How Safe Is My Fireplace?

During the long winter months, there is nothing that my kids like more than cuddling up next to a roaring fire and reading books to each other. It’s one of our favorite family traditions. Warm Fire. A good book. Lots of love. This tradition always leads me down the path of thinking about fireplace safety. After all, I’m an insurance agent – this is just the way my brain works.

In the past few months, I have had multiple customers tell me of issues they have had with their fireplace, which could have led to a disastrous fire in their home. And, there is nothing that puts more fear in this insurance agent than the word F.I.R.E.

Therefore, before you turn on your fireplace next, ask yourself, “Is my fireplace safe?”

After all, your fireplace has been dormant during the summer months leading up to winter. And, birds, squirrels and debris have been in and out of the chimney at various points. In addition, the weather went from freezing to blazing hot, back to freezing. This all puts a strain on your chimney and the bricks surrounding it. Therefore, it is almost impossible to know how safe your fireplace is without performing some basic checks and balances.

Have you inspected your chimney?

First, you must safely get on your roof and inspect your chimney cap to ensure that it is free from debris and other possible obstructions. (I emphasize the word safely. If you, for example, have a very steep roof or have health issues that would not safely allow you to be on your roof, please call a professional for help.)
While you are up on the roof, remove the chimney cap and inspect the inside of the chimney with a flashlight. What you are looking for is something called “creosote”, which is a byproduct of burning wood that can catch on fire.

It is also a good idea to inspect the chimney for cracks or other structural problems that may have occurred, which could also lead to chimney fires.

In addition, if there are any tree limbs hanging over and/or near the chimney, make certain that these are removed before you used your fireplace.

Have you inspected your flue damper?

Flue dampers are the devices that trap the heat inside the house when you are not using your fireplace. They also allow the smoke to leave the house when a fire is burning in your fireplace. Your flue damper will open completely if it is working correctly. Now this is the important part – if the damper doesn’t open completely, fix it before you light a fire.

Good tip on this – from the ground level, you should be able to look up through the flue and see daylight when the damper is open.

Have you inspected the firebox?

The firebox is the area where you normally place your logs and then start the fire. You will inspect this to make certain there is no creosote buildup. And, you will want to look for broken bricks and/or mortar that needs to be repaired.

Good tip – before you inspect the firebox, clean this area first, and remove all the soot.

Another good tip – When your firebox is cleared, place the grate near the back of it to ensure as much smoke as possible goes up into the chimney and not into your home!

Is your fireplace area cleared of “stuff”?

During the holidays, my wife likes to decorate every square inch of our fireplace with Christmas decorations. Not a good idea. It is important to leave at least five feet of clearance around your fireplace.

Good tip – If you have a Christmas tree, place it as far as possible from your fireplace since those needles are highly flammable!

Have you checked your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?

One of the most important things you can do for your home (after buying proper home owners insurance coverage, of course) is to make certain that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are properly functioning.
Good tip – replace the batteries to all of these devices when you change your clocks at daylight savings.

Do you burn anything other than firewood in your fireplace?

If so, stop! Never burn anything except for firewood in your fireplace since other materials may contain toxic chemicals. These chemicals may lead to health problems down the road, and they could also be very flammable and cause an explosion.

What to do if you do have a house fire.

If you are ever unfortunate enough to experience an incident from a fire, please call Langlois Insurance Agency immediately at #815-485-6676. We can provide a recommendation for a reputable restoration company to ensure your home is back to its former self as quickly as possible.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact any of us at Langlois Insurance Agency with any questions or comments.

Matt Langlois