Hosting for the holidays is always a major undertaking. Often, we have many more bodies, decorations and areas of the house to keep an eye on. So, it's important to take extra precautions when it comes to your holiday preparation. Trying to learn how to use your fireplace? Or maybe you're ready to pick out a tree? Either way, we've created a guide to cover everything you need for a fire-safe holiday and hopefully one less thing to stress about!
Using your indoor fireplace:
Whether you're using your fireplace for the first time or consistently, it's important to focus on creosote control, starting a healthy fire with an appropriate draft, and using the proper firewood.
The number one way to prevent a chimney fire is to have your chimney inspected and cleaned yearly. A CISA-Certified chimney sweep will check for dangerous creosote deposits, flue blockages, and other issues that could cause a chimney fire. Click here to find an expert in your area.
So, what is creosote?
"Creosote is a black or brown residue that builds up on the inside of your fireplace. It is corrosive and can damage the flue liner over time, but the real concern is the high flammability. If the temperature within the flue is right, the creosote inside could ignite and cause a chimney fire."
- Chimney Safety Institute of America
Proper firewood - and no you can't just burn the old fence in your backyard from this summer's project.
What should you NOT burn in your fireplace
- Painted, treated, or sealed wood (the fence from your backyard)
- Green or wet wood - it contains far too much moisture which leads to cooler fires, cooler flues, more smoke, and therefore more creosote.
While most wood will burn in a fireplace, the wood you choose makes a difference. You should always use hardwood rather than softwood. Not only is it important for building the best fires, but it also affects the health of your fireplace and environment. Recommended wood to burn in your fireplace includes:
- Oak - considered the best wood to burn in your fireplace, by far. This is because it generates a slow-burning fire that lasts longer and burns evenly and hotter. The good news - oak is plentiful and most likely easy to find in your area!
- Birch gives your fire a gorgeous flame but unlike oak or maple, it burns quickly.
Because hardwood burns more slowly and completely, it is less to clean up once the fire is out and less buildup on your chimney.
Starting a proper draft: Why is it important?
Hot air rises and cold air sinks, so hot air from a fire rises in the chimney, taking products from a fire like smoke and waste gases safely out of your home. The pulling effect of a chimney on a fireplace is known as a draft. The stronger the draft the more air can be pulled into the fireplace.
Building a fire with a draft:
1. Open your flue to allow air to flow through the chimney
2. Crack a window (yes, we know it's cold... hang with us for a minute) cracking the window will allow the fire to slowly build giving you more control.
3. Build your fire
4. Start twisting a single sheet of newspaper and light it while holding it high up in the fireplace.
5. Slowly light the kindling with the burning paper and place it gently underneath
6. Add firewood one or two pieces at a time - you don't want the fire getting too big
Now go enjoy your fireplace!
Updated Fire extinguishers:
"Most adults do not know how or when to use a fire extinguisher" according to the US Fire Administration USFA. Here are two easy steps to make a major difference in the safety of your home:
1. Make sure you have an up-to-date fire extinguisher and that it is easily accessible. Then you'll want to check the pressure gauge to make sure it is not flagging the pressure as too high or too low. Make sure you remove any dust, oil, or grease that might be on the outside of the extinguisher.
2. Learn how to actually use the fire extinguisher, the USFA recommends using the acronym:
Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and release the locking mechanism.
Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly
Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side
Mice, rodents and all the stuff no one wants to think about...
Move over Santa - you're not the only one using the fireplace to get into this house. Homeowners often overlook the hidden dangers of electrical malfunction caused by rodents.
Just because you have never seen a mouse in your house doesn't mean you don't have them. When winter comes mice are in search of warmer conditions (aren't we all). Other than just being gross, mice are a major concern for electrical malfunctions and house fires. They are capable of chewing through an enormous variety of materials to gain access to shelter. Correcting rodent-related electrical problems is expensive but not dealing with them can be life-threatening.
What do we suggest?
Depending on your comfort level and the severity of your situation you can attempt to handle this situation yourself or hire a professional. If you hire a professional, they not only get rid of the mice, but, can also help you find the nest and fill their areas of entry. If you are looking to take the DIY route, you'll need to find their point of entry, then, head to your local hardware store and buy inexpensive $1 single-use mouse traps. Most mice won't use a trap that has already caught a mouse... which is good news for you because instead of emptying the trap, you can discard it along with the mouse. You will then need to find their points of entry and hire a professional to fix any chewed or frayed wiring.
Ok, now onto holiday décor and Christmas trees!
Tips for real trees:
- When you are shopping for a tree, make sure to pick a healthy one
- Cut the trunk at an angle to allow for water and food to soak into the base easier
- Water it daily to keep it fresh and alive for as long as possible
- Consider using a solution like Treelife - formulated to soften tree fibers and allow better water absorption which means fewer fires.
- Keep the tree at least 3 feet away from heat sources (like radiators and fireplaces)
- Turn off any tree lights before bed and do not leave them on when you are not home
- If you notice the needles are falling off easily this is a sign that the tree is dying, and the tree is at greater risk of catching fire.
- Discard the tree and any other flammable decorations (fresh wreaths and garland immediately after the holidays
Tips for artificial trees:
- When taking out of storage check that wiring is not frayed or cracked - replace any wires or bulbs that are.
- Keep candles away from the tree
- Keep the manufacturer and material used in mind - some artificial trees can burn just as quickly as a real tree. Be sure to purchase a fire-retardant tree.
- Use timers
- Check that the cords are not frayed or broken before plugging in
- Only use indoor lights inside and only use outdoor lights outside
- Avoid connecting more than 3 strands
- Turn off lights before bed
Many families enjoy using candles during the holidays but there are also extra bodies and excitement that can cause distractions and therefore added danger if you aren't careful. Here are a few tips to help:
- Don't place candles near curtains, bedding, paper or walls
- Display candles away from children and pets - try using a wax melter if young kids or pets may cause added distraction.
- If you have extra guests in your house be sure to check for candles that others may have forgotten about.
While things like fireplaces, Christmas trees, and holiday lights can be a source of risk, basic maintenance and simple precautions go a long way toward ensuring a safe and joyful holiday. By taking care of your home and keeping fire prevention in the back of your mind, you can keep everyone focused on the right things: enjoying each other's company and arguing about which movie to watch!
Have a happy holiday from your friends at RBN!