep. Use sand and a fireplace tool, such as the poker or shovel, to spread out the embers to cool.
  12. Don’t leave a fire unsupervised. This is never a good idea and applies not only to wood-burning fireplaces, but also gas fireplaces.

Gas Burning Fireplaces Winter Safety Tips

You can maintain a safe gas fire by studying the manufacturer’s instructions and by following these safety tips:

  1. Remove all items at least three feet away from the fireplace to create a safe clearance zone. In particular, items such as books, blankets, curtains and wood, and any other combustible items, should not be within this safe clearance zone.
  2. Maintain the glass door or screen and keep it clean. This helps to prevent sparking embers and flames from exiting the fireplace while keeping flammable items from entering the fireplace.
  3. Ventilate the area at all times. You want to ensure all harmful natural gas and carbon monoxide aren’t ventilating to your living area.
  4. Clean and inspect your chimney annually. Many people do not know this but gas fireplaces can leave corrosive deposits in your chimney and therefore your chimney should be cleaned at least once per year.  Cleaning and Inspecting the fireplace by a professional will ensure the logs and fan are clean and ducts and vents are not obstructed.
  5. Open a window a crack when using your gas fireplace. This helps to ensure there is sufficient oxygen in the room as gas fireplaces can deplete the oxygen in your home.

Conclusion

It’s nice to look forward to enjoying your cozy wood burning or gas fireplace during the cold winter months. But to ensure it remains a safe environment for you and your family and to keep your personal property from damage, take the above safety tips seriously and implement them.

And be sure you have adequate homeowners insurance to protect you should your property become damaged or destroyed from a fireplace-induced fire. Contact us here at Otterstedt Insurance Agency for your homeowners and other insurance needs. Call us at 201-227-1800.

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