Fireplace Safety: Preventing Smoke and Fire Damage Caused By Your Fireplace or Chimney
For many, cozying up to a roaring fire is the perfect way to spend a cold night. As beautiful and relaxing as a fire is, a fireplace can still be dangerous and it’s important to take fireplace safety seriously. Review these tips on preventing smoke and fire damage caused by your fireplace or chimney.
How To Build A Safe Fire In Your Fireplace
Starting a fire is easy, right? All you do is toss in a few logs, light a match, and sit back and relax. While you make think starting a fire isn’t that involved, fireplace safety starts with building your fire correctly. This ensures that logs don’t roll out of the firebox and keeps flames and sparks safely inside the firebox. Follow our simple checklist to keep your family safe and prevent a fire or smoke damage.
- Open the flue before building or lighting a fire to ensure there is proper ventilation and keep it open for the duration of the fire
- Set the metal fire grate towards the rear of the firebox, to prevent sparks and embers from jumping out when lighting the fire
- Place a few pieces of crumpled paper at the bottom of the firebox, directly under the metal fire grate
- Then layer a small amount of kindling on top of the crumpled paper
- Stack a few logs on top of the metal fire grate, making sure that they are stable and will not roll or fall
- Use a long fireplace match or lighter to ignite the crumpled paper
- You can add a few more logs once the fire gets going, but avoid overloading the fireplace
- Close the screen as soon as the fire is going to prevent sparks and embers from jumping out of the firebox
General Fireplace Saftey Tips to Keep Your Family Safe
In addition to our simple checklist for building a safe fire, these general tips limit the risk of a fire getting out of control or causing smoke or fire damage in your home.
- Install both a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector in any room with a fireplace and remember to test the unit and replace batteries regularly
- Keep a fire extinguisher in any room with a fireplace in case the fire gets out of control
- Keep the area surrounding your fireplace clear of flammable materials, including extra fire food, kindling, and paper
- Remove items hanging from the mantle before starting a fire, even those Christmas stockings
- Only use dry, well-seasoned wood, as fresh wood produces significantly more smoke
- Do not use lighter fluid or gasoline to start or speed up a fire
- Avoid overloading the fireplace, a few logs will burn for several hours
- Never leave a fire unattended
- Avoid burning fires for longer than five hours and never leave a fire burning overnight or while you are asleep
- Do not use your fireplace to burn trash, as they can release toxic chemicals
- Keep the glass door open to improve ventilation, allowing air to flow up through the chimney
- If the room seems smokey, crack a window to improve airflow
- Keep the screen closed to prevent sparks and embers from jumping out of the fireplace and starting a fire
- Young children and pets should always be supervised by an adult if a fire is burning
- Keep fireplace tools near the fireplace and use them if you need to make adjustments to the fire
- Wait at least three days to remove coals and ashes from the fireplace to ensure the fire is completely out
- Use a shovel to scoop coals and ashes into a metal bucket or container and properly dispose of them to prevent fires
- Leave a layer of ash at the bottom of the firebox as insulation, plus your next fire will heat faster
- Scrape smoke stains off of glass doors with a razor blade after they have cooled
- For tough smoke stains, use either liquid dishwashing detergent in warm water or add a cup of vinegar to a gallon of water
- Clean and shine brass elements with an old toothbrush and a solution of Worcestershire sauce and water
- For slate hearths, clean with warm, soapy water and apply a coat of lemon oil to make it shine
- If you have a brick hearth, purchase brick cleaner from a fireplace specialty store and follow the manufacturers instructions
What To Do In Case Of A Fire
You should always be prepared to take immediate action should a fire in your fireplace get out of control. No matter how big or small, always call 911 or your local fire department at the first sign of a fire. This ensures that firefighting professionals are on their way if you cannot put it out on your own.
While calling 911, begin evacuating everyone from your home. The fewer people in the room, the less likely anyone is to get hurt. Have your family and guests evacuate slowly and calmly to prevent injuries. Use your fire extinguisher to slow the progress of the fire. With the nozzle of the fire extinguisher pointed at the fire, spray it back and forth across the flames as you slowly back away from the fire.
Causes of Chimney and Fireplace Fires
By its nature, a fireplace is already prone to flames and smoke. As long as you practice basic fireplace safely, there is a very little risk of danger. All of the common causes of chimney and fireplace fires are easy to avoid as long as you take the proper precautions and have your chimney cleaned regularly.
Forgetting to Open the Flue
Opening the flue should be the first step to lighting a fire in your fireplace. Forgetting to open the flue will cause smoke to build up in your home. Not only can the smoke leave stains throughout your home, but it could eventually cause you to pass out or even suffocate. If you overload your firebox or use an accelerant, a closed flue could also lead to flames spreading throughout your home.
