Woodstove and Fireplace Maintenance and Safety Tips

7 Wood Stove and Fireplace Maintenance and Safety Tips

Sarita Harbour

Many homeowners love the warmth and atmosphere a fireplace or wood-burning appliance brings to a home. Yet when it comes to safety and maintenance, in-home fireplaces and wood stoves require a little more attention than typical oil or gas furnaces.

While installing and maintaining working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are important in homes that enjoy a wood stove or wood-burning fireplace, there are several other things homeowners should know about their safety and maintenance.

1. Correct Installation Is Critical

If you’re considering installing a wood stove in your home, it’s important to get familiar with your local and regional regulations regarding wood-burning appliance installation. Make sure your stove complies with all local fire and building codes, such as proper clearance around the stove and acceptable venting. Also ensure your stove pipe dimensions and flue/damper specifications meet the necessary requirements.

Whether you heat your home with a wood-burning fireplace or a wood stove, it’s critical to make sure there’s enough ventilation to direct smoke and carbon monoxide out of your home. Inadequate ventilation could lead to the buildup of carbon monoxide, a silent, odorless, yet deadly, gas inside your home.

Also take a look at what’s surrounding your chimney on your home’s exterior. Remove tree branches that are within 15 feet way from the top of your chimney. Ensure there’s a chimney cap installed on top of your chimney to prevent debris and small animals (like squirrels) from falling in and blocking the smoke flow from your wood stove or fireplace.

2. Maintain Your Wood-Burning Appliances

As with all areas of your home, proper maintenance of your wood-burning appliance helps prevent potential problems like overheating, which could lead to fires, and leaks that could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep an eye on your wood stove doors’ seals to ensure they aren’t crumbling. Also monitor your chimney for wear and tear on pipe, stone, mortar, or chimney bricks that could pose a fire hazard.

Schedule annual inspections and cleanings of your chimney by a qualified chimney services technician. Keeping your chimney clear of soot and debris can help prevent both fires from starting in the chimney and potential carbon monoxide poisoning. In addition to a thorough cleaning, a professional will look for and remove any other chimney blockage that could pose a chimney fire hazard, like birds’ nests.

A professional can also help you determine if you’ve already had a chimney fire, which often goes undetected, yet can damage a chimney, endangering your home and family. Signs you may have had a chimney fire include:

  • “Puffy” or “honey combed” creosote
  • Warped metal damper or chimney/stove pipe
  • Cracked or damaged flue tiles with missing pieces
  • Damage to the exterior roof or nearby metal TV antennae
  • Damaged and/or discolored chimney cap

3. Create a Safe Environment

Developing good safety habits around your wood stove and fireplace is a wise idea for everyone in your family to help prevent injury and unwanted fires.

While you want to keep a fire extinguisher within easy reach of your stove or fireplace, don’t store matches, lighters, or lighter fluid close by—they could quickly catch fire and/or explode if they get too hot. Also pay careful attention to where you store your wood for burning— don’t put it within three feet of your wood stove or fireplace or you could risk a random spark starting your indoor wood supply on fire.

Your fireplace or wood stove area also should be clear of anything flammable on the interior of your home, such as drapes, carpets, furniture, or newspaper, to avoid potential fires. And though you may love the idea of curling up by the fire with a hot drink and a favorite book, try to keep chairs and other furniture at least three feet from the fire. In addition, choose fire-resistant furniture when it’s time to redecorate.

Consider the type of wood you burn in your stove or fireplace. Green or young wood has a high moisture content that results in not just a lot of smoke, but also a buildup of creosote. Instead, choose wood that’s been seasoned or dried for at least six months to produce an even, safe fire. And, wherever possible, choose hardwood over softwood, as it produces less creosote.

4. Safety Accessories for Wood-Burning Appliances

If you’re enjoying a brand new stove, keep the safety manual handy (but not close enough to catch fire), as well as a fire extinguisher.

It may also be wise to invest in a few key accessories to improve safety around your wood-burning stove or fireplace.

