Friday, December 30, 2011

Safe Winter Home Heating

Connecticut Fire

In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut where five people were killed in a home fire directly related to the use of a fireplace, I  felt it necessary to discuss with my readers the dangers associated with winter and home fires.   These types of tragedies occur every year, and yet despite warnings from fire officials, they continue to occur time and again.  Perhaps even more tragic is the fact that injuries and deaths from these types of fires are completely preventable with just a small amount of due diligence given to safe practices regarding home heating.

According to the United States Fire Administration, more than a third of the homes in the U.S. use fireplaces, wood stoves and other heat generating appliances. It's no coincidence then that 36% of all fires in the home are attributable to these devices.  In the past, this statistic generally involved homes in rural areas of the country, however, because of the downturn in the economy many people are turning to these heating devices to heat their homes in order to save on utility costs. 

In order to keep your family and home safe, we encourage you to take the following steps:


  • Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney sweep.
  • Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations, and other flammable material.
  • Leave glass doors open while burning.  Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough ventilation to ensure complete combustion therefore preventing excess build-up of creosote in the chimney.  Creosote is the by-product of combustion that sticks to the masonry walls within your chimney and if not cleaned annually will continue to accumulate.  Creosote is flammable and is the cause of most chimney fires in the U.S.
  • Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room.  Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open.  The mesh screen keeps embers from getting out the fireplace pit.
  • Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have glass doors.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to monitor flue temperatures.
  • Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to the fireplace.
  • Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
  • Use only seasoned hardwood.  Soft, moist wood contributes to creosote build-up.
  • Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or other debris in your fireplace or stove.
  • When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on a proper supporting grate.
  • Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended.  Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the home.
  • Soak hot ashes in water and place them in a metal container outside your home.  *Improperly discarded hot ashes from the  fireplace is what caused the Connecticut fire mentioned above.

  • Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.  Should you have a chimney fire, keeping the roof clear of debris may be the only thing keeping your house from burning to the ground.
  • Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
  • Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues, or vents.

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home including both directly inside and outside sleeping areas.  Test them monthly and change the batteries twice a year.  Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms now on the market.
  •  Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment, particularly stoves and gas fueled heating appliances.
  • Ensure that all vent pipes are at least three feet above the roof.


    Connecticut Fire Victims
    Please, make sure you have an escape plan in case of a fire.  Although the investigation of the Connecticut fire is still being analyzed, it does appear that the occupants made an attempt to get out but were unable due to being overcome by smoke.  Having an escape plan may have saved these three children and their grandparents. According to fire officials it is still unclear if the home had working smoke detectors.

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