Chimneys and fireplaces are notorious for creating different sorts of fire hazards inside residential homes. And yet, the general awareness level on this issue, at least in the US, appears to be woefully poor. There is a tendency among folks to consider chimneys and fireplaces as integral and indestructible parts of their home and as such, they seldom pay as much attention to the task of proper chimney maintenance as they do in case of their other HVAC appliances.
The same applies when it comes to observing proper safety precautions when using one’s chimneys (furnace & fireplace/flue/water heater). And it is primarily this negligence and the failure to engage in safe and sound practices when using one’s chimney that leads to more than 25,000 residential fires every year, according to data released by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
When you burn wood in your fireplace, this results in the build-up of creosote along the walls of the chimney/flue. Creosote is a byproduct of charred wood and is highly combustible. So, add high internal chimney temperature to that creosote build-up and you’ve got a potentially calamitous chimney fire on your hands.
Besides chimney fire, poorly maintained chimneys are normally cause to two other serious problems: carbon monoxide poisoning and premature failure of your chimney system.
So, in order to avoid these various potential hazards, it is crucial that you follow a proper safety routine when using your chimney. So, here’s a list of chimney safety tips that, when properly observed, will keep you out of harm’s way.
Chimney Safety Tips
1. Use Only Seasoned Hard Wood
Use split, well seasoned hardwoods that have been stacked for six months to a year. Well seasoned wood yields more heat whereas green wood generates higher levels of creosote. This is why you should never burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace (pinewood, again, creates more creosote). Similarly, you should not burn painted or pressure treated scrap lumber in your woodstove or fireplace.
2. Cap your chimney
Install a chimney top with a wire mesh on the sides on all of the flues. The caps are made of stainless steel and are rust-free and they will keep rain, snow, leaves and other debris from blocking the flue and will also protect your chimney from birds and other critters.
3. Keep the outside of the chimney free and clear
Keep your chimney top free and clear from overhanging branches, ivy, etc. If you have trees around the house, make sure that the leaves and the branches are at least 15-20 feet away from the chimney top.
4. Stay away from liquid fire starters
Never use gasoline, charcoal grill lighter or lighter fluid, etc. to start your chimney fire. Sometimes, the flames can go out of control with these accelerants, but more importantly, they may leave residues that can catch fire inside the flue. So, only use fire starters designed exclusively for woodstoves and fireplaces.
5. Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
Carbon monoxide is responsible for more than 4,000 deaths per year in the US, in addition to causing injury and illness to another 10,000 people. This is why carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are a must for every home (with or without chimneys). Place the detectors on the ceiling if possible since that is where carbon monoxide and smoke rise up and are found in highest concentrations. You may also use plug in units if a ceiling placement is too much of a trouble. And make sure to check the detectors regularly to know that they are in properly functioning condition.
6. Do not clutter the area around your fireplace
Make sure to keep all combustible furniture and furnishings away at a safe distance (35-40 inches) from the fireplace. Over time, the ignition temperature of these items tends to come down due to constant exposure to heat and once this happens, they may catch fire.
7. Never leave you fire unattended
It is said that you want to keep watch over your fire like you would do over a toddler. Logs may sometime tumble off the grate and can start a fire and if you’re not present on the scene, this can spiral into a full-fledged house fire!
8. Arrange for regular inspection and maintenance
Regular inspection and maintenance can go a long way to make your chimney and fireplace operate safely for a long period of time. Hire qualified and experienced chimney sweeps for the job. Make sure to do your homework and pick the right company for the job.