9 Fireplace Safety Tips for your Home (2020)

About this Article: Hi, I’m Chris I run this website! This information is shared as as personal opinion for our circumstances. It does not constitute advice, professional or otherwise, to you and your circumstances. By visiting and using this website, you accept and agree to be bound by our Disclaimer along with our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy posted on the website.

fireplace safety tipsThe NFPA estimates [1] that 15,000 house fires are caused by fireplaces and chimneys per year in the United States.

And no one intends to have their fireplace cause a house fire. No one thinks it will happen to them.

But it does happen. Many times. Every day.

Fireplaces that are poorly maintained, too full, have blocked chimneys, or are surrounded by loose trash, are more likely to cause a house fire than well- maintained and well- managed fireplaces.

To minimize the chances that you’re the victim of the next house fire, you’ll need to take action.

So here at Firefighter Garage, we’ve gathered together some of the best fireplace safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association, US Fire Administration, and around the web.

Our Fireplace Safety Strategies

The following strategies are personal strategies we’d use, and not professional advice to you or your circumstances. 

1. Clean your Fire Box after Every Fire

You should usually have a fire box and grate above your fireplace hearth, upon which the fire burns. This is to protect your hearth but also catch the ashes so they can minimize risk of a runaway fire.

You can use your fireplace tools, a broom or a scoop to clean out the ashes and leftover coals from inside the fireplace. Or, consider getting an ash vacuum which will suck up the fine particles and leave your fireplace extra clean.

Make sure you don’t burn yourself here – let the coals cool first and consider wearing a pair of heat resistant fireplace gloves. We prefer gloves with a leather exterior and Kevlar stitching as they resist heat the best.

The biggest risk in this instance is that there will be a build-up of coals over time in the fire box. These coals are highly susceptible to catching alight again if a new agent is introduced to the mix – a little heat, a new ember, a spark, or even a light breeze if they’re still hot from the last fire.

So keep that fireplace hearth clean and clear of fuels! 

2. Keep your Chimney Maintained

Carbon particles cause build-up on the walls of chimneys over time – much in the same way that our arteries get clogged as we age.

If there is too much build-up of gunk in the chimney, it can become a fire hazard – for two reasons.

Firstly, it’s a fuel. This gunk can catch alight and cause a fire in the chimney.

Secondly, it can block your chimney. When the chimney is blocked, smoke starts building-up in your home, potentially causing poisoning in your lungs (don’t forget – you need a carbon monoxide alarm in your home!).

If you can’t personally maintain your chimney, you can pay a professional chimney sweep once a year to come by and ensure the chimney is cleaned and maintained to prevent fires. 

3. Ensure no Fuels are within 3 feet of the Fireplace

The NFPA suggests [2] that you should keep the area surrounding your fire clean and clear of anything that might cause a fire to spread outside of the fire itself.

Typical culprits include loose paper, newspaper, tissues, kindling and fire lighting matches.

The best thing you can do to keep the area around your fireplace clean is to get a fireplace tool kit and log rack. A fireplace tool kit usually includes a broom, shovel, tongs and poker. The broom and shovel can be used to clean out the area around the fire and removing any old loose charcoals from previous fires. The poker and tongs can be used to ensure your fire is contained within the fireplace while it burns.

But maybe the best part of a combination fireplace tool kit and firewood rack is to keep the logs, newspaper and kindling out of the way and neatly secured. Ensure your log rack is not in direct line of sight from the fireplace. Instead, it should sit to the side where embers cannot ‘spit’ out and land on your stored kindling or newspapers. 

4. Use a Fireplace Screen

Fireplace screens serve two purposes. Firstly, you need to protect your children and pets from accidentally stumbling into a fire.

But it can also help to minimize chances of embers spitting out into the living room. Spitting embers is a huge fireplace hazard, as laid out in this US Fire Administration [3] tip sheet on heating fire hazards.

Similarly, an NFPA report [4] on the causes of house fires highlights outlines a case study that US firefighters recently attended:

“… there was no protective glass or screen in front of the fireplace. When a gust of wind entered the house through the window opening, hot coals were blown onto the sofa and spread to other combustibles.”

