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Fireplace Safety authorFireplace Safety
by David Fogle of HomeScope Property Inspection Services, Inc.
05-24-2004

As architectural styles and features of residential homes have changed throughout the years, the fireplace remains a desirable amenity. In days gone by, the fireplace served as the primary source of heating and cooking for the home. With the invention of more efficient central heating systems and cooking stoves, the role of the fireplace has shifted into a secondary heating source, as well as providing a central gathering place for family and friends.

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 of heating with wood and solid fuels. Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year. All home heating systems, including fireplaces and wood stoves, require regular maintenance to function safely and efficiently.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that there will be 14,000 house fires this year started by fireplaces. Major causes of these fires include overloading the fire, damage to the fireplace such as missing bricks, obstructed flues, ignition of nearby combustibles, and flying sparks.

These fire-safety tips from the U.S. Fire Administration can help keep fireplaces burning safely.

Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety

  • 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.
  • Make sure that the flue damper is open.
  • Always use a metal-mesh screen with fireplaces.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning a fire.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Doing otherwise can cause creosote buildup.
  • Fire-resistant materials should be installed on walls around wood stoves.

Burning fuels safely

  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on a 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.

Protecting your home's exterior

  • Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Keep the roof clear of debris like leaves and pine needles.
  • Cover chimney top with a mesh screen spark arrester.
  • Remove branches hanging above chimney, flues or vents.

Protecting your home's interior

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home. Test them monthly and change batteries at least once a year.
  • If gas logs are installed in the fireplace, a carbon monoxide detector should be installed in the home.

For additional information about fireplace safety, visit the Consumer Protection Safety Commission website at

www.cpsc.gov/cpsepub/prerel/prhtml74/74080


David Fogle is the owner of HomeScope Property Inspection Services, Inc. in Augusta, GA. He is a Member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). David performs home inspections in Augusta, Evans, Aiken, Hepzibah, Grovetown, Harlem, and the Thomson areas of Georgia. Call his office at (706) 733-7200 for more information.

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