There’s nothing better than cuddling up in front of a nice wood-burning fireplace or stove when the winter starts to get chilly. Tucking under a blanket with your significant other while you enjoy the soothing warmth and relaxing crackling of a nice fire is one of those idyllic moments that makes slogging through the rest of a dreary, cold winter season worth it.
But, if you want to enjoy a fireplace or wood stove, you have be safe about it. Fire is still fire, and while it can be a relaxing friend when treated right, it can turn nasty and dangerous if you’re not careful.
Setting the stage
A large portion of fireplace and stove safety is just making sure the conditions and setting are safe before anything else. A well-located and designed fireplace or stove can reduce the chance of any kind of accident occurring right off the bat.
Make sure your fireplace is equipped with a screen that will prevent embers from escaping the safe area of the fireplace or any other debris being accidentally knocked into it. A secure screen is also essential if you have children or pets who might wander too close for comfort to the flame.
Similarly, make sure your wood stove is installed and secured on a safe, non-combustible surface. This should be an obvious tip, but there have been cases where homeowners have installed stoves over carpeting and other potentially incendiary surfaces, ending in predictable results. Your stove or fireplace should have a good meter long area around it that is kept clear of any material that may catch fire or suffer damage when exposed to an intense source of heat.
Always ensure the room has plenty of ventilation. Carbon monoxide is a real threat and should be treated as such. You also want to make sure there is a door or window you can open to vent the room in case you accidentally burn some damp wood or anything else that creates an excess of unpleasant smelling smoke.
(Not) playing with fire
Inspect your fireplace and stove thoroughly before lighting it up for the first time this year. Look for any signs of wear and tear such as cracks or metal warping and make sure it is safe for another year’s worth of use before putting any fuel in it. On a wood stove, make sure your damper and flue are working properly so you can control the fire once its started.
Once you’re satisfied, start building your fire. Add just a small amount of dry wood at first and give it a quick test burn. As fun as it might sound, don’t start the wood burning season with a huge pile of tinder and logs for a roaring fire. You want to make sure things are safe and controllable before anything else.
This should go without saying, but the only thing that should go into a fire place or wood stove is wood. Don’t “get it started” with a splash of gasoline, or use the fireplace as an easy way to dispose of wrapping paper, newspapers, or depressingly large holiday season credit card bills. I understand the temptation, but we have to put safety before satisfaction.
Safe for the season
Check all of your home’s smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure they have fresh batteries for the season and use the test function to ensure they are all working properly. Just like you wouldn’t depend on a single smoke detector, you should install multiple carbon monoxide detectors if you plan to regularly use a fireplace or wood stove. Make sure coverage includes every sleeping room. You don’t want the build up of suffocating fumes going unnoticed in other parts of the home because you only installed one detector.
Make sure you have a fire extinguisher available near your fireplace or wood stove at all times. Pressure check the extinguisher and give it a visual inspection for any dents, rust, leaks, or any other indications or signs of wear. If any of these are present, replace the extinguisher.
If you have friends and family around for the holidays, keep a close eye on the fireplace or stove area. Try not to place party favors or seating that would encourage a lot of busy foot traffic next to the fire. If there are kids present, set some ground rules that they’re to stay away from the fire and make sure a few of the more responsible guests are keeping an eye out.
We all love the rustic charm and classic aesthetic of a good roaring fireplace or wood stove. So long as you take the proper precautions, they can be a safe, relaxing, and enjoyable part of your winter experience.