Lot of folks use their fireplaces and wood/corn-pellet stoves during the winter months. This increased use leads to more potential hazards. Every year, over 24,000 fireplace-related fires occur. The results are millions of dollars in property damage and more importantly serious burns and even the loss-of-life of family members. Most people don’t realize that when you use your fireplace your chimney can reach a temperature of 2,000+ degrees. Temperatures that high can pose a very great risk to the structure around your chimney.
So what can you do to minimize the fire risk to you and your loved ones? Here are our top 5-tips:
1.) When was the last time you had your fire place chimney cleaned? If you are loke most people you probably can’t remember and that could be dangerous. Creosote build-up is the leading cause of chimney fires. Cold, damp flues, unseasoned fire wood, and restricted air supply all contribute to cresote build up in your chimne. Get your chimney cleaned before the season by a licensed professional chimney cleaner. Check to make sure that they carry liability insurance too. The cost is typically less than $200 and can depend on your chimneys height and overall condition- it’s money well spent.
2.) Safely dispose of hot-ashes. Use a non-combustible metal container with a lid. Wet down the ashes and keep the container outside and at least 11 feet away from your home and any structures. Ashes can stay hot for days. DO NOT put hot ashes in the garbage or in any types of compustible container (boxes, paper bags, etc) AND do not keep them in your garage (where fumes from stored gasoline could ignite).
3.) Keep combustible objects away from your fireplace. Things that can ignite should be kept at least three feet away from your fireplace. Use very well-secured metal or glass screens, and never leave your fire unattended. Do you have a home fire extinguisher? It might be a good idea to keep it on the mantle during the colder months when you are using your fireplace. Outside your home, use a chimney cap or spark arrestor to help prevent sparks igniting your roof or other nearby tree limbs. You should trim tree branches a minimium of 16 feet away from chimneys. You might consider treating your wood roof with a fire retardant periodically.
4.) Check the structural integrity of your chimney- especially if you have an older home. Older brick chimneys are susceptible to the mortar cracking and/or the tile liners. Metal liners and flues sometimes warp and buckle from the extreme temperatures (2000+ degrees Farenheit). We recommend getting an inspection by a licensed contractor to ensure the structural soundness of your chimney.
5.)Finally, if the worst does happen and you do have a fire….do all your family members know what they are supposed to do? Where they are supposed to go? In other works do you have a basic fire escape plan? It’s very important to have a plan and to practice it with all your family members. That will be the topic of a future article but in the meantime here is a link to some helpful resources from the National Fire Protection Association: http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/escape-planning/basic-fire-escape-planning