Fireplace Safety

Heating equipment, like fireplaces, is the leading cause of fires in homes.¹ You can reduce fire risk and keep your home safe with simple fire safety tips and a little upkeep.


Fireplace safety tips


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Prevent creosote buildup

Good wood for fireplaces has darker ends and splits or cracks.

Creosote is a big cause of many fireplace fires. It’s a highly flammable byproduct of burning wood. It builds up on the inside of your chimney and can possibly ignite. A chimney fire can spread to your attic in just minutes.

To prevent creosote from going up in flames, make sure you follow these guidelines:

  1. Always use dry, seasoned wood. Green or wet wood produces more creosote. How can you tell if your wood is ready for the fireplace? Look for dark ends and cracks or splits in the wood.
  2. Have your fireplace cleaned and inspected once a year. The Chimney Safety Institute of America says that this is the best way to prevent a fireplace fire.² Before the weather gets cold, hire a professional to inspect and clean your chimney.
  3. Get enough air in your fire. Proper ventilation helps prevent creosote buildup. Keep the damper and fireplace doors open while using your fireplace. Keep the ash cleared out of your fireplace to increase airflow too.
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A little help from a friend

To help you remember when to schedule fireplace cleanings, just ask Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to set up a reminder.

Don’t burn paper

During the holiday season, tossing gift wrap into the fireplace may seem like a great way to get rid of the trash while providing a little extra warmth. Don’t do it. Flaming bits of paper can float into the chimney and ignite creosote.

Prevent burns

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Fireplaces are pretty to look at, but they can create deadly burns. Teach children to stay away from them. Also, never leave children unattended when the fireplace is in use. Installing a safety screen can prevent little fingers from coming into contact with a hot fireplace glass door or coals too.

Cap it off

A chimney cap prevents critters from getting into the chimney.

If your chimney flue doesn’t already have one, get a chimney flue cap installed. This will prevent animals and birds from getting inside and depositing flammable items in the chimney. You can get one for less than $100, and they aren’t too difficult to install yourself if you’re a DIYer.

Give it space

Curling up in front of the roaring fire with a cozy blanket sounds nice, but don’t forget to keep flammable materials away from your fireplace. A good rule of thumb is to keep items at least three feet away from the fireplace.

Don’t forget accessories

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Fireplace tools can be just as dangerous as a fire. Make sure the fireplace poker, matches, and lighters are put away safely so they don’t get into young, curious hands.

Some fireplace accessories you should always have nearby that can make your fireplace safer are a good fire extinguisher, a CO detector, and a smoke detector. Take a look at our top picks:

FAQ

You need a chimney inspection and cleaning at least once a year by a qualified chimney sweep.

Some good indications that your chimney needs cleaning:

  • There’s a particularly stinky smell coming from the fireplace.
  • You see a buildup of blackness or soot inside the fireplace.
  • There’s more smoke than usual coming from the fireplace into your house.

Nope. Burning plastics and some paper can create noxious fumes that can make you sick. It can also start chimney fires.

Electric. Unlike wood fireplaces, you don’t need to worry about chimney fires or carbon monoxide poisoning with electric fireplaces. Make sure to keep flammable objects at least three feet away from the fireplace and ensure children have adult supervision around them, though.

If your fireplace isn’t your only source of heat, it’s best to put it out before bed. If you have to use your fireplace for heat, make sure it is properly maintained and keep any flammable materials at least three feet away.


Sources

  1. Richard Campbell, National Fire Protection Association, “Home Heating Fires PDF,” January 2021. Accessed September 6, 2022.
  2. Chimney Safety Institute of America, “The Facts About Chimney Fires: Your Questions Answered.” Accessed September 6, 2022.
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Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina is a safety and security expert that has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification and paving the way to her current career. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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