by Noel Barteck
We are all aware that cooler weather is here, and people have probably ready to “cranked up” the old wood burner, fireplace, or pellet/corn burner to take the nip out of the air. There are several safety tips you should consider prior to using such a heating method:
Wood stoves, pellet and corn burners and fireplaces are becoming a very common heat source in homes. Careful attention to safety can minimize their fire hazard.
Proper installation is a must. Wood stoves should have at least a 36” clearance from combustible surfaces, and proper floor support and protection should be provided on wood floors – they should never be placed on a carpeted surface. They should be of good quality, solid construction and design, and should be UL listed. Barrel stoves should not be used for home heating. Any wood-burning device must be vented to the outside of the building as specified in the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning Code which is a part of the Wisconsin Uniform Building Code.
Have your chimney inspected annually by a qualified person. It should be cleaned prior to the first use of the season, and then on a regular basis during the heating season and should be inspected and cleaned if it has not been used for some time. Also remember to check and clean smoke pipes which connect your heater to the chimney.
An interesting side-bar to this article (as I reflect back on the many years I’ve been with the department) is that years ago we used to be called to the same homes in our district two or three times a year for chimney fires, because the townships did not charge the home owner for the call. Since owners are now charged the going rates for a chimney fire call, our responses for this type of fire have been dramatically reduced.
Do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate a fire. It is also not a good idea to use excessive amounts of paper to build roaring fires in fireplaces. It is possible to ignite creosote in the chimney by over building the fire.
A glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening will prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted materials from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants. I have heard of houses burning down when a log in an unattended fireplace, without a screen or door, rolled onto the floor, starting a fire while the owners were away.
Your wood stove should be burned hot twice a day for 15 - 30 minutes to reduce the amount of creosote buildup in the chimney.
You should never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal indoors can release lethal amounts of carbon monoxide (CO). Be sure you have a CO detector in your home installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and that you check it regularly.
Keep flammable materials away from your mantle. A spark from the fireplace could easily ignite these materials.
Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace fire is out. NEVER close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. A closed damper will help the fire to heat up again and will force toxic CO into the house. If synthetic logs are used, follow the directions on the package. Never break a synthetic log apart to quicken the fire or use more than one log at a time. They often burn unevenly, releasing higher levels of CO.
Finally, be sure every level of your home has a working smoke detector and be sure to test and clean it on a monthly basis.
Have a great heating season, and let’s all be fire safe.
The Sentinel & Rural News covers the news and events of Clark County and southern Taylor County, as well as regional news that affects those areas.