Fireplaces and wood stoves are cozy and warm for the winter. But in order to keep the air healthy and reduce the risk of fire, you need to be aware of the risks they pose. Here are some tips on staying safe and healthy this winter.
Burning wood improperly can produce dangerous emissions such as carbon monoxide, organic gas and heavy smoke. To avoid this danger:
Burn only seasoned hardwoods such as oak, maple and hickory.
Avoid burning softwoods, and never burn newly cut or wet wood.
Wood should be aged for at least a year to allow the dissipation of creosote oil.
Don’t burn wood that has been painted, treated or made with glue (such as particle boards).
Never burn papers that contain bleaches or dyes. The particles produced by these can clog the air passages in a fireplace or wood stove and also produce noxious, corrosive or even carcinogenic gasses.
In the fall, it’s necessary to watch for a weak chimney draft. The difference in temperature between chimney smoke and outdoor air is not so great in the fall, so smoke won’t rise as quickly as it should. This could cause too much smoke to be in the room.
Back-puffing is also a danger. An obstructed chimney or flue causes smoke to build up in the house. Blockage can be caused by soot and creosote buildup or by bird’s nests.
Have your chimney inspected and/or cleaned at least once a year. This is a job best done by a professional.
On the Hearth
Use proper fireplace equipment.
Keep a grate under the firebox that allows the fire to “breathe” and ensures proper combustion of the firewood.
When building a fire, place the wood at the back of the fireplace.
Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
Don’t put rugs in front of the fireplace unless they are non-combustible hearth rugs made especially for the purpose.
Have protective doors or a fire screen in front of the fire.
Keep all combustibles at least 36 inches away from the fire, but the further away, the better.
Make sure that your fireplace has proper clearances when it is installed. If not, the heat of usage over the years can cause a dangerously low “ignition” temperature to surrounding wood, in a hidden space behind your wall or in the flue chase. You won’t know it’s happened until a fire breaks out.
Check for bird’s nests not only in the flue or chimney, but on the roof or in trees above the chimney opening. The first fire of the season could send a hot ember to a nearby nest that falls on your roof or in your attic.