How to Keep your Fireplace Safe this Winter

There is a greater risk of household chimney fires spreading to the home during the coldest months of the year. If you own a fireplace, you might be unsure of how to keep your chimney secure and wonder where to begin. 

Here’s what you need to know to keep your chimney and fireplace secure throughout the chilly burning season.

Do most fires begin inside the chimney?

While many fires also begin outside the chimney, some do start inside the chimney. 

In the attic, rotten wood caused by roof leaks or inadequate ventilation may have an ignition temperature similar to or lower than a sheet of paper.

The fire may actually start outside the chimney and quickly spread throughout the house if rotten wood is in contact with the chimney’s exterior.


You might believe that a fire in a fireplace rises and disappears, but it frequently adheres to your chimney and leaves a residue on the flue, the chimney’s interior shaft used to vent smoke and fumes to the building’s exterior.

The most severe and destructive home fires are caused by this residue, which is known as creosote. This flammable, thick, oily brown tar coats the flue when you use the fireplace.

More than one-third of Americans use fuel-fired appliances as their primary source of home heating, including fireplaces, wood stoves, and other devices. But many people are unaware of the fire risks associated with using solid fuels like wood for heating.

Heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas each year, according to the US Fire Administration (USFA), a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security. 

Creosote build-up in chimneys and stovepipes is a common cause of these fires. All home heating systems should undergo routine maintenance to operate safely and effectively, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

Here are some tips for preventing flue chimney fires:

  • ⬥ Every year, check and clean the fireplace and chimney. Install a stovepipe thermometer to keep track of the flue temperature when using a wood stove. Make adjustments as necessary. 
  • ⬥ Only use dry, seasoned wood. More crucial than the type of wood or whether it is softwood or hardwood is making sure the wood is dry.
  • ⬥ Find out how to make a better fire. Logs should be placed on a grate at the back of the fireplace.

Maintain your chimney safety

It might take you a while to realize that an animal has entered your flue unless you hear a strange rustling sound. 

Most of the time, homeowners are unaware that something has entered through the chimney top before a fire even starts. In which case, once a fire has been lit, that could be dangerous. This accident can be avoided with a chimney cap. 

A safe 36 inches should separate any combustible or flammable material from the fireplace. 

How often to clean your chimney

You’re probably thinking that it depends on how frequently you use the chimney, right? 

Not quite!

At least once a year, chimneys, fireplaces, and vents must be checked for soundness, absence of deposits, and proper clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs must be carried out as needed. 

Even if you don’t use your chimney frequently, fire safety standards take into account the possibility that animals may nest in the flue or that there may be deterioration that could render the chimney unsafe to use.

Major chimney repairs resulting from neglect can cost thousands of dollars or more. If your chimney also needs cleaning, you will likely spend between $100 and $300.

Open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned when there is a buildup of 1/4 inch of soot, and even sooner if there is any glaze visible in the system. It’s time to clean the fireplace when there is an “appreciable buildup,” which is defined as enough fuel accumulation (a/k/a creosote) to start a chimney fire that could harm the chimney or spread to the house.

Wondering if you should get your gas chimney checked?

Despite the fact that gas typically burns cleanly, gas furnaces release water vapors into your flue. Additionally, the combustion air from inside the house contains chlorides, which combine to create hydrochloric acid. The accumulation of this acid inside your flue can lead to corrosion and damage.

Along with the possibility of corrosion and other damages caused by the acid-vapors in your flue, there are a number of other risks that could arise. For example:

  • ⬥ Nesting animals in your chimney
  • ⬥ The accumulation of debris, such as leaves, that could easily obstruct airflow
  • ⬥ Cracks and other flaws that could compromise the gas furnace’s ability to operate safely

Blockages caused by nesting and/or debris may result in very serious problems if not removed. 

When a flue cannot vent properly, it can fill up with potentially fatal vapors that will eventually seep back into your house. That’s why it’s important to have your flue inspected and cleaned properly at least once a year.

Finally, be proactive about your fireplace maintenance. Being proactive is the best thing you can do to maintain a safe chimney. Stay on top of any issues that might cause a chimney fire by inspecting it at least once a year.

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