Have a Fireplace? Reduce the Risk of Accidental Fire
It’s not something that homeowners want to think about when they’re kicking back and enjoying the warmth of a blazing fire. But accidental fires in the chimney can and do happen. Nationwide, fire departments respond to more than 50,000 house fires each year involving fireplaces, stoves and other heating appliances resulting in injuries, deaths and more than $1B in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Fortunately, there are several things homeowners can do to increase fireplace safety and reduce the risk of an accidental fire.
What Causes Chimney Fires
The most common cause of a chimney fire is a buildup of creosote in the fireplace and chimney. Creosote is a tarry and extremely flammable substance that is naturally produced during the combustion process. Because creosote is flammable, the more creosote in your chimney, the higher the risk of experiencing a chimney fire. And, a chimney fire not only destroys your chimney, but it can also quickly spread igniting combustible materials and engulf your entire house in smoke and flames in less than three minutes.
What causes creosote buildup? Burning wood produces creosote which consists mainly of tar and soot. As the smoke rises, it carries traces of creosote to the upper part of the chimney where it mixes with moisture and cold air. It then solidifies and sticks to the chimney liner and the masonry. With continuous use of the fireplace, the creosote becomes thicker which increases the risk of fire.
How to Reduce Creosote Buildup
Here are some things you can do to reduce the creosote levels in your fireplace and chimney:
First, choose high quality dry firewood that have been seasoned for at least 6 months. Wood that has moisture doesn’t burn as hot as dry wood. Thus, there will be a partial burning of materials which produces more smoke.
Second, insulate the chimney’s flue liner. One condition that accelerates the formation of creosote is cold temperatures in the flue. By insulating the flue liner, you’ll prevent it from getting too cold.
Third, make sure you extinguish the fireplace before leaving your home or going to bed. Never leave a burning fireplace unattended.
Finally, schedule a chimney inspection at least once per year. Twice a year if you use the fireplace frequently. A chimney inspection by a certified chimney sweep is the best way to determine the amount of creosote buildup in the chimney. If the levels are high, the chimney sweep will clean the chimney and remove the creosote. This will also increase the efficiency of your fireplace and stove while reducing the chances of a fire.
What to Do If You Have a Chimney Fire
If you suspect that your chimney is catching fire, the first and most important thing is to get everyone out of the house to prevent any injuries. Then call 9-1-1 to alert your fire department. If it is safe to do so, close the fireplace door and cut off any air supply going into the chimney. Depriving the fire of oxygen will help douse the flames. However, the high heat in the chimney still poses a risk, especially if the flue liner is damaged. After doing this, spray water on the roof using a garden hose, to prevent it from catching fire until the fire department arrives. After the fire is extinguished, contact your local chimney specialist to inspect the chimney and assess any damages. Depending on your situation, your chimney specialist will recommend the necessary repairs to help prevent a re-occurrence.
Fireplaces and stoves are inviting and cozy on a wintry day. But an accidental fire can occur at any time. Always practice good fire safety habits such as burning dry hardwoods, never leave a fire unattended and schedule an annual chimney inspection and cleaning.