Installation Safety Office
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission each year sends mid-winter safety reminders to consumers who are trying to reduce their home heating costs this season by using fireplaces and wood stoves.
In addition to emphasizing a consumers’ list of safety precautions related to wood-burning appliances, commission staff has added a caution for consumers who may be creating a safety hazard they didn’t expect while trying to improve the efficiency of their fireplaces.
Consumers increasingly are trying to improve their fireplace performance by installing glass doors or fireplace “inserts.” Both of these accessories are used to reduce the quantity of heated room air that escapes up the chimney. The fireplace insert, a wood-burning device that fits into an existing fireplace, adds additional heat from radiation and also from natural or fan-forced convection.
These accessories, however, may cause problems with “factory-built” fireplaces, a product which is relatively new to the marketplace. For safety, householders should add only those accessories designed or approved for their particular fireplace. Use of other accessories may block crucial air vents, create excessively high temperatures in the fireplace or cause other dangers.
Factory-built fireplaces are prefabricated metal units that are installed complete with chimney. They have been used widely in recent years in new home construction because they are less expensive than traditional masonry fireplaces. They also are called “zero clearance” fireplaces because they can be installed safely next to walls and other combustible surfaces. Some units have a brick or tile veneer that simulates a traditional masonry fireplace.
Installation and operating instructions usually are included with these units, along with information as to whether glass doors or fireplace inserts may be installed safely. But this information may not always reach the homeowner if the factory-built fireplace is installed by the home builder. Consumers who are unsure which kind of fireplace they possess or which instructions apply to the safe use of their fireplace should consult their home builder or fireplace manufacturer or their local fire department.
CPSC also is urging consumers to observe these other safety precautions:
Fireplaces, wood stoves and chimneys should be inspected once a year to ensure that they are in proper operating condition (i.e., no cracks in fireplace masonry or wood stove linings).
Use only the proper fuel. Don’t use coal in a fireplace or stove that is designed only for wood fires. Never use flammable liquids to ignite a fire.
Try to keep the fire at a moderate level. Continuous burning of wood at a low-fire level may contribute to creosote build-up, increasing the potential for chimney fires and the corrosion of metal parts.
Inspect the chimney and chimney connector on wood stoves at least twice monthly and clean if necessary. Avoid over-firing the stove, since overheating may damage the stove and chimney connector or cause a fire in adjacent structures.
Keep children away from fireplaces and wood stoves. They can be burned badly by touching such hot surfaces as fireplace screens or the exterior of a stove.
Always keep combustible materials (kindling, newspapers, drapery, etc.) a safe distance from fireplaces and wood stoves.
When constructing a new fireplace and chimney for your home or installing a wood stove and chimney, be sure that the work is done by a qualified person. If you install a unit yourself, be sure first to check with your local building code officials or fire marshal for installation requirements and recommendations.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission has information on other safety precautions to take when operating or installing wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. This information may be obtained by telephoning the commission’s toll-free hotline at 800-638-2772.