The weather is cooling down and you’ve pulled out your coziest sweaters and socks. But is your home ready for winter? If you have a fireplace, now is the time to focus on safety.
Homeowners too frequently make the mistake of thinking an unused fireplace is problem-free. However, unseen issues can cause a house fire or expose the household to deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Many of the serious, sometimes fatal, house fires which occur in the U.S. every year involve the use of a neglected fireplace for the first time in a long while.
To get the most out of your fireplace, check out these fireplace safety reminders to kick off sweater season!
Start with a quick inspection
The single most important fireplace safety step you can take to protect your home and family is to have a professional inspection. An experienced chimney sweep company will inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney each year before you begin using it for the season to ensure everything is in working order. They will clear the chimney of buildup and check your bricks, cap, and other materials for safety.
There are three levels of chimney inspections. Check out the details below to see which fits your needs.
A Level 1 chimney inspection is needed if the chimney performance and appliance and venting system haven’t noticeably changed. This is the best inspection if you simply need to be assured of the continued safe use of your chimney and fireplace, wood stove, or other heating system.
Level 1 chimney inspections should be performed annually and are best scheduled at the same time as a chimney cleaning. The chimney inspection technician will examine the readily accessible interior and exterior parts of the chimney and chimney connection.
A Level 2 chimney inspection is most commonly needed if you recently purchased the home, and you are not familiar with the performance of the chimney. This level of inspection is also valuable if you plan to make modifications to your chimney or heating system, or if there was recently a fire in the chimney.
A Level 2 chimney inspection, in addition to including everything covered in Level 1, involves an in-depth inspection of the entire chimney system, along with the wood stove, furnace, or other appliance. All internal joints and surfaces are inspected carefully, and a special video camera is used to take a close look at the inside of the flue and chimney.
Level 3 chimney inspections, which are very rare, involve everything in the first two levels plus the full investigation of potential deterioration in areas that are not readily accessible. Components of the heating system may need to be removed, such as bricks, metal flue pipes, masonry, chimney crowns, interior walls of the chimney, and more. A Level 3 inspection is required only when Level 1 and 2 inspections reveal a serious problem that requires immediate action.
Follow safety tips
Aside from a professional inspection and cleaning, there are some basic safety tips to follow with a fireplace.
The chimney flue
Before your first use, check the flue. You should be able to see daylight when you look up your flue. If not, there may be combustible material at the top, like a bird’s nest or leaves. Have a professional inspect the issue.
If you’re using a gas or wood fireplace, open the chimney flue prior to starting the fire to let fresh air feed the flames and allow smoke to exit. Close the flue once the fire is put out.
It is important to keep the area surrounding the fireplace free from flammable objects. Be extra cautious of this during the holidays. Keep decorations and stockings a safe distance away from fire, and don’t ever use your fireplace to burn Christmas trees or wrapping paper. Pine boughs and paper burn intensely and can lead to a roof or chimney fire.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind for proper fireplace safety, depending on the type of fireplace you have.
Gas fireplaces are exceedingly popular for their efficiency and cleaner-burning properties. Enjoy them safely with some easy steps.
Many gas fireplaces have technology that makes it safe to place electronics and décor near the fireplace or on the mantle. However, certain items should never be placed within your fireplace’s clearance zone. These items include paper items like books, newspapers, and magazines, as well as fabrics, like blankets or drapes.
As with any fireplace, proper ventilation is key. However, gas fireplaces have an added danger of fumes. Natural gas and carbon monoxide can kill. Make sure your flue and vents are all functioning properly.
Maintain your safety barrier. Whether it’s glass or metal, keep your safety screen in excellent condition. This will prevent flames or burning material from getting out of your fireplace, and keep flammable items from getting in.
Electric fireplaces allow you to have a fireplace where you would otherwise be unable to fit one. And though the flame isn’t real, that doesn’t mean they are without risk. As a source of heat, an electric fireplace should always be treated with care. In addition to maintaining the clearance zone, observe the following safety tips when using an electric fireplace.
Use proper cords. Many companies do not recommend using extension cords for electric fireplaces. Some will allow grounded, heavy-duty cords that are the appropriate gauge and wattage rating. Make sure to follow your manufacturer’s specific guidelines to ensure your safety.
Plug your electric fireplace unit into an appropriate socket. An electric fireplace is essentially a forced-air heater, and it is subject to the restrictions of a standard household socket, wiring, and fuse box. Be sure not to draw more power from your socket than it can handle. Otherwise, you run the risk of starting a real fire.
These classic fireplaces are still very popular. But to help retain heat generated by your indoor heating system, be sure the damper closes tightly when your wood fireplace is dormant. If you plan on replacing the damper, consider investing in one that closes at the top of the chimney, as this type tends to offer a more reliable moisture seal to the elements outside than those that close at the base of the flue.
Manufactured logs and kindling are great options for wood fireplaces. Not only are they convenient, but they emit lower rates of pollutants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because they burn very hot, they should only be used one at a time. Manufactured chimney “sweeping” logs can also help keep your wood-burning fireplace clean.
As an added safety measure, be sure to have a few fully charged, annually inspected fire extinguishers nearby and in plain sight. Store them near doorways leading into the area with the fireplace. Also, keep one near the fireplace itself, taking care to locate it in an area that will stay cool, even when the fire’s burning hot. Make sure adults know where these are located and how to use them.
If you are ready to snuggle up in front of your fireplace, you’re best off getting your chimney inspected right away. And when you use a TrustDALE certified professional, you're always protected by Dale's trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right Guarantee. So start looking for a trusted chimney sweep professional in your area today!