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Fire Safety for Fireplace Owners

A fireplace is a valuable addition to any east coast home, especially during the winter. Gray skies, bare trees, and a sharp wind can make the chilly season feel longer than it is, but cozying up to a toasty fire helps hurry things along. The comforting crackle and the soothing dance of flames puts us at ease and can even make us temporarily forget the long wait ahead until spring. Having the luxury of a fireplace is not all warmth and comfort, though. A fireplace actually comes with a lot of responsibility to keep the home and family safe.

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The most immediate danger in a fireplace is the fire itself. Burning at several hundred degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes more depending on the fuel, the flames and embers can cause severe injury instantly upon contact. Thus, to avoid these potentially life-threatening burns, you can take a few safety measures every time you light up the fire. First, maintain a distance of at least three feet from the fireplace for any combustible materials, like furniture and decorations. You should always supervise the fire while it is lit, especially with small children and pets in the vicinity.

To keep children and pets safe, another option is to have heat resistant glass doors installed in front of the fireplace. These prevent any accidental direct contact with the fire, and many models do not even become hot to the touch, making contact with the doors themselves relatively safe. For older children, be sure to teach them about fire safety as well. Explain the risk of injury from burns, how to be safe when a fire is lit, and the danger of throwing foreign objects into the flames.

Once everyone knows how to respect the fire, there are a few more steps you need to take. To start with, always open the damper prior to lighting the fire. Most fireplaces have a ventilation system, aside from gas vent-free fireplaces, so burning a fire with the damper open is imperative. Failing to open the damper could extinguish the fire, at the very least, or fill your home with poisonous carbon monoxide, at the worst. In addition, have the chimney swept and inspected at least once every year. This practice clears out creosote deposits, which can cause devastating chimney fires if allowed to build up, and checks for any damage or obstructions in the chimney that could make it unsafe to use.

This final safety tip goes for every home, not just those with fireplaces: install and regularly update smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house. Depending on the manufacturer, they must be completely replaced every five to ten years, and they should be tested for proper function every month. There should be one of each on every level of the house, with one outside the sleeping area. In addition, a smoke detector must be installed in each room.

By taking these basic safety tips into consideration when using your fireplace this winter, you can help ensure a happy, safe season for everyone. To receive more information on fireplace safety or to schedule a chimney sweep or inspection in the Boston area, contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service.

The Science of Combustion

To create fire, you need heat, oxygen and fuel. If there is too much of one or too little of another – you will have significant issues with both performance and safety.

 

Being able to understand the dynamics of combustion helps you quickly identify problems.

Being able to understand the dynamics of combustion helps you quickly identify problems.

Air Quality & Your Chimney

What on earth could a chimney sweep have to say about air quality?

OK, so that’s probably not a question you ever thought to ask, but let’s just pretend you did—you know for giggles and all that. Because (believe it or not) we’ve actually got a lot to say about air quality. In fact, that’s one of the most important things we do for our customers—making your home a safer place to live and breathe.

So, you’ve probably put two and two together by now—if I, a humble chimney sweep, have something to say about air quality, then…that probably means the chimney is involved somehow. And that’s why we love our customers, because you’re smarter than the rest. (Yeah, we mean you.)

Poor indoor air quality can lead to all sorts of health problems. Call us now and we'll make sure you'll be breathing clean and safe air in your home.

Poor indoor air quality can lead to all sorts of health problems. Call us now and we’ll make sure you’ll be breathing clean and safe air in your home.

Here are some of the ways fireplaces and chimneys can contribute to air quality problems:

Wood smoke pollution – Yep, you got it – that’s when things get smoky. And it’s not just annoying to have smoke in your eyes. Wood smoke contains:

  • Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) that can cause cancer
  • Fine particle pollution (ash) that damages lung tissue and creates respiratory problems
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides

So what causes the smoke to go down instead of up?

  • Incomplete combustion of fuels
  • Drafts
  • Improper exhaust

Make sure that you burn dry, seasoned wood. Otherwise, it won’t burn at high enough temperatures to combust properly, which is one of the things that make a fire smokier. Drafts that blow down your chimney can create a problem too. Also, any fireplace or woodstove that isn’t properly exhausted is going to be a problem. This is why it’s really important to have a pro install your fireplace insert or woodstove.

We can’t always point the finger at the chimney when the situation gets smoky. There are plenty of things around the home that can be pulling air, making it impossible for your chimney to do its job. Try turning off exhaust fans (like the one above the stove or in the bathroom), as well as dryers or other appliances that take air. Opening a window or door can also help out if you have a newer home. Newer homes are built for efficiency, so they’re usually sealed pretty tightly, making it a challenge when you need some airflow in your home.

Mold pollution is another enemy of air quality, and this problem goes beyond just your chimney. Air ducts and chimneys can both be the perfect place for mold to grow and reproduce. Mold causes all kinds of health problems, like sinus and respiratory problems, coughing, headaches, and eye and throat irritation. We’ve got a couple of solutions for mold—waterproofing your chimney and having your air ducts cleaned.

Never forget that good old saying about prevention.

Give us a call to talk about ways we can help you improve the quality of the air in your home.

 

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