To ensure your holiday celebrations go off without a hitch, the HHP staff has assembled a list of the top fireplace safety tips for you to utilize this winter:
1.) A fireplace is not a furnace! Do not use the fireplace as a primary source of heat for the house, and do not have a fire burning for more than five consecutive hours.
2.) Always make sure that the fire is completely out before leaving the house or retiring for the evening. Be mindful that the coals can remain hot for up to three days after extinguishing a fire.
3.) Every house – regardless of whether or not it contains a fireplace – should have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors present on every level of the home, especially near the bedrooms. Make sure to check the detectors monthly and to change the batteries at least one per year! Additionally, every home should have a multi-purpose fire extinguisher easily accessible.
4.) Does your home have a chronic draft? Make sure that the damper or flue is closed when the fireplace is not in use! A closed flue will stop your heat – and your money – from escaping out of your chimney. Keep the flue open, however, anytime there is a fire burning, or if hot ashes and embers are burning – this can be checked by looking in the chimney with a flashlight and a mirror.
5.) Check that the chimney is clear by lighting a match within the fireplace and blowing it out. If the smoke does not travel up the chimney and exit the home, there is a blockage present and you should contact a professional chimney sweep.
6.) Only burn dry, cured, well-aged wood – hardwoods such as sugar maple, beech, white oak, and hickory burn longest. Using more porous woods, such as spruce and white pine, requires more wood to be added to the fire more often.
7.) Use artificial log starters sparingly. They should only be used to begin a fire, as they burn hot and unevenly; there should only be one log starter in the fire at all times, and an artificial log should never be added to a fire that is already burning. As log starters burn hotter than wood, using multiple may cause the metal within the fireplace to melt! To prevent flare-ups, never poke an artificial log.
8.) Refrain from burning holiday refuse, including giftwrap, packaging, bows, and boxes, as they may release toxins and chemicals into the home, which compromises air quality and corrodes the fireplace vent and chimney. Holiday greenery should not be burned, as it produces smoke and soot, which builds-up inside the chimney, forcing carbon monoxide into the home.
9.) Always open the glass fireplace doors when a fire is burning! The doors are intended to keep the draft out when the fireplace is not in use rather than as safety doors. When exposed to heat the glass may shatter or cause a severe burn risk. Bear in mind that the glass may remain hot even after the fire is out!
10.) Only burn a few logs at a time, starting small and slowly adding more wood as the fire grows hotter. Fires that are burned too hot may overheat the wall or roofing materials and crack or melt the chimney.
11.) To safely put out a fire, spread out the logs with a wrought-iron fireplace poker and use a fireplace shovel to bury the logs. Apply a thin layer of baking soda to extinguish any remaining embers. Once the fire is out, dispose of the ashes in a metal container with a metal lid – preferably steel, which should be kept on a concrete surface outside of the home and away from all combustible materials. Do leave an inch of ash in the fireplace, however – it will act an insulator, allowing future coals to heat up more quickly and retain heat longer! Remember that embers can remain hot for as many as three days after a fire, and to open the damper when shoveling ashes.
12.) Have a professional chimney sweep give the chimney and hearth a deep clean annually – if you burn less than 3 cords of wood per year – or biannually if you burn 3 or more. This will deter creosote buildup, a sticky, highly flammable organic material which is released when wood is burned, lingering in chimneys. The chimney sweep will also clean out soot – though it appears easy to brush off, soot gradually accumulates in layers, making it challenging to remove, which blocks the fireplace.