Are Fireplaces Safe?
A cozy fireplace is a dream during the cold winter months; it could be something you are dreaming of having in your next house or something you currently have in your home. Fireplaces have been a staple in most family homes for hundreds of years, as it once was the primary source of heat for families during the winter. Now that we have heated homes, floors and driveways is there still a need for fireplaces? are they safe? or could you be putting your family at risk of a fire?
At a surface level, fire is by definition, unsafe. However, you can safely enjoy your fireplace if you maintain it, practice safe fire protocols, and use common sense.
Safe Fire-Use 101
- Keep flammable materials and objects far away from the fireplace or any heated appliance
- This includes firewood, it is recommended to store firewood away from the house so that in case of a fire, your home will not turn into a larger bonfire.
- Use a mesh or metal screen when the fire is lit
- Crackling fires will emit embers; these can ignite carpets or nearby stacks of newspapers/magazines. Using a mesh or metal screen will prevent the embers from flying out and starting an unwanted fire.
- Test your Smoke Detectors & Inspect your Extinguisher
- Step 3 and 4 should become standard practice before lighting the first fire of the season; you want to ensure that everything is working so that you and your family are safe when the fire is lit.
- Create a Fire Evacuation Route
- Creating a fire evacuation route is paramount if you have a family. It is essential for all family members to know what exits they should use, where the extinguisher is, and how to stop, drop and roll if there is a fire. Incorporate practicing the evacuation route, stop, drop and roll, and the importance of leaving everything behind at the beginning of the season each year to freshen up on safety protocols.
- Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly
- Use a free-standing barrier to prevent burns
- If you have pets or children, this is a critical safety step to undergo. The fireplaces glass door, mesh screen, and tools can become dangerously hot and burn pets or children. Using a free-standing barrier can prevent burns or potential accidents.
- Undergo annual fireplace/chimney inspections and cleaning to make sure that all smoke pathways are clean and unobstructed
Wood-burning fireplaces are among the most dangerous; the burning wood produces strong smoke that can irritate and damage your lungs or could be carcinogenic. It is important to do annual inspections to ensure you have a properly functioning chimney. However, a working chimney is not enough to avoid lung damage; you also want to ensure that the fireplaces damper is open (the hole inside the top of the fireplace) and that your house is properly ventilating the smoke. Other safe chimney protocols that you should add to your annual maintenance list is to ensure that the chimney is free from any obstructions or blockages. A general cleaning and inspecting of the chimney twice a year is also recommended. You can find some great tutorials on YouTube for how to clean your chimney so that you can get into the habit of doing it yourself!
Carbon Monoxide release is another major concern that circles around both gas and wood burning fireplaces. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is so dangerous because the gas is smell-less, tasteless, invisible, and deadly. Your carbon monoxide detectors will catch any potential leaks in your home, inspect these devices regularly and make sure the batteries work. Carbon Monoxide detectors have been legally required in Ontario since 2008 in homes that have fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, or fireplaces and houses that have attached garages. The Ontario Fire Code requires detectors close to all of the sleeping areas in the house.
Gas fireplaces are typically the safer option and are more energy efficient. Vent-free gas fireplaces come with safety features like an oxygen depletion sensor that stops the flame if it detects higher levels of carbon monoxide. Whereas, vented fireplaces pull flames away from the house. Yet, these measures aren’t perfect, and you still need to inspect them monthly by using the “Test” button.