According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireplaces and chimneys cause more than 25,000 house fires every year, resulting in at least 10 deaths annually [source: CPSC]. Some of the dangers of fireplace operation include the following:
- Sparks popping into the room and setting fire to rugs or furniture
- Combustible materials placed too close to the fire
- Chimney fires
- Carbon monoxide seeping into the house
- Harmful particles in smoke
Careful operation and routine maintenance can minimize these dangers and allow you to use your fireplace in safer conditions.
For example, an annual inspection is a must. As a homeowner, you can perform a basic inspection yourself. Is the chimney in good shape? Are there obvious leaks or stains? Does the flue have a cap? Does the damper seal off the flue completely?
A professional chimney sweep will complete an internal inspection of the fireplace and flue and look for any internal or structural problems. He will also remove creosote buildup before it becomes dangerous. Creosote is the residue that results from fires and sometimes condenses on the inside of the flue. When it builds up, it can catch fire, resulting in chimney damage and potential spread of fire to the house.
Keep in mind, though, that an open fireplace will usually result in some smoke entering the room. The particles in this smoke could aggravate the problems of those who already have respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis or asthma. Breathing particles over the long term can contribute to lung disease. Older adults and children are especially vulnerable.
In order to lower the risk when using your fireplace, you should:
- Keep all combustibles a safe distance away from the hearth.
- Use a fire screen to prevent sparks.
- Install a spark arrester at the top of the flue to guard against roof fires.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
- Install smoke detectors on every level of your home. You should also have a carbon monoxide detector.
Read on to find lots more information about fireplaces, chimneys and efficient heating.