If you heat your house with a woodstove or just enjoy a fireplace, you know they can help with your heating bill and provide a very pleasant way to relax. Your savings and relaxation may vanish though, if your woodstove, fireplace, and chimney are not well-maintained. Poorly maintained equipment can badly damage or destroy your house and cause severe injury from toxic gases and heat.
Use the following safety tips to help minimize the risk of fire and help ensure that your wood burning stove, fireplace, and chimney are in peak condition:
Before the Wood Burning Season
- Install a chimney cap, if you do not already have one, to keep debris and critters out of the chimney. Chimneys are a favorite place for birds, squirrels, and other animals to nest.
- Creosote build-up can be deadly. Creosote results from the by-products of ignition and is made up of unburned wood particles, minerals, hydrocarbon, tar fog, and other substances. It’s highly flammable and a major cause of chimney fires. Have the chimney cleaned and inspected every year by a certified professional. Inspectors ensure that the chimney, its lining, and venting systems are all operating properly. The Chimney Safety Institute of America can provide a list of certified professionals in your area.
- Keep the roof clear of any overhead tree branches, leaves, and other debris.
- Clear any decorations or other flammable material from the area around the hearth. Keep furniture at least three feet away.
- Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Be sure to change the batteries at least once a year.
During the Wood Burning Season
- Burn only well-seasoned hard wood in fireplaces and wood stoves. Green wood and soft woods such as pine can accelerate the build-up of creosote.
- Do not use Christmas trees for fuel – a dry Christmas tree burns much, much hotter and faster than most wood and can ignite is seconds. A still-damp tree is loaded with pitch, which will contribute to dangerous creosote build-up in the chimney. If the tree has been treated with a preservative, the burning wood can release toxic chemicals.
- Treated woods (including painted, stained or pressure-treated woods) are not meant to be burned – the toxic chemicals and heavy metals that escape into the air when treated wood is burned create a very real health hazard.
- Place the logs at the back of the fireplace on a grate that supports the wood.
- Do not use flammable liquids to start a fire. Do not burn cardboard boxes or trash in your fireplace or wood stove.
- Keep air inlets on a wood stove open to control burn time.
- Use a metal mesh screen in front of the fireplace to stop sparks or embers from escaping and igniting the flooring or carpeting.
- Never leave a fire unattended.
- Children and pets near wood stoves and fireplaces should be closely supervised at all times.
- Fully extinguish a fire before you go to sleep or leave the house.
- Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing of them. Never empty the ash directly into a garbage can. Place them in a covered metal container that is stored at least 10 feet away from your home.
After the Wood Burning Season
- Always remember to remove any remaining ashes at the end of the heating season. Ash is acidic and when combined with moisture, it can damage any masonry and/or metal components that it comes into contact with.
- As you prepare for the next wood burning season, stack firewood outside, at least 30 feet away from your home.
When working properly, your fireplace, wood burning stove, and chimney can keep your family warm and cozy for many years to come.