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Fireplace Maintenance and Safety

Safety tips for your wood fireplace

The wood is stacked, the flue is open and the match is in hand. You’re about to enjoy a wonderful winter evening by the fire. Just know this first: Heat sources ignite more than 50,000 home fires in the U.S. each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

We’re not trying to put a damper on the mood. We just want your fire to be as safe as it is warm, so here are five fireplace safety tips to remember:

  1. Maintain your fireplace, chimney and the surrounding area.
    Each year, ideally before your first fire of the season, bring in a certified professional to have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned. Make sure you don’t have any flammable decorations or other debris around the hearth – an errant spark might ignite them. And check the venting systems for all heating equipment. Vent pipes should extend at least three feet from your roof.
  2. Have the right safety equipment.
    Whether you regularly build fires or not, your home needs to have at least one fire extinguisher, as well as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level, inside and outside of sleeping areas. Remember to change the batteries when you change your clocks in the spring and fall. According to the National Fire Protection Association, working smoke alarms reduce the risk of home fire deaths by half. As for your fireplace, it should have glass doors or a metal mesh screen to block wayward sparks.
  3. Build a safe fire.
    Use seasoned hardwood stacked – not too high – on a sturdy grate at the rear of the fireplace. In addition to being easier to control, smaller fires produce less smoke and are more likely to burn out completely. Always ensure the flue is fully open before starting a fire, and never use flammable liquids or other debris, such as cardboard or trash, to get it going. While the fire’s burning, leave the glass doors open enough for the fire to get adequate airflow but close the metal mesh screen.
  4. Make sure it’s out before leaving — or sleeping.
    It’s dangerous to leave any fire unattended, so only start one when you know you’ll be home (and awake) for an extended period. Whenever possible, let the fire die out on its own – slowly spreading out the logs will help. Trying to extinguish a fire in your fireplace with water can result in a lot of smoke and ash coming into your home.
  5. Think ahead and be prepared for the worst.
    No matter how diligent you are about fireplace safety, you still want adequate protection for your home should something happen. You need enough homeowners insurance coverage to completely rebuild your home, replace its contents and live somewhere else in the meantime, should it come to that. If you’re unsure whether you have all of that, Check with your insurance professional who can help with a yearly review of your homeowners policy and other coverages.

Cold winter nights and warm fires will always go hand in hand. With just a little bit of preparation and precaution – and the right insurance – you can make sure safety is part of that equation, too.

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