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.
- 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.
- 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.
QUESTIONS or COMMENTS?
Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.
This page last updated 6/28/2011. Disclaimer.