Keep Wood Burning Fireplaces Clean and Clear for Safety

Due to the increased consumer interest in wood heat due to the energy crunch, the chimney and venting experts at the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) are urging people with wood burning fireplaces, as well as wood stoves, to follow safe wood burning habits this winter. This includes having chimneys inspected by a chimney sweep.

"Wood burning safety is especially important this heating season because people are once again turning to wood for heat," says Mark McSweeney, executive director of CSIA. "We want people to be safe, as well as warm and cozy, when they are burning firewood, as well as manufactured firelogs and wood pellets. We believe this safety starts with an inspection for creosote build-up and chimney obstructions."

The primary concern is for people that may be burning more wood than usual by using fireplaces and wood stoves as alternative heating sources to cut high home heating bills. This caution is also extended to new wood burners and consumers interested in removing gas log sets from fireplaces.

"We've heard from chimney sweeps that some homeowners are removing gas logs so they can burn wood again," adds McSweeney. "It's critical that people call on the assistance of a professional chimney sweep for this task, just as they would for service to their wood stove."

To help reduce the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisonings from wood burning fires, the CSIA offers these kinds of tips: have a chimney inspection completed on all fireplaces and wood stoves to guarantee that the chimney can safely vent the hot gases and smoke from a fire; install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; and build small, hot fires.

According to hearth industry experts, the sale of wood burning hearth products increased in 2000 with substantial activity extending into the first half of 2001. McSweeney adds that an increase in the sale of new hearth products translates to an additional increase in the use of existing wood burning hearth products. This is confirmed by information provided to CSIA by chimney sweeps.

"We want to make sure that an enhanced interested in wood burning does not increase the number of fires or carbon monoxide poisonings," adds McSweeney. "Over the past five years, we at CSIA have made great strides in helping reduce chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisonings by educating people about chimney and venting safety. It's important to see the numbers continue to drop."

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 1998, there were 18,300 residential fires in the United States originating in chimneys, fireplaces and solid fuel appliances. These fires resulted in 160 personal injuries, 40 deaths and $158.2 million in property damage.

The CSIA recommends that people have inspections performed by CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps. These chimney sweeps have earned the industry's most respected credential by passing an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimney and venting systems. The National Fire Protection Association also recommends that all chimneys be inspected on an annual basis.

Chimney Safety Institute of America Wood Burning Safety Tips

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) offers tips to keep wood burning fireplaces and wood stoves clean and clear from the top of the chimney to bottom of the firebox:

  • Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. This reduces the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or obstructions in the chimneys. To locate a certified sweep, visit the CSIA Web site at or call 1-800-536-0118. A certified sweep can also perform maintenance on your wood stove or help remove gas logs from a fireplace.
  • Keep the top of chimneys clear of tree limbs or debris.
  • Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.
  • Fuel the fire safely. For burning firewood in wood stoves or fireplaces, choose well-seasoned wood that has been dried for a minimum of six months to a year and stored properly.
  • Build it right. Place firewood or firelogs at the rear of the fireplace on a supporting grate. To start the fire, use a firelighter.
  • Keep the hearth area clear. Debris too close to the fireplace, or to a wood stove, could easily catch fire.
  • Use a fireplace screen. Use a metal, mesh or screen in front of the fireplace to catch flyaway sparks that could ignite.
  • Be careful not to overload the fireplace. Add one manufactured firelog at a time or no more than a couple of pieces of firewood. Never burn garbage or glossy paper products.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors throughout the house and make sure to check the batteries each month.
  • Never leave a fire unattended. Before turning in for the evening, be sure that the fire is fully extinguished. Supervise children and pets closely around wood stoves and fireplaces.
Reprinted with permission from the Chimney Safety Institute of America,