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7 Fireplace and Wood Stove Safety Steps To Do This Week

 by Patricia Lynn Henley   Posted on November 12 2013

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Gathering around a wood stove or fireplace on a cold winter night can be wonderful experience, but it's crucial to not take basic safety for granted. Of an estimated 57,100 home-structure fires in the United States in 2010, slightly more than one-quarter started in a poorly maintained chimney or flue, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

  1. Get the Chimney or Flue Swept Annually

    Hire a chimney sweep to clean and inspect each fireplace or stove at the start of the winter season: an open fireplace typically costs $80-$200, while a wood stove or wood stove insert can cost about $100-$210.
  2. Use a Chimney or Flue Cap

    Cover the top of the chimney or flue with a cap fitted with wire mesh, to keep rain, squirrels, birds and debris from getting inside the chimney. If the chimney has a cap already installed, inspect it to see if it's missing or damaged, and replace when needed.
  3. Keep the Area Clear

    Just because something looks good next to the fire doesn't mean that's a good idea -- for example, Christmas stockings are typically flammable, and should be hung as far from the flames and heat as possible. The area immediately around the hearth should always be kept clear of any debris or decorations.
  4. Use Screens and Doors Properly

    A mesh metal screen prevents embers from shooting out into the room. Many fireplaces have both a mesh screen and glass doors. The glass doors should be left open while the fire is burning (so the flames get enough oxygen to burn efficiently, and not send debris up the chimney), and closed when the fire is out.
  5. Burn the Best

    Hardwoods like oak or hickory burn approximately twice as long, and potentially give off twice as much heat as softwoods like pine or fir. Use only seasoned wood that has been dried out for at least six months or a year; green wood produces more smoke filled with creosote, a flammable substance that can build up in a chimney or flue.
  6. Keep the Fire Small

    A small fire creates less smoke and therefore less creosote buildup in the flue or chimney; and a fire that's too large or too hot can crack the chimney. Stoves burn best when the fire is hot (but not popping) and with minimum smoke. Never use flammable liquids to start a fire in a fireplace or stove.
  7. Double-Check the Detectors

    If your home doesn't have a smoke alarm ($15-$50 or more) and carbon monoxide detector ($20-$130), have them installed before using the fireplace or wood stove. If you already have these detectors in place, check the batteries, and replace them if needed.

A cheery blaze in a fireplace or stove is a marvelous thing when the weather turns chilly -- especially if you can sit back and relax, knowing that these standard safety steps have been done.

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