Fireplaces and Solid Fuel Burning
Fuel-burning fireplaces or stoves are common in homes. They burn natural gas, wood or wood byproducts and ethanol. They may be made of masonry or metal. Stoves are factory-made, less expensive and may be installed where it is impractical to have masonry fireplaces built. Regardless of type, there are safety issues to consider when using a fireplace or stove.
Even properly maintained wood-burning fireplaces or stoves probably are the most problematic because they produce numerous byproducts of combustion, like carbon monoxide (CO), which is dangerous. Also, soot and creosote accumulate, which restrict the flow of flue gasses and can cause chimney fires.
Vented Fireplaces or Stoves
Vented fireplaces require a chimney to allow byproducts to vent outside. Before lighting the actual fire, ensure the damper is open. It is a good idea to leave it open for few minutes to allow warm air to go up the chimney to create a draft. To check the draft flow, light newspaper and watch to make sure the smoke goes up the chimney and does not backdraft into the house. Use only seasoned firewood that was cut down at least 6 months to a year ago. Keep the wood outside at least a few feet away from the house so rodents and insects do not infest the wood and get into the home. Use a fireplace screen in front of the opening to prevent sparks from entering the living space. Be sure there is enough clearance to combustibles, e.g. floors, walls, ceilings and furniture.
Natural gas logs are popular and have fewer maintenance issues than wood-burning fireplaces, but still require care. The most important thing is to make sure the flue damper is open and clear of critters or debris before lighting. Use a mirror and a flashlight to make sure the flue is not obstructed. The gas logs will still light even if the damper is closed, but byproducts of combustion like CO and water vapor will pour into the house. And if the flue is blocked, a chimney fire can start and cause serious damage.
Unvented natural gas fireplaces do not require a chimney. Unvented fireplaces can be placed almost anywhere and are convenient to use. However, they allow byproducts of combustion and moisture into the living space. People with breathing problems and households with children should be wary of this type of fireplace. Unvented fireplaces have safety devices installed that shuts the fuel off if the CO level becomes too high. Even with these safety features, many jurisdictions do not allow unvented fireplaces. It is a good idea to check with local authorities before considering installing an unvented fireplace.
Maintenance and Safety
Proper fireplace or stove maintenance is important. Annual inspections with cleaning, as necessary, are recommended by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). During a home inspection, an ASHI inspector will report hazardous fireplace conditions or maintenance issues. For safety, homes with fireplaces or stoves should have working carbon monoxide (CO) detectors and smoke alarms.
Schedule a Home Inspection
Periodic inspection of the entire home is recommended every few years. Find an ASHI home inspector in your area to schedule a home inspection and improve your home maintenance.