You may have been hearing about the tragic Christmas Day fire from a Seattle area home that took the lives of six family members, including four children. The fire investigators believe was caused by a fireplace and chimney that were not properly vented to the outside.
We’re not here to debate how it happened or why, but we are going to explain what you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
The first thing homeowners need to know is that all fireplaces and wood stoves require professional inspection and installation; anything less will put your family at risk.
Every year the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) receives dozens of reports of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from wood stoves and fireplaces. CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly in high concentrations.
The best way to avoid CO poisoning is to have your fireplace or wood stove inspected by a professional every year. They will check the chimney for blockages, proper installation and signs of corrosion.
In addition, you should have your fireplace inspected for cracks, gaps, rusting and other damage. Be sure to schedule the inspection before you use the fireplace or stove for the first time each year.
If you choose to use a wood stove as your primary source of heat this winter, install it only in an approved location that is clear of flammable materials and properly ventilated.
Never burn cardboard, trash or other flammable materials since they give off more poisonous carbon monoxide than wood does.
One of the worst ways to die is to suffocate, and carbon monoxide poisoning can do exactly that. If you have a fireplace, be aware of the risks associated with using it. The first risk is incomplete combustion. This occurs when your wood burns but does not give off all of its heat. The unburned fuel produces carbon monoxide, which can kill you.
Another risk is improper installation. If your fireplace is not properly installed, the exhaust may not be vented to the outside. This can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
You can reduce these risks by having your fireplace inspected by a professional every year. They will check for blockages, proper installation and signs of corrosion. They will also check for cracks, gaps, rusting, and other damage.
You should also avoid burning cardboard, trash or other flammable materials in your fireplace. These materials produce more carbon monoxide than wood does.
You can get a carbon monoxide detector or two and place them near your fireplace, but they are generally more useful at locations where there is constant human traffic, such as near or in your bedroom.
Carbon monoxide is toxic and can cause death. It is important to know how to check your fireplace for carbon monoxide and to take necessary precautions.
To check your fireplace for carbon monoxide, you will need a CO detector. Place the CO detector in an open area near the fireplace. The CO detector should be placed at least 3 feet away from the fireplace.
If the CO detector alarm goes off, you should evacuate the house and call the fire department. Do not try to extinguish the fire.
If the CO detector does not alarm, you can still be at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure that there is plenty of air flow in the room where the fireplace is located. If there is any smoke, making the room smoky or limiting air flow, it could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you think that your fireplace is emitting dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and cannot check for yourself, call a professional to check it out.