Fireplace Safety Tips for a Canadian Winter

4 minute read Published on Jan 12, 2021 by BrokerLink Communications

Fireplace Safety Tips for a Canadian Winter

Fireplaces are in the homes of many Canadians. What was once a vital part of our ability to stay warm during the cold winter months has now become a focal point to gather around with family and friends. We pass the cold winter days away by sipping on hot chocolate and watching the dancing flames. However, with this heat comes potential hazards for household fires. We must be vigilant and protect our homes from such threats. Unfortunately, one of the leading causes of fire during the cold winter months is the fireplace. It’s important to understand the risks of using a fireplace.

At BrokerLink we have put together some tips on how to use and maintain a fireplace safely. We’ve got you covered whether you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace. Follow these tips to enjoy your cozy fire while keeping your family safe.

Wood-burning Fireplace Safety Tips

Here are some basic safety tips for your wood-burning fireplace:

  • Test all your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on an annual basis.
  • Keep the area around your fireplace free from decorations and other combustible materials. Place a guard or screen in front of the area to help keep children and pets from potentially getting burned.
  • Make sure your fireplace’s damper is open before starting a fire so it can vent properly.
    • A damper is a mechanism that regulates air flow into the chimney of a fireplace. When it is open, air is able to circulate inside the firebox providing needed oxygen to your fire to help ignite it. A damper allows smoke and other pollutants to escape up and out of the chimney. Without the damper, smoke and pollutants could be trapped inside your home.
  • When starting a fire never use flammable liquids. Only use a match or firelighter to get a spark.
  • Test the function of your fireplace by lighting small pieces of wood to make sure the smoke is exiting vertically from your fireplace. If smoke enters the room you need to investigate why.
  • Only burn dry, seasoned firewood. Lumber, painted wood, or treated wood releases chemicals into your home. This can compromise air quality. Wet wood can increase creosote buildup, which can lead to chimney fires.
    • Creosote is a black residue emitted into the chimney. It 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 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. The form it takes depends what stage it is in. In any form, creosote is highly combustible and can cause chimney fires.
  • Never leave an active fireplace unattended. You should always fully extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • A fireplace is not a garbage bin, and is not designed to burn cardboard, wrapping paper, or your wilting Christmas tree. Dispose of these materials through your normal household garbage.

Gas Fireplace Safety Tips

Here are some basic safety tips for your gas fireplace:

  • Gas fireplaces can produce carbon monoxide. A home should have a carbon monoxide detector on each level. They should be tested annually like smoke detectors.
  • Do not move or alter the arrangement of logs in your gas fireplace. You could potentially cover up vents which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • The glass front of a gas fireplace can reach dangerously high temperatures. Children can suffer serious burns from touching these glass fronts. We recommend placing a safety screen or protective barrier to prevent contact with the glass front.
  • Do not place objects near the air-circulating passageways or fans. Do not put combustible materials near the hot surfaces.
  • Unusual odors or flames can indicate that it is not operating properly and you should contact a certified technician to investigate it. Do not use the fireplace until you have it checked.
  • If you notice the pilot light or flames go out while it is turned on, wait five minutes or longer before relighting it. This will provide time to clear the fireplace of gas.
  • Do not clean the glass of the fireplace while in use and make sure it has completely cooled down to prevent breakage. Do not use the fireplace if the glass is cracked or broken.

Fireplace Safety Tips FAQs

What is the proper way to use a wood-burning fireplace?

  1. Open the chimney damper before each use and close it when you’re done. A chimney damper allows smoke to escape up the chimney as wood is burning. It also allows air to circulate within your fireplace.
  2. Gather appropriate firewood to use in your fireplace. Do not burn pine or wet wood.
  3. Line the bottom of your fireplace grate with soft small pieces of wood, then stack the harder bigger pieces on top. Place fire-starter logs underneath the fire grate and use a lighter or match to ignite it.
  4. Place a safety screen in front of your fire to prevent small children or animals from getting to close to active fires.
  5. Continue to feed the fire with firewood when needed. Always remember to only add as much as you need with respect to how long you want it to burn.
  6. Once your fire has burned down, remove the cooled ashes with a metal shovel and discard them in a metal garbage can. Close the damper after use.

How do I know if my fireplace is safe to use?

Experts recommend you have your gas or wood-burning fireplace inspected and tested annually by a local certified professional. They can determine the current integrity of your fireplace and determine whether there are any potential hazards or malfunctions that need to be addressed.

How do I get more heat from my wood-burning fireplace?

Open the chimney damper as wide as it will go. This will increase the amount of air to the fire. More air will increase the amount of heat your fire produces.

If you have recently updated or replaced your fireplace system – contact your insurance broker to confirm your home insurance policy reflects these changes. Always be diligent when you and others are around or operating a fireplace, and remember these safety tips. In the event of a fire, call 911.