How to be Safe using Wood Stoves and Fireplaces

By Charlotte Richter

The smell and crackle of a fire burning make fireplaces and wood stoves an ideal transition into the fall experience. Although these add ambiance to our homes – they also add potential danger. According to statistics published by the US Fire Administration, heating is the second leading cause of home fires. Fortunately, you can help prevent a fire in your home by taking some essential precautions.

First, make sure your homeowner’s insurance is up to snuff for coverage if damages and losses are sustained due to a fire.

“I always recommend for my clients to take a video once a year of your home and contents,” explains Insurance Agent, Sarah Rice. “Just start a video and walk through your home. This counts as documentation if you ever experience I total loss.”

Leading Causes

Check out these facts from a  2012-2016 report put out by The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA):

  • The leading factor contributing to home heating fires (27%) was a failure to clean, principally from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.”
  • Most home heating fire deaths (86%) involved stationary or portable space heaters
  • The leading factor contributing to ignition for home heating fire deaths (54%) was heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattress, or bedding.

The report also notated that local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 52,050 fires involving heating equipment each year in 2012-2016, accounting for 15% of all reported home fires during this time.

Proper Installation and Use

If you are installing a wood stove or fireplace, most sites suggest woodstoves are UL-listed, meaning they meet industry safety and efficiency requirements. Each state has different laws and fire codes that should be understood by the homeowner. Usually, it’s a matter of building where there is enough room for ventilation and clearance away from architecture (flammable material).

Additionally, an installation by a professional is highly recommended.

If your residence already has a woodstove or fireplace, make sure it is inspected annually. It is important to know how to burn wood properly (make sure it’s dry), and only to burn wood, no foreign objects! Also know how to use proper fire starters, most of which are available at a local home improvement store, such as Duraflame. Gasoline is very unsafe and should never be used as an accelerant.

Before starting a wood stove, open the damper to regulate airflow. As it burns, close the door on the front of the stove to prevent embers from catching, and remember that if you open it to add fuel. For fireplaces, consider getting a mesh or screen to prevent sparks from jumping.

Reducing Risks

Most professionals suggest getting a professional inspection for furnaces, stoves and fireplaces every winter, but starting in fall will give you time to make necessary repairs before it gets too cold. During use, the most important safety tip with woodstoves and fireplaces is making sure flammable objects are at least three feet away from the equipment. More often, the materials around the fire are more dangerous than the fire itself. Keeping your heating equipment clean can prevent fire from catching and spreading in your living space.

When using a wood stove or fireplace, it’s ideal that you are in the same room and are actively available if something should happen. You should never leave a fire unattended or go to sleep while a fire is going.

Also, fire alarms are essential; according to the NFPA, the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms. By industry standard, you should have fire alarms on each level and in each room of your house (most importantly, each bedroom). They should be tested once a month and replaced every ten years. It’s also a good idea to have a fire safety plan ready for you and your family that includes proper use of a fire extinguisher, safe routes away from the fire, and how to contact emergency services.

You can also help yourself by getting fire insurance, which can provide coverage for damages and losses caused by a fire. It’s typically in a package policy for homeowners and renters insurance.

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