The holidays are all about enjoying celebrations and friends. Often these occasions involve a lovely fire in a fireplace, which for many people is central to the season. Unfortunately, fireplaces are also central to dangerous chimney fires that can do more than just ruin a holiday get-together. Here are five tips you can use to keep the home fires burning safely this holiday season.
When a fireplace and chimney are operated year after year without inspection and maintenance, problems are likely. When fire burns, hot smoke rises into the cooler chimney, causing condensation, which creates a substance known as creosote. Creosote is a highly condensed version of smoke. It’s sticky and very flammable when present in large amounts.
Because the interior of the chimney is unseen by homeowners, it’s easy to forget the fact that creosote may be building up every time the fireplace is used. Also unseen are small chimney fires that occur before there is significant creosote buildup. These small fires can cause cracks in the chimney’s mortar, leaving the system vulnerable. Larger fires down the line will be noticeable, but then it may be too late.
The good news is, catastrophe can be avoided by following safe burning practices. Here are a few important ones.
1. Use only dry (seasoned) wood. Damp wood releases moisture within the smoke, and moisture is what you want to avoid.
2. Avoid lengthy burns that are extremely hot. Ideally a fire should “roar” for a short time and then gradually die out. It shouldn’t burn like an inferno for half the night. Check with your local hearth store or your fireplace user’s manual for how hot and how long your fire should burn.
3. Listen for sounds. If you hear “odd” sounds coming from the chimney while a fire is burning, extinguish the fire immediately. Likewise if you notice water dripping down into the firebox. In these cases, do not start another fire until the system has been inspected. If after extinguishing the fire the sounds continue, contact local emergency services. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
4. Use smoke detectors. Install them high on walls in the room where the fireplace is located and in adjacent rooms. Make sure the batteries are fresh. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years.
5. Schedule annual inspections and cleanings with a certified chimney services company. Do not attempt to clean the chimney yourself. Professionals have the proper equipment and training to do this job correctly. Most homeowners schedule this work in the summer or early fall, just prior to the burn season.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful and safe fires this holiday season.
Marsh’s Stoves & Fireplaces of Toronto supports safe burning practices for all types of home heating appliances. If it’s time to shop for a new fireplace, stove or fireplace insert, pay us a visit at 3322 Dundas Street West to see the latest and greatest models. You can reach us by phone at (416) 762-4582.