The Top 10 Dangers of Fireplaces:
What Every Fireplace User Should Know
Most people love the warmth and coziness of having a fireplace in their home, so much so that fireplace sales rose well over 50 percent since 1998, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.
About 55 percent of U.S. households have at least one fireplace.
Over half of all U.S. homes (55 percent) now have at least one fireplace, and they’re ranked as the third most desirable feature that people look for when buying a new home, says the National Association of Home Builders (outdoor porches and upscale kitchens rank first and second).
But as you crank up your fireplace to stay cozy in this cold winter season, it’s important to know that fireplaces can be dangerous — accounting for a large number of home fires and emergency room visits every year. You can enjoy your fireplace while keeping your family and your home safe by avoiding these 10 common fireplace dangers.
- Not having your flue and chimney inspected each heating season. If your flue or chimney are blocked by debris or contain cracks or leaks, inadequate venting can occur, and toxic fumes may seep into your home. Further, creosote, a byproduct of burning wood, can build up on the chimney flue and lead to a chimney fire. An inspection lets you know that everything is in safe working order.
- Forgetting to open the damper, or closing it too soon. The fireplace damper should be opened before lighting the fire, and kept open until all ashes are cool. Closing a damper too soon, even if just the ashes are warm, can allow poisonous gasses like carbon monoxide to build up in your home.
- Using charcoal in a fireplace. Charcoal should never be used in a fireplace because it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Not using a screen or glass enclosure. These barriers are necessary to keep sparks, rolling logs and embers from jumping out of the fireplace and starting a fire.
Never burn charcoal in a fireplace — it can release poisonous carbon monoxide.
- Allowing children or pets to get too close to the fireplace (or carelessly getting too close yourself). The glass barrier doors of a fireplace can reach over 400°F in only six minutes, and it takes 45 minutes for the doors to cool down to a safe temperature after the fire has been put out. Children may reach out to touch the doors out of curiosity and suffer a serious burn.
“We urge the industry that makes and sells gas fireplaces to warn consumers of this burn risk and to investigate design changes to help protect children,” says says Amy Zierler, information specialist at Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program at The Hospital for Sick Children.
- Using gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid or other fuel to light the fire. These substances release vapors that could cause an explosion.
Enjoy Your Fireplace Yet Consider Placing Temporary Barriers to Keep
Fireplaces are great for families, but they also present an added risk of serious burns to your children and pets. But with temporary fireplace protection gates, the risk can be eliminated!
Consider using same for BBQs during the summer.
- Burning plastic or other garbage in the fireplace. Burning plastic materials like cups, wraps or plates, or other trash, can release toxic gases into your home’s air.
- Not cleaning your chimney regularly. This is necessary to avoid the buildup of creosote that could cause a fire. You should not use your fireplace if your chimney is in need of a cleaning.
- Using too much paper to build the fire. It’s OK to use paper to get your fire started, but using an excessive amount can over-build the fire and ignite soot in the chimney, causing a fire.
- Hanging decorations from your mantel. If you have decorations that hang down from your mantel over your fireplace, it’s possible for a spark to ignite them and cause a fire. Make sure any decorations (i.e. Christmas stockings, garland, etc.) have been removed before lighting the fire.
Santa Barbara County Fire Department