Nothing compares to gathering around the fireplace to bask in the warmth and glow, keeping your family cozy, and most importantly safe over the winter holidays. However, playing with or near fire is dangerous, especially if you have children, so keep these safety precautions in mind before lighting your hearth.
Wood Burning Fireplace Safety
Schedule annual maintenance inspection – Every year before you start using your wood-burning fireplace, wood stove, and chimney for the season, have it inspected and cleaned by a professional.
Burn dry and seasoned wood – Make sure that you're using the right wood. Dried wood emits less smoke and burns more evenly than wet wood. Hardwoods like maple, oak, birch, ash and most fruit trees burn hotter and for longer. Less dense woods, such as spruce or white pine, burn nicely if kept dry, but you'll have to feed your fire more frequently.
Open the chimney flue and damper – Before starting the fire, keep the damper or flue open. Keeping them open until the fire has been extinguished will allow smoke to escape the house. Close the damper only after the embers have totally died out.
Proper ventilation – Keep a window slightly open while the fire is burning. Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors should be installed. Don’t forget to have them tested monthly and change batteries at least once a year.
Remove any ashes left behind – Make sure there are no ashes left over from previous fires. The level of ash at the base should be at least an inch or less because thick layers of ash reduce airflow to the logs, resulting in greater smoke.
Keep it from flammable objects – Never burn anything in the fireplace and keep flammable things out of the space around it. Keep all decorations, books, newspapers, blankets, and carpets away from the flames. Paper and fabric are extremely flammable can result in a roof or chimney fire.
Install fireplace safety screens – Reduce the risk of burns, especially to children and pets, from the hot glass in front of some fireplaces. To lessen the risk of burns, a fireplace safety gate or safety screen can be installed.
Gas Fireplace Safety
Schedule annual maintenance inspection – At least once a year, or according to the manufacturer's certified instructions, every gas fireplace should be examined and maintained by a licensed gas contractor.
Be sure to open the chimney flue – Before starting the fire, open the chimney flue for proper ventilation and allow air to feed the flames and smoke to escape. Check the top of the chimney and make sure the chimney cap is removed. Keep the flue open and only close it when the fire is entirely out.
Keep the area surrounding the fireplace free from flammable objects – Know your clearance zone, which is an area where flammable objects should not be placed. Certain items should never be placed within the clearance zone of your fireplace. Paper things, such as books, newspapers, and magazines; Fabrics, such as blankets or draperies; and wood are examples of these items.
Proper ventilation – Carbon monoxide and natural gas are both harmful. Check to see if your flue and vents are working properly. Detectors for carbon monoxide and smoke should be installed. Remember to have them tested on a monthly basis and to replace the batteries at least once a year.
Maintain a safety barrier – Most gas fireplaces have a glass or metal panel to separate the firebox from the room. As a result, they are safer and more efficient. The only issue? They can get extremely hot, and touching it can lead to serious burns. Keep you, your children, and your pets away from the barrier. Also, make sure the safety screen is in excellent condition. This will keep flammable materials out of your fireplace and prevent fire.
Electric Fireplace Safety
Use proper cord – Many manufacturers warn against using extension cords for electric fireplace inserts or fireboxes. Some will let you use grounded, heavy-duty wires with the proper gauge and wattage rating. To ensure your safety, make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Check to see if your outlets are safe – Never connect your electric fireplace to a potentially dangerous outlet. Never use a damaged wire or plug. If you use more power than your socket can take, you risk igniting an actual fire. Consider getting an electrical safety inspection if you're unsure about the safety of your electric system.
Keep a safe distance – Some items such as electronics, furniture, and fabrics should be kept at a safe distance away from your electric fireplace heater. Always leave at least three feet of space around your electric fireplace and never put anything on top of it.
Keep your hands off the surface – Even though electric fireplaces do not produce real fire, they do generate supplemental heat. Because of this, the surfaces can become rather hot to the touch, so it's best not to touch them at all.
Unplug when not in use – Lastly, always unplug your electric fireplace when not in use for safety purposes.
Safety Tips Applicable for All Types of Fireplaces
Supervise children, the aged, and infirm – Make sure that all family members and visitors are informed of the safety precautions of using a fireplace. Explain the dangers with children as early as possible. To avoid little children from getting too close to the fireplace, you can establish a "no-go zone" in front of it, perhaps one or two feet away.
Do not leave children or pets unattended – Accidents can happen, especially when small children or animals are involved, so never leave them alone while using the fireplace.
Don’t leave a fire unattended – A fire should never be left unattended in a fireplace. Before going to bed or leaving the house, make sure it's completely out.
Wait for the fireplace to cool down – Allow the fireplace to cool down before allowing anybody near it. Keep in mind that the glass and metal surfaces on or near the fireplace can get very hot. It can take one or more hours for a fireplace to totally cool down.
Keep out of reach of children – Keep fireplace tools, accessories, lighters, and matches out of reach of children.
Have a fire extinguisher handy – Keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case of an emergency.
Owner’s manuals should not be overlooked – It's very important to read the owner’s manual before operating your fireplace, and always follow operating warnings and instructions.
Annual inspection and cleaning – Schedule a yearly inspection and cleaning, specifically for vented fireplaces, with a professional, reputable, trustworthy, and certified by Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)