Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety
More than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the fire risks when heating with wood and solid fuels.
Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year. Often these fires are due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes. All home heating systems require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.
The United States Fire Administration (USFA) encourages you to practice the following fire safety steps to keep those home fires safely burning. Remember, fire safety is your personal responsibility ...Fire Stops With You!
Do you smell smoke in your home?
Shut down the wood stove, open a window, be sure the flue is open, carefully check the venting (chimney) system, and call a professional wood stove installer or chimney sweep.
Wood smoke is waste. Any smoke that escapes from your wood stove unburned is wasted fuel that will stick in your chimney as creosote or be released as air pollution. An old or poorly installed wood stove can result in higher maintenance costs, greater risk of smoke in your home, and more environmental pollution. It could cause a house fire.
Properly installed EPA certified wood stove and fireplace inserts offer many benefits. They burn wood efficiently, more safely, and heat your home effectively with much less smoke. With EPA certified wood stoves and fireplace inserts, you should see only a thin wisp of steam coming from your chimney.
Keep Fireplaces and Wood Stoves Clean
- Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
- Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
- Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces. Leave glass doors open while burning a fire.
- Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
- Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
- Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
Safe Wood Burning Practices
Once your EPA certified wood stove is properly installed, follow these guidelines for safe operation:
- Keep all flammable household items—drapes, furniture, newspapers, and books—far away from your wood stove.
- Start fires only with clean newspaper and dry kindling. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter, or a propane torch.
- Do not burn wet or green (unseasoned) logs.
- Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert – they are made for open hearth fireplaces. If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
- Build small, hot fires. A smoldering fire is not a safe or efficient fire.
- Keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless loading or stoking the live fire.
- Regularly remove ashes from your wood stove into a metal container with a cover. Store the container of ashes outdoors on a cement or brick slab (not on a wood deck or near wood).
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
- When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.
Protect Your Home
- Outside your home:
- Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
- Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
- Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.
- Inside your home:
- Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
- Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.
Heaters can cause fires if they are placed too close to flammable materials such as drapes, furniture or bedding. Fireplaces can cause fires if the chimney is cracked, blocked or coated with creosote, or if sparks and embers can reach flammable materials. Fuel-burning appliances can cause carbon monoxide poisoning if they are improperly installed, poorly maintained, have compromised venting systems, or are misused.
Heater safety tips:
- Use a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory.
- Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials.
- Keep doors open to the rest of the house if you are using an unvented fuel-burning space heater.
- NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep. Never place a space heater close to any sleeping person.
- Turn the space heater off if you leave the area. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
- Have gas and kerosene space heaters inspected annually to ensure proper operation.
- Do not use a kitchen range or oven to heat your house because it could overheat or generate excessive carbon monoxide.
- Be aware that mobile homes require specially-designed heating equipment. Only electric or vented fuel-fired equipment should be used.
- Have a smoke alarm with fresh batteries on each level of the house, inside every bedroom, and outside the bedrooms in each sleeping area.
- Have a carbon monoxide alarm outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area.
U. S. Fire Administration