  • Non-flammable gloves will protect your hands when you’re adding wood to your wood stove.
  • A fire screen not only help prevent sparks from flying our of a fireplace, but also it’s useful for keeping small children and pets from getting too close and getting burned. A portable fire screen is a stand-alone, foldable screen with two or more sections.

5. Always Correctly Dispose of Ashes

Don’t let the ashes from previous fires build up in the bottom of your fireplace or your wood stove. Anything more than one inch of ash could lead to smokier fires, as it becomes more difficult for oxygen to find its way to the wood.

Shovel the ash out, once your fire is out and the ash is completely cool. Use a shovel to scoop it out into a metal container with a lid. Don’t throw your ashes into your indoor (or outdoor) trash bin as it could lead to a fire.

Important:

Store your fireplace or wood stove ash outside and away from your home in the metal container with lid. This reduces the chance of unexpected fires.

6. Insuring Properties with Wood-Burning Appliances

While most insurers do provide homeowners insurance for properties that have wood stoves or fireplaces, expect to answer questions about your wood-burning appliances. Your insurer will expect the wood stove or fireplace to be installed and/or built to current fire codes. You are also expected to maintain and operate it safely.

7. Additional Resources 

There are several excellent online resources that address the maintenance and safe operation of wood stoves and fireplaces in the home. Visit these sites for more information:

When enjoyed responsibly, a fireplace or wood stove can be a welcoming and relaxing center of your home that provides warmth and comfort on chilly days. However, if you don’t maintain it properly, it could also be a danger to you, your loved ones, and your property.

By taking the time to learn about the proper operation, cleaning, and safe use of your wood stove and fireplace, you can help avoid damaging and potentially fatal house fires or carbon monoxide poisoning—and enjoy your wood-burning appliances for years to come.

Did you find these wood stove and fireplace maintenance and safety tips helpful?

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8 Responses to "7 Wood Stove and Fireplace Maintenance and Safety Tips"
  • Rebecca Gardner | April 14, 2020 at 3:32 pm

    It caught my attention when you said that we shouldn't let more than an inch of ash build up in the bottom of the fireplace. My husband and I just bought an old vacation cottage with a wood-burning fireplace in the living room that needs to be repaired. Thanks for teaching me what methods we can use to avoid issues once the fireplace is working again! https://chimneymasterdallas.com/services/fireplace-repair

  • Rita Sanders | March 31, 2020 at 5:22 pm

    It's good to know that you shouldn't store your wood within three feet of your fireplace because I don't want to start a fire. We're moving into a house with a fireplace and want to make sure that we're using it right. I had no idea that chimney fires could happen so I'm glad I read this post! https://www.swbrickandfireplace.com

  • Vivian Black | February 11, 2020 at 12:12 am

    It's awesome that this article talked about maintaining your appliances so that they don't crumble or have any imperfections that lead to fires. My husband and I want to have a fireplace installed in our bedroom we're renovating. We will keep these tips in mind after we find a professional that can help us best. http://www.villagefireplaceandbbq.com/products-n-services

  • Norm | December 17, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Nice article, but contrary to some skewed numbers to promote an industry that announced burning wood is a net zero carbon producer, burning wood is a terrible practice. Unless there are no other heat options in an area or some person is living out in the boondocks and chop their own fuel and have no income to buy other heating options, wood burning fireplaces should be banned. That would be safest for a homeowner AND the environment AND people with respiratory diseases that suffer everytime a yuppie lights up the old romanticized fire. Sorry to see you promoting this backward technology...no matter how many "buts" you wrap it in.

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  • Zen Fireplaces | October 31, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    Nice tips, thanks for sharing with us.. Keep sharing !!

  • shane murphey | October 9, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    does the defibulator need to be cleaned out yearly or not at all

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  • Phillip A Cooper | December 24, 2017 at 1:06 am

    Very good information. Thanks

  • darlene strickland huckleby | December 12, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you for this information. Very helpful.

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