In an earlier blog, we addressed home fire prevention from some common sources of fires – cooking, electrical appliances and wiring, smoking and candles. Another significant contributor to home fires is home heating sources.
Here on the peninsula, we have homes of different ages and many different forms of home heating; many folks also use fireplaces, wood stoves and pellet stoves as supplemental or even primary heating. Statistics indicate that people in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire as those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas and much of this difference may stem from misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters. Some care and attention to your heating systems will help carry you safely through the heating months.
If you use a fireplace or wood stove, you should have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a chimney specialist. What is important here is to identify and remove any creosote builup that may be occurring. Creosote is formed in chimneys and flues when unburned gases in fires condense and deposit on stovepipes and the flue as a liquid tar that hardens into creosote. Creosote looks differently depending on how and where it is deposited. It can look like a sooty powder, a gummy tarlike deposit, a hard glaze or burnt marshmallows. Whatever it looks like, if it catches fire in your chimney or stovepipe it burns with the heat of a blast-furnace.
You can help prevent or reduce creosote buildup by keeping air inlets on wood stoves open, and leaving glass doors open while burning a fire. Your fire needs enough air to ensure complete combustion. Also, build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke and never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control. These habits will help keep creosote from building up.
Before and during the heating season, review and monitor the area around your stove and fireplace. Clear areas of debris, decorations and flammable materials and use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door. Close glass doors when a fire is out; open the doors when the fire is lit. The mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area. Make sure the areas around wood stoves have fire-resistant materials on walls and that there are proper clearances (see stove manual for clearance requirements).
Your stove must be vented properly for safety and vent pipes or chimneys must extend at least three feet above the roof. Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester and remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.
A few common sense suggestions include never use flammable liquids to start a fire and never leaving a fire in the fireplace unattended. Always extinguish any fire before going to bed or leaving the house. When it is time to clean the fireplace, stove or even a pellet stove, soak hot ashes or clinkers in water, put them in a metal container and keep them outside your home.
If you use a kerosene heater, buy the ones that have been evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and check with the fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community. Don’t use gasoline or camp stove fuel in your heater because both flare-up easily and use only in a well-ventilated room. Consider buying a carbon monoxide detector for safety.
Prepare for the best; anticipate the worst. Be sure to install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them regularly and change the batteries at least once a year.
Homer Smith Insurance is your Washington Home Insurance agency and we want to help you and your family stay safe this winter. Looking out for the safety and safe use of your heating will help do that. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how to prepare to respond quickly and effectively if you do have a fire.