Fireplace Safety: As the Weather gets Colder, Safety Risks Heat Up

Once again its that time of the year when Mother Nature turns off the heat outside, forcing us to turn up the heat indoors.  With the winter season comes safety risks as we heat our homes and businesses.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 48% of home heating fires occur in the months of December, January, and February.  While that isn’t much of a surprise with it being the coldest months in Wisconsin, there also isn’t much guess work to protecting yourself, your family, and your property.

There aren’t many things more relaxing than the warmth and smell of a fireplace or wood burning stove.  To be able to truly enjoy it without worrying about the flames escaping their confinement just takes a few simple safety tips.

Follow these fireplace safety tips this Winter

  • Ensure your wood burning appliance has been properly installed by a qualified contractor according to the manufacture’s specifications.
  • Have your chimney inspected annually by a qualified professional and cleaned if necessary. 87% of the 56,000 residential fires attributed to home heating in a 2011 NFPA study, were a result of chimney fires due to lack of proper cleaning and inspection.  A chimney by design isn’t made for the high temperatures of direct flame impingement, and will fail quickly allowing the fire to spread into the home.
  • Maintain a 3’ safety zone around fireplaces and woodburning appliances. Don’t store any combustible materials within this area.  Make sure your floor is protected with a non-combustible floor covering like a hearth pad within this area to catch wayward sparks.
  • Burn ONLY clean dry wood. NEVER burn garbage, plastics, or other materials.  The byproducts of burning anything other than clean dry wood will accumulate in the chimney, and may lead to a fire inside the chimney.
  • When cleaning out a fireplace or woodburning appliance, place ash into a metal bucket and store outside for a week before disposing of in a trash can. Left over embers can retain heat for several days and rekindle causing a fire.
  • Have a fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergency.

Protect yourself from Carbon Monoxide

In addition to the fire risks, Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an ever-present danger with any type of heating appliance using a combustible fuel source.  CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas resulting as a byproduct of incomplete combustion.  According to the Centers for Disease Control CO poisoning kills 400+ Americans every year and sends another 20,000+ to emergency rooms nationwide.

  • Ensure that the chimney, flues, and other exhaust pipes for combustion appliances are unobstructed. In addition to animals creating obstructions, special attention should be paid to heating exhaust pipes that horizontally vent through a PVC pipe on the side of the hose during large snowfall events.  Drifting snow will quickly cover exhaust pipes and cause exhaust to backup into the house.
  • Periodically inspect chimney connections to ensure they are properly sealed.
  • Any appliances that use a horizontal chimney connection pipe must be properly installed to provide at least 1/4″ rise for every 4’ in horizontal run. This ensures a proper draft is maintained to expel exhaust out of the home.
  • Install a CO detector on every floor and outside of bedrooms.
  • Have your furnace periodically inspected and maintained to identify conditions like a cracked heat exchanger that will cause CO to leak into the home.
  • When warming up a vehicle, pull the vehicle out of the garage and close the garage door. Vehicle exhaust containing high concentrations of CO can accumulate in the open garage and seep into the home.

Taking time to implement these safety tips will help to ensure that your winter heating season is a safe one.  On behalf of our Safety & Loss Control team we wish you Happy Holidays and a safe, joyous New Year!