Sadly, this fire led to the death of a 60 year old man.

5. Only Burn Approved Fuels

Being in an enclosed room with a fire is never ideal for your health, even though we all love a nice natural fire. With good ventilation, most risks can be minimized.

But you don’t want to add toxic flammable items into the mix.

You should only burn natural fireplace wood or other fuels designed for indoor fireplaces. Throwing plastics and other trash into the fireplace can be hazardous to your health.

The best option is to buy firewood from a trusted seller. Some pine woods, for example, can cause an uncomfortable amount of smoke to build up in your house. Similarly, the burning of some paper inks can let off toxic fumes; burning driftwood can let off chemicals absorbed in the ocean; and burning household trash can release fumes from glues, plastics, etc. that are embedded in the product. For more, see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines [5].

6. Never Leave a Fire Unattended

This one goes without saying. And yet it’s probably the rule that’s most widely broken!

Even the most well maintained fireplace fires can spit out embers with no notice. If the embers land on a flammable item – even a couch (see above example) – a fire can ignite rapidly.

We love this educational video that shows just how fast a fire can ignite from just a tiny spark. It’s just about the best educational (and eye opening) video about how and why house fires are so dangerous:

7. Position Logs near the Back of the Fireplace

The further back the logs are in the fireplace, the less likelihood there is for embers to spit out into your living room and cause a secondary fire.

Embers that end up smoldering on couches can cause them to catch alight while no one is looking. (Noticing a theme in this article? You’ve got to avoid ember ignitions!)

Consider getting a fireplace grate that helps push the logs toward the back of the fireplace. In our article on the best fireplace grates, there’s one great grate (I couldn’t help myself) – the M-5 High Efficiency Smoke-Free Fireplace Grate (See #3 on that post). This grate is designed to pin firewood to the back of the fireplace. Check it out!

8. Keep a Carbon Monoxide Detector in your Home

Carbon monoxide gas is an odorless but deadly gas that is a byproduct of combustion.

Usually an operating chimney is enough to keep carbon monoxide gas levels safely low. But there is always the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning around fires – especially if the chimney is not operating correctly.

The solution: ensure you have a carbon monoxide detector active in your home.

There are combination carbon monoxide – smoke detectors now that will detect both. These are excellent options and you can usually save a bit of money doing it this way, too.

9. Keep a Fire Extinguisher Nearby

Needless to say, if you have a fire going on inside your house, you’ll need a fire extinguisher or fire blanket in your home.

A home fire extinguisher should be an ABC rated extinguisher. These extinguisher put out regular, electrical, and gas/liquid fires. We usually recomment a 5 pound extinguisher for the kitchen and a 10 pound extinguisher for the garage.

A fire blanket is also a great option for suppressing small fires. They cause far less mess and are highly effective if used correctly.

Remember that your safety is most important, so unless you’re trained in how to use a fire extinguisher, sometimes it’s best to evacuate and call the professionals in immediately.

Conclusion

A fireplace is a cozy and priceless way to make your home feel homely. But if you have a fireplace, you need to stay fire safe. Follow these fireplace safety tips to minimize fire risks in your home.

Remember to always follow the instructions and laws of your local fire authority. We cannot give personalized or professional advice for you and your circumstances or jurisdiction.

But by following some basic fire safety tips, you can continue to have a comfortable and cozy living situation in safety.

We hope these tips have come in handy!

– Chris

Sources

  1. NFPA (2018). Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment. Retrieved from: https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/osHeating.pdf
  2. NFPA (2016). Portable Fireplace Safety. Retrieved from: https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Public-Education/Resources/Safety-tip-sheets/PortableFireplaceSafety.ashx
  3. US Fire Administration. (n.d) Heating Fire Safety. Retrieved from: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/heating_fire_safety_vertical.pdf
  4. NFPA (2018). Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment. Retrieved from: https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/osHeating.pdf
  5. Environmental Protection Agency (2020). Best Wood Burning Practices. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/burnwise/best-wood-burning-practices