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Environmental Health & Safety

Fire Place Safety

Some buildings including fraternities and sororities, may have working fireplaces.  Such fireplaces can represent a potential fire safety hazard.  The following is a checklist for the safe installation, maintenance and operation of a fireplace.


Safe Installation

  • Be sure the flue is tight, well built and well maintained, with a smooth interior.  Each fireplace needs its own flue, but more than one flue may be located in the same chimney.
  • Extend the hearth in front of the fireplace at least 16 inches into the room and at least 8 eight inches on either side of the fireplace opening.  Use brick, stone, tile, concrete or other non-combustible; heat resistant material at least 1 inch thick.
  • Install a metal spark arrester on top of the chimney to keep sparks from setting the house a fire.
  • Install bird and animal guards on the chimney.  Squirrel and bird nest can clog up and block chimneys.
  • If you choose a natural gas “log,” follow instructions for installation and use.  Look for the American Gas Association label.


Fireplace Maintenance

  • Keep the fireplace in good condition by repairing cracks in the flue lining, bricks and mortar.
  • Keep flue clear of soot, creosote and obstructions.  Inspect the fireplace and chimney at least once a year to prevent creosote buildup. A copy of the inspection report must be submitted to the University Fire Marshal.


Safe Operation of a Fireplace

  • Install a screen that completely covers the fireplace opening to keep sparks from flying out.  Keep combustible materials such as carpets, furniture, paper, logs and kindling at least 3 feet away from the fireplace.  Arrange andirons so logs can’t roll out.
  • Use only enough fuel to keep the fire at the desired temperature.  Avoid “roaring” fires.  They can start chimney fires from soot and creosote deposits in the flue.
  • Do not use gasoline or other flammable liquids to kindle or rekindle a fire because the flammable vapors can explode.  Never use or store fuels near a fire; explosive vapors can travel the length of a room.
  • Keep the damper open while the fuel is burning to provide for efficient burning and to prevent accumulation of poisonous or explosive gases.
  • Never burn Christmas tree greens.  They cause many sparks when burning and can cause a chimney fire.
  • Remove colored comic sections before rolling newspaper into logs.  The colored inks contain lead and can produce toxic gases.
  • Do not use coal, charcoal or polystyrene packaging in a fireplace unless the fireplace is designed to handle the excess heat and smoke which occurs when burning these materials.
  • Do not treat artificial logs (made from sawdust and wax) the same way you treat real wood logs.  Use only one at a time.  If you use more, they can produce too much heat for some fireplaces to withstand.
  • Be sure that all ashes have thoroughly cooled before you dispose of them.  Put ashes in a lidded metal container to prevent a possible fire and provide a sturdy place to store them.  Ashes make good fertilizer in gardens, flowerbeds, etc.
  • Be sure the fire is out completely before retiring for the evening.


Safe Supply of Air for a Fireplace

  • A fireplace fire requires about five (5) times as much air as most buildings need for liberal ventilation.  With today’s tightly-constructed buildings incorporating weather-stripped doors, caulked windows and self-closing exhaust vents, a fireplace can set up reverse draft and suck poisonous carbon monoxide fumes from combustion-type (natural gas, etc.) water heaters or furnaces and discharge them into the living room.
  • In tight buildings, the fireplace may also consume enough oxygen from the air in the building to cause problems to occupants.  To be safe, a positive source of outside air should be supplied to all fireplaces and wood-or-coal burning stoves to bring in enough fresh air for efficient burning.  This can be provided by installing an outside air vent or opening a window when the fireplace or stove is being used.  To keep smoke from entering the room, turn off exhaust fans and close the registers of forced air-heating systems, which are near the fireplace.

Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 6/28/2011. Disclaimer.