Keeping warm in cold weather without electricity may mean burning wood. This can be done in a fireplace directly or by using a wood burning stove. These are designed to safely burn wood fuel and provide heat for your shelter. They are connected to chimneys responsible for removing the by-products of combustion, including smoke, gases, tar fog, and water vapor, among other things. As the combustibles exit through the cooler chimney, they condense on the inside. This residue is know as creosote. It is very combustible and when ignited will burn at extremely high temperatures and may damage the chimney, spread through mortar cracks into the
wooden structure of your home, and even spew sparks igniting the roof. To avoid a home fire disaster, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) offers the following safety tips:
- Get your chimney checked and cleaned annually to reduce the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup or chimney obstructions.
- Keep overhanging tree branches at least 15 feet away from the top of chimney.
- Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out.
- Choose well seasoned wood, split for at least 6 months. Store it in a covered and raised location, away from your home foundation. Do not burn Christmas trees, cardboard, wrapping paper.
- Keep the area around your hearth clear. Keep furniture at least three feet away from the hearth.
- Install a metal mesh screen in front of fireplaces that do not have glass doors. This controls sparks.
- When building a fire, place the firewood or fire-logs in the back of the fireplace on a supporting grate. Leave air space when stacking multiple logs, so the fire can breathe. Use kindling or a commercial fire starter to ignite your fire. Never use flammable liquids. Build smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke.
- The by-product of burning wood is ash. Softwoods make more ash than hardwoods. Leaving a one inch layer of ash in your stove will make it easier to build and maintain a fire. Hot coals nestling in the ash add more heat to the fuel and reflect heat back into the fire. Ash also protects the floor of your firebox. Do not remove hot ash from you firebox and put it into a paper bag or any other flammable container. Take all ash outside. At the end of heating season, ash should be removed to reduce moisture absorption, which rusts metal parts. Save the ash to add to your garden next spring.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Place detectors in several locations throughout the house, putting one outside your bedroom door. Check these batteries twice a year. Over 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by problems in the venting of toxic gases, produced by heating systems. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission). This number may be much higher because the symptoms of prolonged, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning mimic other common winter ailments (headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and seasonal depression). Too much carbon monoxide in your blood will kill you. The protein, hemoglobin, in our blood will attach a carbon monoxide molecule and ignore an oxygen molecule. This attachment causes cell suffocation. Even low-level exposure can cause permanent brain and organ damage. Infants, those with blood or heart disorders, and the elderly are the most susceptible.
- Never leave a fire unattended. Learn how to keep your wood stove fire burning during the night.
- If you have a chimney fire, discontinue use of your chimney until it can be inspected and deemed safe to use.