Don't be left in the cold: Know these fireplace safety tips

By Maryalene LaPonsie on March 2nd, 2011

When bitterly cold wind sweeps across the Midwest and snow blankets the Northeast, you know winter has arrived. Nothing takes the sting off a frigid winter night like a roaring fire. But before you stoke that flame, make sure you are doing it safely.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), heating equipment was involved in 66,100 home fires in 2008. Those fires killed 480 people and caused $1.1 billion in direct property damage. When you break the numbers down further, the III reports that 43 percent of those fires were attributable to fireplaces and chimneys.

Fireplace safety tips from FEMA

The numbers are reason enough to be sure your fireplace is clean and being used in a safe manner. The U.S. Fire Administration within the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers these six tips to homeowners:

  1. Have a professional inspection of your chimney or woodstove each year
  2. Install thermometers to monitor flue temperatures
  3. Burn only seasoned hardwood--soft, moist wood increases creosote buildup
  4. Build fires near the back of the fireplace on supporting grates
  5. Leave glass doors and air inlets open while a fireplace or woodstove is in use
  6. Extinguish the fire completely when done - soak hot ashes in water and place in a metal container outside

Outside, be sure to stack wood at least 30 feet away from your home. Also, clear the roof of leaves, pine needles and other debris. Branches should not be hanging over the chimney, flue or vents, and the chimney opening should be covered with a mesh screen spark arrestor.

Keep smoke detectors in every level of your home and test them monthly. Once a year, change the batteries. It is also a good idea to have a carbon monoxide alarm in your house. Improper ventilation or the overuse of synthetic logs can cause a buildup of this odorless but deadly gas.

In the event that you do have a house fire, most standard homeowners insurance and renters insurance policies will cover costs associated with smoke and fire damage. In addition, water damage from fire-fighting efforts is also generally covered. However, check your home insurance policy now to confirm your coverage before you ever need to make a claim.

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