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Wood Stove & Fireplace Safety Guide

Man putting log to wood burning stove. Close up

Wood Stove & Fireplace Safety Guide

With rising utility costs, many homeowners are turning to fireplaces and wood stoves as an alternative or partial heating source. Heating a home with firewood is a natural, sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels because wood is a renewable resource. Wood stoves in particular are especially suited to rural living, as downed trees can serve as a low-cost, eco-friendly fuel source.

Even if you rely on conventional heating methods, having an efficient wood stove as a secondary or backup fuel source is a smart idea for rural living. But what about safety? One disadvantage to rural living can be distance from emergency services, and while wood stoves are safer and more efficient than ever, they can still pose a danger to your home and family if some precautions aren’t taken. These tips will help you enjoy the comfort of a wood fire in your rural home while reducing the risks.

Have the chimney inspected and cleaned on a yearly basis. A good time to schedule an inspection is early fall, before the weather turns cold. Inspect the pipes and connections every month for soot or creosote build-up, and be sure the stove is properly vented.

Put a protective screen around the wood stove or fireplace to reduce the risk of injury to small children or pets.

Make sure the flue is open before you build a fire. Also, double-check that a fire is completely out before closing it again.

Never use lighter fluid, gasoline or kerosene when lighting a fire — kindling and paper are the safest fire starters.

For better efficiency, burn small, hot fires. Slow-burning fires cause creosote and soot to build up, increasing the risk of a chimney fire.

Store dry firewood away from the hearth to reduce the risk of flying sparks igniting it.

Clean your wood stove or fireplace every week, removing the ashes in a covered, metal container. Make sure there are no sparks, and discard the ashes well away from the house. TIP: to clean soot and soil marks on the bricks of a fireplace, mix together a cup of washing soda (NOT baking soda… look for washing soda in the laundry section of your local store) and a gallon of hot water and apply it with a stiff brush (and a lot of elbow grease!) to the stained bricks. Wipe clean with some old rags. Be sure to cover the carpet around the fireplace with an old sheet or drop cloth. You may also want to have your fireplace checked, since excessive soot and smoke can be a sign that the chimney is not drawing properly.

Bonus tips: Christmas will be here before you know it, so take in these steps to ensure Yuletide safety:

Christmas stockings look lovely hanging from a mantel, but do take them down when the fire is lit.

Don’t burn wrapping paper in a wood stove or fireplace! Some wrapping papers contain metallic materials, which are toxic when burned.

Never burn wreaths or garlands in a fireplace or wood stove — burning pine causes creosote build-up, which can lead to a chimney fire.

So make the most of your fireplace or wood stove in your rural setting, but keep these safety tips in mind to ensure you can relax and enjoy the warmth and beauty of a wood fire for years to come.

by Jennifer Whipple