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Prepare your chimney for the holidays: Safety tips for gas and wood-burning fireplaces

As the countdown to the holidays continues, many people are busy preparing to spend time with their families and loved ones. The fireplace is often a popular central gathering spot in many homes. However, before you light your fireplace, we encourage you to review our information on how to safely use and maintain your fireplace and chimney.

How does chimney debris form

Wood-burning fireplaces emit a black residue known as creosote into the chimney. Creosote forms from the condensation that occurs when fire meets cooler temperatures as it makes its way up the chimney. Creosote can take three different forms: it can appear as a fine black dust, otherwise known as soot; it can take the form of a tar-like substance; or it can harden into a shiny glaze, all depending on what stage it is in. In any form, creosote is highly combustible and can cause chimney fires.

While gas fireplaces avoid the problem of creosote, they are not immune to debris building up inside the chimney. Chimneys are a popular choice for birds’ nests. Additionally, the ceramic logs used in gas-burning fire can deteriorate and clog vents.

Chimney cleaning and inspections

While there are a few methods of cleaning your own chimney, we recommend having a certified professional do the job. Climbing onto your roof is a dangerous task and exposure to debris, such as creosote is hazardous to your vision and respiratory systems, unless you are properly protected.

Furthermore, a certified chimney cleaner can thoroughly inspect both the interior and exterior of your chimney to identify cracks or damages. Not only can these types of openings result in heat loss to your home, but they can also cause moisture to enter your chimney system, posing a potential fire hazard.

Tips for wood-burning fireplaces

  1. Restricted air supply in fireplaces promotes creosote build-up. To create adequate air flow, make sure your fireplace’s damper is open wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly. A damper is the mechanism above the firebox that you use to seal the air flow from your fireplace to the chimney when not in use.
  2. Burn only seasoned firewood. Unseasoned wood contains moisture that will produce cooler smoke and more creosote.
  3. Burning smaller, hotter fires will produce less smoke and as a result, form less creosote. Softwoods such as pine, firs and spruce are recommended over hardwoods such as oak, maple and ash.
  4. Never burn any other substances other than wood. This includes wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and household garbage.
  5. Always wait until the flame has been completely put out before closing the damper. Collect all ashes into a metal container.

Tips for gas fireplaces

  1. Over time, elements such as valves and connections can crack and create potential gas leaks, which can result in explosions, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. A certified chimney sweep will be able to identify these hazards.
  2. The glass front of a gas fireplace can reach dangerously high temperatures. Between 1999-2009, at least 2,000 children in North America suffered serious burns from touching these glass fronts. We recommend placing a safety screen or protective barrier to prevent contact with the glass front.

Remember, safety first

  • Make sure your living room has adequate ventilation and that you have a working carbon monoxide detector in close proximity to your fireplace. For more tips about carbon monoxide safety, click here.
  • Be sure to keep the area around your fireplace free from any items that might catch on fire or overheat. As always with open flames, never leave children unattended by a fire.
  • In addition to following the tips above, it is important to have working smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher in your house in case of emergencies. Read these fire safety tips to get you started.

By making sure your chimney and fireplace are clear and in good working condition, you can help keep your home safe for your family and loved ones this holiday season.

Contact your BrokerLink broker to review your home and auto insurance policies to make sure what you want covered, is covered and leave the surprises for when you open your holiday gifts.

1 Comment

  1. STEELE HONDA

    Great post! Thanks for all the safety tips! I really liked how you said that restricted air supply in fireplaces promotes creosote build-up. To create adequate air flow, make sure your fireplace’s damper is open wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly. I have seen many people struggle with their fires due to restricted air supply so hopefully this tip can help others avoid that problem.