If you've never lived in a home with a fireplace before, you're probably really looking forward to spending time in front of a cozy fire with family and friends. You're probably also aware of several fireplace safety basics, such as never leaving a fire unattended, having the chimney cleaned on a regular basis, and keeping a fireplace screen securely in place if there are small children in the vicinity. However, there are less obvious ways that you can help ensure that you and other household residents enjoy the fireplace without taking unnecessary safety risks. Following are four of them.
Only Burn Seasoned Firewood
Firewood should be seasoned for at least six months before being burned in the fireplace. Freshly-cut wood contains too much moisture to burn well, and its use may result in unsafe creosote buildup that can eventually result in chimney fires. The moisture content of your firewood should be around 20 or 25 percent. Well-seasoned firewood makes a hollow sound when smacked against another piece of wood, and it's also got cracks in the end grains that indicate that it has dried out significantly. Most home improvement retailers carry moisture meters that provide accurate readings of the moisture content of firewood.
Dispose of Fireplace Ashes in Metal Containers Outdoors
Fireplace ashes should be removed on a regular basis, but be careful not to dispose of them in areas where they could start a fire, such as in an exterior trash can. Even if a visual inspection doesn't show that the ashes contain any live embers, you should err on the side of caution and place them in a metal container in an outdoor location. Tiny sparks are often difficult to see. Metal containers used for this purpose should be equipped with a lid to prevent the wind from causing any of the ashes to become airborne.
Do Not Burn Household Paper Products
Many homeowners who are new to using fireplaces often use them to get rid of unwanted paper products rather than using the recycling bin, believing that burning paper is harmless. However, paper that is treated with colored inks or other chemicals may release toxins into the home interior as well as into the immediate neighborhood via the chimney. Cardboard, cereal boxes, and magazine bindings usually have been treated with glue that can create hazardous fumes when burned. Paper and cardboard can also become airborne during the burning process and float right out the chimney, creating a fire hazard not only for you, but for your neighbors as well. Use only a bit of plain newspaper or commercial fire starter to start your fire, or if going entirely paperless appeals to you, talk with your contractor about the possibility of installing a gas-powered fire starter at the base of your fireplace.
Have a Chimney Cap Installed
Although your chimney cap will have to be open during the times when your fireplace is in use, keeping it closed during the warm season will prevent several possible scenarios that could result in safety hazards for you and our family. If chimney swifts decide to nest in your chimney for the summer, they will leave behind nests when they migrate south that may catch fire when you start using your fireplace again during autumn and winter. Raccoons also like to den on the horizontal smoke shelves in chimney interiors, and they'll bring in dried twigs and other flammable vegetation as nesting material. They can also be dangerous when they feel cornered, particularly if they feel that they are protecting their young. Chimney caps can also prevent stray plant debris such as fallen leaves from ending up in your chimney.
Your contractor can provide you with further tips on how to maximize household safety while enjoying your fireplace.