Leaving the Screen Open
Your fireplace should be equipt with both a screen and glass doors. The glass doors are designed to prevent cold air from entering through your fireplace when it’s not in use. The screen prevents sparks and embers from jumping out of the firebox when the fireplace is in use. You should close the screen as soon as you light the fire. Leaving the screen open can allow sparks, embers, and even flames to leave the firebox and start a fire in your home.
Overloading the Firebox
A roaring fire is a calming, relaxing sight. However, you should only add a few logs at a time. Adding an extra log only takes a few seconds and it helps prevent the flames from getting out of control. While the screen is designed to keep sparks and embers inside the fireplace, it will not stop flames. By overloading your firebox, you increase the risk of flames flaring outside of the fireplace.
Using an Accelerant to Start the Fire
While you want your fire to start up quickly, using an accelerant is one of the easiest ways cause an out of control fire. You should never pour gasoline, kerosene, propane, butane, lighter fluid, oil, or any other accelerant in your fireplace or on your firewood. Follow our tips for safely building a fire above will ensure your fire gets going quickly and safely.
Creosote Build Up in the Chimney
As wood burns, it produces a number of chemical compounds including creosote which is highly flammable. These compounds rise through your chimney and slowly cool down, collecting on the walls of your chimney. As creosote builds up on your chimney walls, it reduces air flow. In turn, this reduces the efficiency of your fires and produces even more creosote. As the layer of creosote gets thicker on your chimney walls, the chance of embers and sparks catching it on fire increase.
Have a Chimney Sweep Perform Regular Maintenance
Improper fireplace maintenance or use can lead to extensive smoke damage or even fire damage throughout your home. Before you light your first fire this season, you should have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned.
A professional chimney sweep will perform the following checks:
- Check that the flue damper opens, closes, and seals properly
- Inspect both your chimney and fireplace for missing, loose, or cracked bricks
- Look for crumbling or missing mortar between bricks
- Make sure the chimney is straight and not leaning to the side
- Remove tree branches, birds nests, and other debris from around or above the chimney
- Check that the chimney cap is properly seated to prevent rain, debris, and animals from entering your home
- Inspect the chimney liner for signs of deterioration
- Clean and make repairs as necessary
How Much Does a Chimney Sweep Cost?
We recommend that you only hire a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The national average for chimney cleaning and inspections are between $400 and $600, but costs may vary depending on several factors.
The biggest factor in the cost of chimney cleaning is how often it has been cleaned. Other factors include the height and angle of your roof and if there is damage to your chimney masonry or chimney cap.
Why You Need To Clean Your Chimney
The biggest reason to have your chimney cleaned regularly is to remove soot and creosote buildup from your chimney lining. Creosote is a byproduct created by fires and it can build up on chimney walls over time.
Sparks and embers from the fire can catch creosote on fire, leading to a chimney fire that can cause significant smoke and soot damage to your home. In rare cases, it can even lead to a structure fire.
In addition to removing soot and creosote, a chimney sweep will make sure your flue is in proper working condition. This will allow smoke and fumes to exit your home. If your flue is not working correctly, it can cause smoke damage throughout your home and even pose a health risk.
Creosote Sweeping Logs Are Not a Replacement for Chimney Sweeps
While the creosote sweeping logs on the market to reduce the risk of creosote fires in your chimney, they are not intended to replace a professional chimney sweep. Creosote is a thick, oily substance and these logs contain chemicals that help turn creosote into a powdery dust.
This can make cleanup easier but only addresses on reason to have your chimney cleaned and inspected. If you choose to use one of the creosote sweeping logs, you still should consider having a chimney sweep perform an inspection to make sure there aren’t other issues that may cause fires or smoke damage.
What To Do If You Have Fire Or Smoke Damage From A Fire In Your Chimney Or Fireplace
An out of control fireplace or chimney fire can cause flame and smoke damage to your home. Smoke and soot are highly acidic and they can begin to leave permanent stains within just hours of exposure. They can also spread much further than flames, spreading to other rooms through the air and ductwork.
Let us give you peace of mind in an emergency. The smoke and fire restoration professionals in the Restoration Local network are trained in the proper procedures to clean and restore your home or business after a fireplace or chimney fire.
We always provide an initial assessment and free estimate and are prepared to board-up windows and doors and tarp roofs to secure your property and prevent further damage. If firefighting efforts caused water damage, our restoration crews will extract water and dry out affected areas.
Included in our fire restoration services are cleaning and deodorizing to remove smoke stains and odors. If necessary, we can also refinish or replace woodwork and cabinets and hang new drywall.
We accept all insurance companies and can even bill your insurance company directly. Call 1-888-443-3110 now to schedule a free, no-obligation estimate for fire damage or smoke and soot restoration. We don’t just restore your home or business, we restore your life.