Fireplace, Wood Stove, and Space Heater Safety

There's nothing like building a cozy fire in the fireplace or wood stove on a cold night. And with the projected increases in natural gas prices, you may be eager to put your woodstove or fireplace to work or haul out that old space heater.

Before you light up or turn on that space heater, here are some things to consider:

When was the last time you had your chimney cleaned? Chimney fires are more common than one might think. Glen Dale Fire Department responds to two or three every winter. They generally occur because creosote, a sticky black byproduct of wood smoke, accumulates on the inside walls of a chimney flue and ignites. The resulting fire can be extremely hot (up to 2,000 degrees) and can quickly destroy a chimney or—worse—your roof and/or your home.

The good news is, avoiding chimney fires is easy. It just takes regular inspection and cleaning to ensure that dangerous levels of creosote never build up in your flue. Have a professional inspect your chimney annually (look in the Yellow Pages under “Chimney & Fireplace Cleaning and Repairing.”) In addition to spotting a dirty flue, an inspector will detect any structural problems that require attention

If you burn wood regularly, you should also do a quick visual check of your flue periodically throughout the winter (if you burn daily, this could be as often as twice a month). The easiest way to check is to reach into the flue with a powerful flashlight and compact mirror from the cleanout door at the bottom of your chimney. If you see as little as 1/8 inch of creosote on the sides of your flue, it's time to clean. Don't forget to clean any stovepipe too.

If you experience a chimney fire (your first clue will likely be a loud roaring sound), immediately get everyone out of the building and call 911 from a neighbor’s. If you have a wood stove, shut down the air intake and close the damper.

Although gas-fired furnaces aren't susceptible to creosote buildup, it's still important to have a professional check your system thoroughly at the start of every heating season and whenever you suspect trouble.

If you use portable space heaters in your home, be extremely careful:

  • Remember that space heaters require SPACE—nothing that can burn should be within three feet of any part of the heater.
  • Only use a space heater that is equipped with the safety feature that turns it off immediately if it tips over
  • Never leave a portable heater unattended.
  • Make sure the cord and plug aren't damaged in any way.
  • Make sure the cord is placed such that it doesn’t pose a tripping hazard.
  • NEVER use an extension cord with a space heater: In most cases the current indicated on the heater is greater than the extension cord can safely handle.

Finally, as a safety backup, install a carbon monoxide alarm near your bedroom. All combustion appliances, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, propane-fired hot-water heaters, and heating and cooking stoves, produce carbon monoxide (CO), an invisible, odorless and potentially lethal gas. If any of these appliances is not properly vented or has even a small leak, your house could be filling with carbon monoxide.

Mild CO poisoning may include flu-like symptoms: headaches, nausea and chronic fatigue. At higher levels, carbon monoxide causes loss of consciousness and death. A CO alarm will alert you to a problem before it's too late — particularly at night, when you and your family may be overcome while sleeping.

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, IMMEDIATELY evacuate the premises, getting everyone to fresh air as quickly as possible. Call 911 from your neighbor’s.