Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety

Safety Tips for Fireplaces & Woodburning Stoves

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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It's hard to believe we are thinking of using fireplaces and wood stoves after the long hot summer. Even though cooler evenings are here and the families are ready to take the chill off by starting the fireplace or wood stove. It is very important to keep safety in mind when using any heating source in the home.

Preventive maintenance is of utmost importance. Have your fireplace or wood-burning stove checked yearly, either by yourself or a professional. Many fireplaces are gas but still need to be checked.

Prevent sparks from catching fire by placing a shield around the fireplace. Glass grates enclosing the fireplace entirely are the most effective. Wire mesh grates aren't as impenetrable but are still effective against most sparks. The fireplace should draw properly so smoke is not blown back into the living area.

A non-combustible hearth, such as brick or linoleum, is the best floor covering to have next to the fireplace or stove.

Cleaning the fireplace or stove regularly can also guard against fires. Ash or creosote buildup in the flue can catch fire if the buildup has accumulated over a period of time and the fire temperature is hot. Creosote can be eliminated by maintaining a big, hot fire instead of small, smoky or wet fire which leads to creosote build up. Hire a chimney sweep or clean the chimney flue and damps once a year with a big brush.

The type of wood selected depends upon the type of fire desired. Most people with fireplaces long for nice, bright flames, since they are choosing a fireplace for aesthetic reasons, instead of for heat. Cottonwood, maple or elm are best for aesthetic fires. Harder, heavier woods such as oak and ash are best for heat fires.

Another area of concern with fire safety awareness is the management of wood-burning stoves or heaters. Many fires from stoves are started when the residents are away or have gone to sleep. To guard against this, adjust the air intake vents before going to bed or leaving the house.

As with fireplaces, wood-burning heaters and stove pipes should be regularly checked to guard against soot and creosote buildup. Slow-burning fires are more likely to create these deposits. Turn off the heater to clean and take the opportunity to make sure there are no other problems developing.

Also always remember when discarding ashes to take all precautions and dispose of them safely. Many house fires are caused from incorrect disposal of ashes or hot ashes.

Now is the time to check your fireplace or wood-burning stove. If you are not able to do this yourself, hire a professional chimney sweep to do the job.

For additional information on Fireplace Safety, please take a moment to review this graphic on the Old Stoneworks Blog

(This resource was updated October 2015 and had appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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